You might say that Usman Dhanani has been on a career track since the age of 5. “When people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I never said an astronaut,” recalls Dhanani, now 18. “All I have ever wanted to be is a businessman, like my father. With business, there is no limit to how much you can achieve. My father has influenced me so much.”
Dhanani, a former state president of the student marketing group DECA who graduated from William P. Clements High School in Sugarland, Tex., in June, is headed to Fordham University in New York City this fall to study business administration. He plans to join the family business, Houston Foods. Dhanani’s dad, Shoukat, owns 60 Burger King restaurants and more than 100 convenience gas stations in Texas. “I worry sometimes that I won’t be able to do as much as he has,” says Dhanani, who works at a local Burger King to learn all aspects of the business. “My father will be there for me every step of the way.”
‘Do It Now or Wish You Had’
Dhanani is one of the countless teens each year who choose to follow a parent’s career path, whether it be dentist or construction worker, hair stylist or zookeeper. This decision can place young career explorers directly in the spotlight — or the shadows. Imagine the pressure if you don’t succeed. High-powered lawyer to the stars Gloria Allred recently gushed to a T.V. host that both her daughter and her granddaughter are pursuing law. Her daughter, Lisa Bloom, wrote this in the foreword to Allred’s autobiography: “My mother encouraged me to go to law school…. When Gloria Allred ‘encourages’ you to do something, your options are (a) do it now; or (b) years later, look back and wish you had chosen option (a).”
Sure, some sons and daughters don’t feel like they have much of a choice following their parents’ lead. Take Shreyas Chand, a high school senior in Edison, N.J., who plans to be an engineer: “Both my parents are engineers, and my uncle and grandfather. It’s part of my family,” he says. While Chand enjoys engineering, experts advise that getting into a career as a result of family pressure and not personal passion could end in disaster.
Still, many young people, like Dhanani, feel genuinely inspired, rather than required. They value their parents’ career advice and insight. “I love my mom’s stories about when she first started nursing,” notes Lynette Frey, who wants to be a nurse in the U.S. Navy. Frey, 16, just finished her junior year at North Forsyth High School in Cumming, Ga. “My mom is very giving and compassionate. I would love to be as willing to help others as she is. I don’t feel a lot of pressure.” Frey, who is volunteering on the surgery floor of a local hospital this summer, adds that she worries about surviving nursing school. But even if she fails, she will stay the course, with her mother’s encouragement. “I can always be an LPN [licensed practical nurse], which still involves helping patients and health care.”
Other teens pursuing a close-to-home career path perhaps have greater confidence – with parents as professional role models — to take their talents in new directions. Spencer Ng, a recent graduate of Haddonfield Memorial High School in Haddonfield, N.J., says her parents, one a surgeon and the other a professor with a master’s in public health, helped prepare her for the college interview process and identify valuable career-related internships. Her future plans reflect her parents’ influence both professionally and personally. “I’ve always loved science and interacting with people, so medicine became a logical step,” says Ng, who was accepted into an eight-year medical program at Widener University in Wilmington, Del., with an early assurance into Temple University medical school. “We live about five miles from the city of Camden [which has high poverty and crime]. My family goes to church there and provides food for church dinners,” Ng adds. “I want to help places similar to Camden in my career by getting into primary care or working with women in underprivileged areas.”
Bring Your Own Personality
Your parents’ experience and knowledge are great resources to learn from in your career, says Domenick Celentano, a family business consultant and adjunct professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison, N.J., who used to work for his family’s packaged food business, Celentano Bros. But from there, he says, embrace your independence. “Focus on doing, creating and participating in your career in ways that tell the world you have credentials that are yours and not just an extension of your parents,” he suggests. “Remember that you will bring your own personality and identity to your career choice. It’s great to use your parents as a foundation and then build upon that, so you are viewed as having value in your profession as a result of your own knowledge, skills and accomplishments.”
As president of DECA at Nashua High School South in Nashua, N.H., Amanda Freeman, 18, has been honing her own business knowledge in hopes of eventually running the family roofing and real estate firms – or a business of her own. There’s nothing better, she says, than growing up surrounded by career counselors. Adds Freeman: “I see how hard my parents work and the direct correlation to how hard I’m going to have to work if I want to be successful in business.”
Domenick Celentano says, “It’s great to use your parents as a foundation and then build upon that.” What does he mean by this? Does your family own a business? Consider Celentano’s insights in that context. What strengths and skills might you build upon as you launch your own career?
Do you plan to follow a parent’s profession? Get together with a partner and discuss your potential choices. Why might you follow your parent’s path? Why not?
If your parents haven’t influenced your career path, who has? Do you have a mentor? How has that person helped you recognize your own strengths and weaknesses?