Every job interview felt like a reenactment of my childhood need to impress. I’m now learning to redefine success on my own terms, not my parents’.


They love unconditionally, want the best for you, and think the world of you.

Equally, they subtly encourage (gradually growing into a tsunami of pressure) their children to perform flawlessly and glide into an easy, well-funded life.

The career choices and professions encouraged by parents – usually being the highest flying and most respected of jobs – are often not the same career paths these children would have selected for themselves.

These children will grow up into teenagers and then adults, never able to grow out of the desire to please their parents.

Perfectionism is often a product of overbearing, helicopter-esque parental influence – the impacts of which can have a host of long-term consequences (some of which are covered here). 

Never wanting to upset mom and dad, these children will grow up with the same fear of upsetting everyone else they encounter.

As for me?

Guilty as charged!

Not of parenting myself, but instead having a deep-rooted fear of failure, of rejection or of slipping up and making some form of mistake (the consequences for which were always severe when I was still living under my parents roof.)

How perfectionism translates into interviews

Having overbearing parents who expect a great deal of you leads to a huge amount of pressure, even after you fly the nest and venture off into the world by yourself.

For those who grew up with parents who were constantly expecting the world of their children, this can lead to a myriad of issues.

  • People-pleasing, whereby you do everything in your power to appease other people, even if that comes at a detriment to yourself. Perfectionism, where the standards you set for yourself are so incredibly high as your parents also expected nothing less of perfection, and you beat yourself up for even the smallest of slip ups.
  • Fear of failure, in which case an individual declines new opportunities and is so terrified, they refrain from trying anything new.
  • Anxiety and self-doubt, thinking you’re never good rough and will never be able to please the excessively high standards set by your parents.
  • Overcompensation, which is an attempt to overcome self-doubt and worry and try all you might to please your parents in any way possible.

This dangerous combo then leads to young adults (or adults) who sit on their seat during interviews, anxiously picking at their nails under the table and waffling desperately in a bid to win over the interviewers (who sub in perfectly as parental substitutes.)

Interview performance

I’m not the best interview subject, I’ll admit. I remember my first interview (Hollister – back when working there was the holy grail of social statuses.)

Despite having been scouted to work there on almost 20 occasions, I bombed the interview. 

I was so nervous that I wouldn’t come across well, that I would say the wrong things, that the interviewers wouldn’t like me, that I would have to go home and tell my mother how poorly I had performed.

Unfortunately, self-doubt is a self prophesying phenomenon.

The more you doubt yourself, the more you appear anxious and uneasy – which is very noticeable for the person sitting on the other side of the table.

All that pressure to be perfect and to come home successfully imposed upon me by my parents essentially set me up for an immediate failure.

Of course, this isn’t the case for everyone. 

Diamonds are after all built under pressure…

Some individuals thrive from parental pressure, and use it to their advantage to grow into confident and self-assured adults (and interview subjects.) 

They glide through the questions posed, they drum off their accomplishments and all the wonderful skills they could bring to the table with ease.

However, many people who have grown up with parents who demanded success and nothing less subsequently melt in the face of criticism, pressure, or the fear of not succeeding. 

Their anxiety shows both verbally and through non-verbal body language cues – all very obvious when seated on the other side of an interviewer.

Following the path set out by your parents

Many parents have a clear vision of what their children should do as adults. 

Doctors buy their toddlers medicine-related toy kits. 

Farmers drag their kids to work to learn how to plough and toil and birth calves. 

Models tell their children that they should skip dessert in preparation for following in their own footsteps.

Coming from a long line of lawyers, I too felt pressure on all sides to follow the same path and become a lawyer myself. Even though my interests lay firmly in writing and in storytelling.

No one wishes to upset or disappoint their parents, being the individuals who housed them and raised them and supported them unconditionally.

Roll around the limited choices of having overbearing parents:

  • Choosing your own path, your own interests and the future that calls to you – in doing so causing your parents a great deal of disappointment.
  • Choosing the path set out and endorsed by your parents, thus relinquishing your own dreams to please them.

Not a great set of options, is it?

So how do you break this cycle?

Following your own purpose and your own path is critical to feeling fulfilled and happy. 

Now, parents want the best for their children, but sometimes this can mean pushing them down a path they do not wish to follow. 

The end result can mean success and happiness (as we all need a little push sometimes)…

But it can also mean living with a constant sense of feeling out of place, uninterested in your profession, and frustrated for having to live by someone else’s dreams.

Of course, parental advice and guidance can go a long way in helping children to find their own feet.

But when this direction exceeds mere guidance and turns into rigid expectation, it can lead to feelings of resentment on both sides.

Following your dreams will always be both scary and exciting in almost equal measures, but chasing those dreams leads to far better outcomes than living a life of what-ifs, or feeling like a puppet on someone else’s string.

I’m not a lawyer (in case you hadn’t yet realized!)

I chose to pursue writing as a career, much to the begrudging attitudes of my parents.

Although incredibly daunting and anxiety-inducing, this decision meant that I also felt almost immediately as if a great weight had been lifted off my shoulders.

And whilst this didn’t mean that I performed in the next interview I did with absolute grace and confidence, it did mean that I sure felt a whole lot more confident in myself, my abilities, and my actual desire to perform in the role for which I was applying.

Because one of the biggest motivators for exceptional performance is the desire behind doing so – without which performance inevitably falters.

Finding your own purpose

Chasing your own dreams (not those purported by your parents) takes courage and tenacity. 

Plus, knowing your own purpose and calling in life is often not clear and takes a bit of testing and experimenting to discover.

It’s all good and well accepting that you need to redefine success on your own terms (not those of your parents) but if you don’t know what your own end goal is:

  • How can you set out your own path?
  • How can you redefine your own version of success?
  • How can you start believing in your skills and performing well in interviews?

If you’re still at the starting line and looking for direction on where your own purpose might lie, The Vessel is running a free ‘Find Your Purpose’ masterclass for a few more weeks.

In stepping into your own shoes, finding your voice, and moving beyond the profession which would most likely impress your parents, you often need to start by finding the life path which will most suit and interest you. 

Not everyone has a clear purpose, and for many, finding your own dreams means doing a good deal of inner soul-searching.

And even if following your own dreams means going against the path your parents would like you to follow, creating a life of your own filled with happiness and fulfillment will undoubtedly cause them just as much (if not more) happiness.

Take my parents, for example. 

Although the initial realization that I was not choosing to study law caused some disappointment, they are now overjoyed that I work in an area which interests me and which gives me plenty of reason to get up in the morning brimming with new writing ideas.

Final thoughts

The journey from moving beyond childhood expectations to defining one’s own path is a challenging but extremely important process, one which requires a great deal of courage and tenacity.

Extreme pressure exerted by well-meaning but overbearing parents leads to this cycle of perfectionism, fear of failure, and people-pleasing behaviors that persist into adulthood; particularly in such high-stakes situations like job interviews. 

And whilst some may thrive under parental pressure (not me!) many do find themselves struggling with anxiety and self-doubt.

It’s for these reasons that choosing one’s own purpose and path is so very important, as the ultimate reward lies in the creation of a life filled with genuine happiness and fulfillment…

A sentiment that brings joy even to the most (initially) disappointed of parents!

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