Lawyer career

I rejected doctor or lawyer career path so many desi kids are forced to follow

This first-person article is written by Manjot Mann who lives in Surrey, BC. For more information on CBC’s First Person Stories, please see frequently asked questions.

I always have a pit in my stomach before appearing on the radio.

I am a therapist but I am also 32 years old desi A (South Asian) woman in Canada talks about the stigma around depression, setting boundaries with your family, and the judgment of being a working mother in the South Asian community.

I always wonder who is listening, who is turning the dial up or down, who is nodding in agreement or shaking their head. I wonder what they think of the disembodied female voice talking on the local Punjabi radio station about things we were taught never to talk about openly, like mental health.

I always wonder if my father is listening.

When I applied to graduate school three years ago, I did so with trepidation. How was I going to explain to my immigrant parents that I wanted to become a licensed clinical counsellor?

My father wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer. Those were my options growing up. They were my identity even before I was born.

In the South Asian community, your profession is of utmost importance as it impacts your status in society and can even affect your marriage prospects. And there, I was trying to become a therapist so I could talk about taboo subjects like mental health.

My family and community have been clear about how they feel, saying things like;

Lok ke kehenge? (What will people say?)

Your career is also a reflection of the sacrifice your parents made to provide you with a better life in this new country.

Why become a therapist when you can be a doctor? Did I make these sacrifices for this?

The guilt is real.

It’s not easy to go against your parents’ wishes as an immigrant child, because you may find yourself estranged from the only family you’ve ever known, in a country that sometimes doesn’t seem also welcoming because of skin color and religion.

When I put my foot down on my career and said, “I don’t think that’s me,” it felt oddly out of place, even though I knew it was the right decision for me. Sometimes I still question myself. I never became who my father wanted me to be and that feels wrong and selfish to me, despite treating my grief in therapy.

Manjot Mann, left, was four years old and grew up in Surrey, British Columbia. Her mother, right, moved to British Columbia from India when she was nine. (Submitted by Manjot Mann)

But I know I’m not alone. As a therapist, I hear my story resonate in the voices of my clients, many of whom are second-generation immigrants from India.

Like many others, my parents immigrated to Canada for a better life. My mother moved to Prince Rupert, BC with her family when she was nine years old. My father immigrated to British Columbia years later, at the age of 28, after marrying my mother.

Perhaps because my mother spent her formative years in Canada, she acculturated to Western life and took a liberal and tolerant approach to my career. She was always open to my siblings and I exploring careers that were never an option for her growing up.

But my father came here as an adult and saw the struggle for those who weren’t born and raised here. He was a drawing teacher in India before moving to Canada. His degree was not recognized and he had to learn English while working long hours at a 7-Eleven making sandwiches.

This was not the life he envisioned.

For my father, if I became a doctor or a lawyer, I would succeed and his sacrifice would have meaning.

As a therapist who discusses stigmatized topics, I feel like I don’t make sense to him. In fact, I feel like I don’t make sense to a lot of people in my community.

The idea that people would share intimate details about their lives, that they want to improve their relationship with their parents or their children, is unheard of and strange because, in a collectivist culture like ours, we are taught to keep these things hidden .

Aapa theek aa, seagull karan di kee lohd a (We’re fine, why do we have to talk about it?)

It makes me feel strange to think about my career and that I have not only chosen something unorthodox but also a profession that has no direct translation into the Punjabi language.

Sometimes I’m not sure I have meaning for myself.

If you ask my daughter what my job is, she will answer: “Mom talks about feelings”.

She’s the reason I keep persevering.

Three-year-old Sophia says her mother’s job is to talk about her feelings. (Submitted by Manjot Mann)

I have to be authentic myself so my daughter knows what it’s like. To be fully and deeply grounded in a life I have created, based on the things I love – that is my gift to her. It’s also a gift from my parents, whether they realize it or not.

I didn’t have to struggle like they did and now I have choices. I’m lucky that I don’t have to immigrate to a new country, learn a new language, start a career from scratch, and get used to a new cultural climate.

I love my parents; I don’t blame my father for not understanding the path I chose, because I learned to accept myself.

Today, my dad and I are a work in progress. We have gone from a strained relationship marked by periods of silence to now trying to have more meaningful discussions around the dinner table. He’s trying to come to terms with what it means to have a daughter who has chosen a career that’s hard for him to discuss and define, and I’m working to understand how his opinions stem from a place of fear but also ‘love.

It’s new to us and we’re still learning. We go from never talking about our feelings to feeling comfortable sharing our happiness, discomfort, fears, and hopes for the future.

I will always be uncomfortable on the radio. I will always be uncomfortable sharing my words. I still hope that one day my dad will read or hear something that will reassure him that my success is different than he imagined, but I am happy nonetheless.

I am neither a doctor nor a lawyer. I’m a therapist and damn proud.

Do you have a compelling personal story that can provide understanding or help others? We want to hear from you. Here is more information on how to introduce ourselves.