“Show me a mother with that much thwarted ambition,” a character in Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone says, “and I’ll show you a daughter born for success.”

It’s a line that jumps out because it rings true–and not just for mothers and daughters. If we’re not careful, anyone of us can find ourselves being pushed in the direction of someone’s failed ambition. Whether a parent, an older sibling, a lover, a mentor or a boss, people have a way of wanting to live vicariously through someone they can influence. That urge is never stronger than when they’ve tried and failed to achieve their own dreams. In The Chaperone, the mother in question is an unhappy housewife whose dreams for academic and professional success were cut short prematurely. The daughter is Louise Brooks, the real life silent film icon of the early 20th century. The latter pushes the forward to read voraciously and be a huge talent–and though it fosters resentment, it also aids in the girl’s historical successes.

But what good are successes if the idea to achieve them didn’t originate with you? If you’ve never had time and opportunity to decide for yourself what you value and want in life, how will you know if you’ve found personal contentment? So many of us feel the pressure to “go farther” than our parents did, but unless that forward motion is on a path of our own choosing, we’re not following our own road to happiness. We’re following someone else’s bliss.

It’s never a great idea to make decision on the basis of who you’ll please. Not only will you feel disingenuous and unhappy, but you may encounter jealousy. Though you’ve been pushed toward a success some forebear didn’t attain, and though he or she may enjoy living vicariously through that success, he or she could just as easily resent you for succeeding where he or she failed. In the end, no one’s happy.

Have you ever felt pushed down a path you didn’t pave? Have your parents (or anyone else) been vocal about their desire for you to follow in their footsteps or succeed at something they’ve always dreamed of accomplishing? How did you handle it?

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  • Mademoiselle

    No worries. You then get to have children and steer them into the life you would’ve pursued… everyone’s success can be just one generation away :)

  • shadow

    Funny I should click on Clutch and read this article, I just had this very same convo. with a close friend of mine. Many of us that are in our 40’s can say that this is our life. I call it having had that “circa 1950’s” upbringing. We may be successful, but yes you do look in the mirror wondering who you are at times since you may be living someone elses dream. I get that our parents wanted us to attain goals they didn’t, but our dreams should not have been doused in the process. Once you get a certain age, you may look back and be very bitter you didn’t stand your ground and lead your own life, maybe you had kids when you would have chosen career instead, marriage when living the single life would’ve been fine for you. We know our parents/families mean(t) well, but sometimes they bare down so hard on what they think is right for us (because of their agenda), they forget to put us into the equation. Thank God the path I walked turned out well, but it was not the path I was planning to take at all. Honestly, 20 years had passed and finally one day I looked in the mirror, literally looked in the mirror, regardless of how happy I was at that moment, and wondered what if… What if I had followed my dreams? Where would I be? I struggle with it many days ’cause I don’t have the answer since I didn’t get to have the experience. My emotions range from being mad at myself for giving in and not fighting hard enough for what I wanted, to being mad at my mama, yeah, I need counseling… but anywho my energy now goes toward living the second half of my life on my terms since in my 20’s & 30’s I lived my mama’s dreams & boy do I feel empowered!! I like telling folks “no, that’s not what I want ” so much now I’m borderline out of control, lol, but it still feels good ;)

    Stand your ground out there, young Clutchettes, don’t let nobody snatch your dreams.

    @Mademoiselle
    Pushing what you didn’t accomplish on your kids continues the cycle which can be a disfunctional cycle if your child isn’t on board with living your dream. No ones kid asks for that. I know from experience and I stopped the cycle with mine. I don’t want them feeling bad and lost like I do at times..not good.

  • I wanted to say thanks to you for this great read!!I believe everything will be better. Good luck to you.