How To Turn Down An Opportunity Of A Lifetime - Fridays with Ferne #33

You’ve just been offered the job you’ve always wanted. This is the big one; it’s the “chase your dreams” type of new opportunity that only comes around once in a lifetime. You know: the thing you’ve yearned for since you were just a kid in school. You’re excited to accept the position, move onto the next chapter of your life, and begin an exciting new adventure… 

And then your parents call. You’re needed back home. Someone in your family is sick, and it’s up to you to take care of them. As a result, you’re expected to withdraw from this new opportunity. Despite the fact that you tell your family you’ve just been given the chance of a lifetime, they don’t seem enthusiastic about your new prospect. Instead, they ask you what’s more important: career or family?

Have you been here before? The classic “career or family” conundrum is more common than you think. Lots of us run up against our families when it comes to pursuing our preferred careers. Whether you’re seeking a degree against your parents’ wishes or looking to land a job that’s “too far from home,” inner-family conflicts like these are inevitable at times. 

If you’re in the middle of a predicament like this, let this blog be a crash-course on how to make (or move past) that dreaded choice: career or family?

New opportunities 

New opportunities are great. They provide us with the exciting possibilities that life is supposed to be about. But when those opportunities conflict with what our families want, they can lead to some very detrimental black and white thinking. In fact, the entire setup of this blog —

 the whole “career or family” dichotomy — is about as black and white as it gets. 

But what if it doesn’t have to be? Does it really need to be just one thing or the other? See, here’s the thing: even though we often think about them this way, most choices in life aren’t really all-or-nothing scenarios. Worse, when we do look at things in a black and white way, we tend to feel stuck, trapped and lost. And then we make decisions out of fear, guilt, shame or unhappiness. 

Challenge yourself instead to consider your values, and think about what really makes you happy. If you fast-forwarded two, three or four years out from now, which choices would you be proud to have made? And which choices would make you feel guilty or full of regret? This is important, because you never want to make a decision out of guilt. You should always be making decisions that you’re able to look back on and feel good about. 

So, if your heart’s really pulling you in the direction of your career, your first move is to make sure you don’t sacrifice your job for your family. At the same time, however, you don’t need to throw your family under the bus. There’s probably ways you can support or maintain a relationship with your family while simultaneously pursuing your career. Consider the following questions as you think about the many permutations and options that exist before you when dealing with the “career or family” problem: 

  • Can you still have a good relationship with your family if you prioritize your career?
  • Alternatively, can you still have a good career if your family is more important to you?
  • Is there a way to support your parents while still pursuing the new opportunity you’ve been granted?
  • Can you put a limited timeline on how long you support your parents before committing to your job?
  • Can a sibling or family friend support your parents while you pursue your career?
  • Can you talk with the person giving you this opportunity about ways to accommodate your family and your career at the same time?
  • If your parents don’t support your dreams, is there a way to make peace with them while still doing what you want? 

These are just some starter questions to get you thinking in shades of gray. The goal is to help you explore new possibilities when it comes to tough choices, and in doing so, create new opportunities for yourself. In the end, you might be surprised to find that you no longer even think of the choices before you as “tough” to make. 

Before we move on, it’s important to remember one thing: you’re never going to be happy if all the decisions you make are intended to make others happy. Instead, you’ll be much happier thinking of ways to make decisions that make you proud while simultaneously finding creative means to support the people around you. Instead of thinking about your situation as a “career or family” problem, get excited about ways to make “career and family” decisions. 

That’s how you create a win-win scenario that feels good in every regard. 

Episode Transcript

[00:00:05] Kim Ades:
Hello, hello. My name is Kim Ades, I'm the President and Founder of Frame of Mind Coaching™ and the Co-founder of The Journal That Talks Back™. Today is Fridays with Ferne. 

[00:00:14] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:00:14] Kim Ades:
And Ferne is back for another episode. Ferne, welcome back!  

[00:00:18] Ferne Kotlyar:
Thank you, thank you, thank you!  

[00:00:21] Kim Ades:
So, what are we talking about today? What do you have for me? 

[00:00:25] Ferne Kotlyar:
All right. So, today is an interesting case, I think. It's about a man named Rajiv, he grew up in a small town in India and he always had dreams of traveling. So, he applied to go to the University of Edinburgh, he got accepted and did his undergrad abroad in Scotland. And he discovered that he was a really good cook and that he loved working in the kitchen. 

And so he worked, he finished his undergraduate degree, he worked in a small kitchen in the city and this guy comes in one day, you know, this random guy, Rajiv cooks for him, does a really great job, and the guy was really, really impressed. And it turns out that he's this new up and coming chef, and he's starting a restaurant in Edinburgh, this big restaurant, and he offers Rajiv a job. And Rajiv is ecstatic and elated, and that is exactly what he wants, you know, to work in this big restaurant with famous people. 

And he calls home and tells them about this job, about how he's going to stay there for a little while longer. And his family isn't so excited for him because it turns out that his mom is sick and that they actually want him to come home. He's the oldest brother, the oldest boy, and so it's his responsibility to take care of the mother. 

Rajiv really loves his mother and cares about his family. He doesn't want to go home, I mean, he just got the opportunity of a lifetime, and you know, at home, in this small town, it's a bit backwards. You know, men aren't allowed in the kitchen and women aren't really allowed to work. And he feels like they're very... well, the opposite of progressive.  

And he doesn't really know what to do. He feels a bit stuck, he feels like he has this obligation to go home, but he doesn't want to give up such a good opportunity. So, what advice do you have for him?  

[00:02:27] Kim Ades:
So, they want him to come home and stay forever? Like, what do they want from him exactly?

[00:02:32] Ferne Kotlyar:
Well, essentially come home and take care of his mother.  

[00:02:35] Kim Ades:
What is he supposed to do? Not work and just take care of his mother?  

[00:02:39] Ferne Kotlyar:
No, he would come home and work essentially in India and live with his mother.  

[00:02:46] Kim Ades:
So, who would take care of her during the day? 

[00:02:53] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:02:54] Kim Ades:
Good question?  

[00:02:55] Ferne Kotlyar:
The other siblings. Yeah.  

[00:02:57] Kim Ades:
The other siblings. Okay. So, it's very interesting, right? And especially in some cultures where the demand is to do what your parents want. And so, if your parents call you back, you got to go back. And so, for me, the conversation would really be around his values. Right? You know, he doesn't want to go back, I get it, but what are his values?  

So, in other words, what I would do is say, if you fast forwarded your life, maybe 2, 3, 5 years from now and look back, what would you be happy that you did? What would you feel like you regretted? So, let's look at two decisions. And I never think of black and white decisions. Within each decision there are multiple permutations of each decision. Okay?  

But let's look at two basic decisions for the moment. It's decision number one is you go back to India and you stay with your mother and you take care of her. In five years from now, is that a decision you will regret? And we'll do the same thing the other way around. You don't go back to India and you stay in Edinburgh and you work with this amazing chef and you grow your career. Is that a decision you will regret because you didn't spend time with your mother?  

So, we want to look at that, first and foremost. Because what we're really looking at is, what are his values? What is driving his decision-making? And we don't want him to make any decision out of guilt. We want him to make a decision that he is able to look back on and feel good about, feel proud of.  

But in this description of these decisions, what you're presenting is a black and white option, right? All or nothing. And I never look at decisions that way. Because I think that in every decision there are ways and methods to create win-win situations. And right now it's set up, there's no win-win here. He's going to lose in both situations. And I don't think that that has to be the case.  

So, perhaps what he does is he says, "yes, I want to come and work with you, but here's the parameter. I need to go and live in India for two months of the year to be with my mother, and then I'll come back". Or he says, "I'll go to India, I'll set my mother up, I'll get her the help she needs, I'll make sure she's safe, and then I'll come back". Or "Hey mom, come and live with me here". Right?  

So, different options that we need to consider. So, I never want him to think about, "I can have it. It's an all or nothing situation". And often when we have all or nothing thinking, we come up empty handed and we feel really stuck, we feel very trapped. And often the decisions we make that are all or nothing based lead to guilt, shame, discomfort, unhappiness, the opposite of the feeling of pride that we're really after. 

And so, for him, I would say, what would you want in your ideal world? If you could have everything you want, what would that look like? Would you be living with your mom and working for this chef? If he says, "no, I don't actually want to live with my mom, but it's important for me to take care of my mom", well then already, we're starting to come up with some answers that say living with your mom is not the option for you that's going to be healthy.  

So, let's look at the options that allow you to have what you want and feel proud of your decisions, and that honor your values. So, he might have a very important value, "it's very important for me to take care of my family", and we don't know what that looks like. Is that financial? Is that physically being there? Is that setting up the mom with a caregiver? What is that exactly? We need to examine that.  

But very often when people feel like, "oh my God, somebody wants something from me and if I do that thing, it means I'm giving up what I really want". You know, positioning that way, thinking about it that way really stems from a set of beliefs that he cannot have what he wants, that it's impossible. It's win or lose. And I want to always help people make decisions where there are multiple wins. So, he wins, they win, everybody wins. It's a good outcome. And so, right now he's not perceiving that that's even an option. 

Now, there's another option altogether. If this chef thinks he's so brilliant and so great, maybe he is willing to invest in a startup in India. I mean, there are lots and lots of different options and permutations. We have to find the one that makes him feel excited, optimistic, and one that resonates with what is truly important for him. 

[00:08:08] Ferne Kotlyar:
So, what if we add another parameter in this kind of case where–  

[00:08:12] Kim Ades:
You're making it harder?  

[00:08:14] Ferne Kotlyar:
Of course, isn't that my job as a child?  

[00:08:16] Kim Ades:
Let's try.  

[00:08:17] Ferne Kotlyar:
[Laughs] Where essentially, you know, he has these siblings that have a lot of expectations of him, so, if he wanted to start this business and offer his mom to come and live with him his siblings wouldn't be happy with that. So, you know, he has this other parameter that he has to kind of grapple with and maybe that stops him from having everything he wants. Or maybe not. But in the sense that they're a bit disagreeable.  

[00:08:47] Kim Ades:
Yeah, sure. And so, you know, again, the question is– and it's funny, right? Because in the last episode, we spoke a little bit about thinking about what we have control over and what we don't have control over. 

So, in the case of Rajiv, he has control over a few things. He has control over the way he thinks and feels and the decisions he makes surrounding his career and his mother. He doesn't have control over the way his siblings think or the way they feel or how they react to his decisions. He doesn't have control over that. 

And so, his job is not geared– we're removing this job from him, which is to try to make his siblings happy. That's not on his task list. Because he can't live his life making decisions intended strictly for the happiness of others, because if he does that what happens is he becomes unhappy. 

And again, he's trying to control something that he has no control over. So let's say his family members, his siblings want him to come and move to India and that's what's going to make them happy. He moves to India. The very next decision he makes, which could be, "you know what? I'm going to start a restaurant here" could also clash with their happiness. Right? So, we don't want to set up his life, we don't want to design his life so that his major task, his major purpose in life is to satisfy the happiness of others. That's not a formula for success.  

However, his task in life is to make sure he's making decisions that are aligned with his values and those things that are important to him. So that at the end of the day, he looks back and says, "I'm pleased with the decisions I made. They are aligned with who I am and who I want to be". And so, pleasing others is always a formula for trouble, it's a formula for chronic dissatisfaction and you're setting yourself up for this lifetime of failure. So we need to remove that from the formula, remove that from the equation of his decision-making. 

[00:11:10] Ferne Kotlyar:
Definitely. So, if you were to give him a one minute or one short clip of advice, what would that be?  

[00:11:20] Kim Ades:
Yeah. In the case of Rajiv, what I would say to him, first and foremost, is if you could have everything, what would that be? What would that look like? And then I would say, so, you know, let's define that first because in his mind he doesn't believe he can have everything he's losing one way or another. 

And so what I want to do with him first and foremost is flip his thinking to say, no, no, no, it's possible. Let's conceive of a way where you can have all that you want. What could that look like? What could a win-win-win situation be? And so, with someone like Rajiv and really with all the clients, we want to look at how they're thinking and understand how their thinking is causing them pain. 

In his case, his thinking is "I'm going to lose. I am trapped. I'm stuck. There's no decision that I can make that will create happiness for me". And so, we want to push back on that, we want to challenge that belief and we want to increase his options and have him look at what could potentially create a win-win situation. 

[00:12:27] Ferne Kotlyar:
I love that. A win-win. And you said it before a win-win-win.  

[00:12:31] Kim Ades:
A win-win-win. 

[00:12:32] Ferne Kotlyar:

[00:12:32] Kim Ades:

[00:12:33] Ferne Kotlyar:
The more the merrier.  

[00:12:34] Kim Ades:
Exactly. Awesome. Once again, another interesting case and not an unusual case. I think a lot of young people, particularly people from other countries, find themselves trapped between the demands, expectations of their family members and their own wishes and desires. I know that I felt like that when I was younger. You know, wanted to move away from home and my parents really didn't want me to do that. And I did make a decision that at the end of the day, made everybody relatively happy. So, it worked out.  

But think about it, is there a decision you're trying to make that is causing you to feel uncomfortable, anxious, stuck, trapped? I'd love to hear from you. Please reach out to us. If there's a case that you want to talk about on the podcast, reach out to Ferne! Ferne, how do they reach you?  

[00:13:25] Ferne Kotlyar:
Email me! So, my email is 

[00:13:36] Kim Ades:
And if you have a case or a situation that you would love to discuss, but maybe not so much on the podcast, please reach out to me. I can be found at  

In the meantime, please take a look at our websites. and If you know anyone who could benefit from coaching, please introduce them to our work. 

And thank you for listening, thank you for tuning in. We will see you next week. Have a great week!

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