If you happen to be the one in your family who's different, please know that you are not alone. Many creative people throughout history have alsofound themselves alienated or scorned by some of theirrelatives. But what can you do to stay true to yourunique way of living? Or, if you are concernedabout someone else who is the black sheep or rebel ina family that simply cannot accept this person's wayof life, what can be done to support this individual? How do you make sure he or she doesn't get crushed orexcluded by the prevailing values and constantcomparisons from judgmental relatives, especially whenthey gather for holidays, birthdays, weddings,funerals, or other events where theadvice-giving becomes intense?
"My Family Doesn't Know What to Do with Me"
Lauren's case is a good example of someone who hasbeen stung by too many comparisons with her relativeson the issues of money and status. Lauren is a brightand creative 32-year-old woman who told me inher first counseling session, "My family doesn't knowwhat to do with me. I'm a bundle of contradictions. On the one hand, I grew up with a love for Irish andAppalachian roots music, which I picked up from mymaternal grandmother and which I studied in depthduring college and graduate school. That kind ofcreative interest nourishes my soul, but it makesabsolutely no sense to my father, who's a self-madebusiness owner. He thinks I'm a complete fool forpursuing my passion for music history and ethnic folkcultures. My stressful financial situation is a bigjoke to my older brother, who's a very prominentdoctor. I'm also having trouble with theconstant judgments and advice from my younger sister,who has an affluent lifestyle and who's been divorcedtwice already from well-to-do guys."
Lauren explains, "You see, our family has a lot ofemotional baggage about money and status. When I wasa kid, my dad struggled to make ends meet. We livedin a very small house right on the edge of a muchnicer neighborhood. My brother, my sister, and I knewquite clearly that we had a lot less money and a morerestrictive life than the kids at our highlycompetitive high school. Even after my dad's businessstarted to do well when I was in college, my folkswere still extremely tight and insecure about money."
"I feel most at home when I'm wearing casual clothes and spending time withmusicians, writers, and teachers. But there's also apart of me that wishes I could have some of thecreature comforts I see my brother and sister have."
To help Lauren work through her ambivalentfeelings about money, security, and where she belongsin her family and in the world, I asked her thefollowing questions:
Asking Lauren to look beyond her family'sparticular quirks about money was the beginning of abreakthrough. Like most people, Lauren had limitedherself to only two options: either share thefamily's unappealing money obsessions, or else rebelagainst her family entirely. A third option thatmost people forget to consider is this: What if sheincorporated the best of her family (such as hermost financially savvy parent's wisdom about money)with other nonfamily role models as well as her owntraits for resilience and creativity?
For several counseling sessions, Lauren and Idiscussed how much she had learned from watching thefinancial strengths and weaknesses of a variety ofindividuals. During one of our conversations, Laurentold me, "If I could combine my family's savvy aboutmoney with my own creative passions about music andculture, that would be an outrageous mixture. Myparents and my siblings are a little too obsessedabout money, but at the same time I do admire theirability to plan for the future and stick with theirfinancial goals. Still, there are creative peopleI've met over the years who were also persistent andresilient no matter what kinds of difficulties cametheir way. I guess there's an aspect of each of thesementors and role models inside me. My job is to makesure I get all these diverse parts of myself workingtogether in harmony."