A bit of context - I never finished university (I got to the stage where I had completed all courses and had my engineering thesis to complete - I didn't because I focused on work and getting appropriate certifications and courses relevant for my chosen career path) - I plan to somewhere in the future, however it is not on my priority list right now.

It's come to a point where I don't even want to visit anyone (my parents, aunts, brothers etc.) anymore because I know the major topic is going to be my education situation - and it's things like "you're going to end a beggar", "no one will respect you" and such.

Deep down I restrain myself from telling them that I already am better off and with better prospects than any of them without being half their age, but I don't want to say it like that, because I believe that will make them defensive and even meaner.

I would like to convey to them that this is my chosen path, those are my priorities, I do very well in life without making it about comparisons between our lives or being plainly rude to make them stop harassing me about that.


7 Answers 7


...this is my chosen path, those are my priorities, I do very well in life

There you have it. You have the message you want to convey; now it's about how you convey it.

First of all, be confident! It's your path, not theirs. "you're going to end a beggar" "I'm confident I won't; I'm sorry you feel that way". "No one will respect you." "You mean I'll lose the respect of the people that rely on me now?"

It's not worth arguing with people about this. You've got your message; now just keep repeating it. "It's my path. I'm doing OK but thanks for your input". The more you try to convince people that you are doing OK, the more defensive you sound. So don't go down that road. Merely state that you are doing well and happy with what you do.

This is just me, but if someone told me I was going to be a beggar, I'd respond with "And I'll be the best dang beggar around!" Generally, once people see that they can't provoke you into an argument, they'll quit.


I'm looking for a phrasing that will convey that this is my chosen path, those are my priorities, I do very well in life (...)

This is not about you. It is about them.

I assume their intention is to motivate you to get the degree. Their strategy (pointing out drastic future consequences) is known to not be very promising, and it really isn’t, so they do more of it.

They probably see this as their contribution to a happy life for you in their role as parents/relatives. And your degree might even reflect positively on their social status. I think this is inherently human.

So, discussing this as if this was about you by countering their arguments etc. is feeding their attempted solution to motivate you, straining the relation even more, resulting in you avoiding them more. At the rare encounters, they then will double their efforts to work towards their noble goal.

What to do?

Consider what I wrote when they display their „motivating“ behavior, and see it as their continued attempt to do their job well, to be loyal to the wellbeing of a family member.

Steer the discussion to their motives, and really listen to them.

Bob: beggar, under the bridge ...

  • you care more about that degree than I do, don‘t you?

  • Do those worries keep you awake at night? That must be terrible, because there‘s nothing you can do about it. (absolutely no sarcasm!)

  • Do you say this to motivate me because I am important to you, because you want me to do well in life? And that degree means this to you?

  • How would my degree effect you and your life?

  • Would you feel elevated by having a graduated engineer in our family?

  • Are people bugging you because I dropped university?

  • Do you feel as if you failed because I dropped college?

  • Is it hard for you to accept what I do? ... How comes?

After really listening to what they say, you might...

  • what do you think moved me to do as I do?

  • do you think I worry more or less than you do about this issue? (...) How do you think about this?

  • would you like to hear how I feel about this?

  • do you feel the way we are talking about this is making our family meetings better or worse?

  • do you think your „interventions“ have rather positive or negative effects on me / us?

After listening, introduce what effects this has on you.

Whenever loyalty to your well being is spoken, honestly appreciate this:

I am glad I have a brother who cares about me, who‘d be there if I need him. Listen, in this matter, I don’t need you, I‘m really fine.

These strategies might really transform the way you relate and talk to each other.

  • 1
    I don't like the comment having a "real" engineer in the family. By all accounts, the OP has the education and is already working in the field. I am not sure what else here constitutes a "real" engineer. Good answer overall.
    – Link0352
    Apr 5, 2018 at 15:35
  • 1
    @Link0352 see your point. Probably „real“ would be pacing the attitude of the interlocutor and open up room for a debate. Changed it to „graduated“ though - enough room for debate already given :)
    – michi
    Apr 6, 2018 at 6:10

You live in a family of emotional manipulators. This is a very common thing. There is no easy solution to this problem. They are invested in manipulating you and will not listen to any arguments that your choices are valid. Attempting to explain your choices will probably only end in frustration as you come to see that they are not listening.

I do not recommend that you spend much time considering the possibility that they might be correct. Phrases like "you're going to end a beggar" and "no one will respect you" are emotional arguments; they are designed to short-circuit your logical reasoning and sway you to doing what they want rather than what you want. People interested in logical discussion never use such phrases.

The way I see it you have two options:

  1. Accept that what they are doing is wrong. This is not an easy option. You can find self-help books and online interest groups for dealing with emotional manipulation. Therapy can be useful and I would recommend it. This will be a long hard battle and can end up in estrangement. You will at least retain your dignity, and some of your family may sympathize and remain friendly.

  2. Accept that what they are doing to you is a fact of life. They will never change and interactions with them will continue to be like this. This is not fun, but it has the advantage that you get to keep interacting with your family, even if you don't enjoy all the interactions. Also, there's less chance of disappointment, since you have low expectations to begin with.

Whatever you decide, I hope you take the opportunity to learn that this sort of behavior is emotional abuse, and that you eschew such behavior, yourself. And that if/when you have children, you teach them not to abuse others in this way or to put up with being abused.

  • "You live in a family of emotional manipulators" Wow! That's a strong assumption to make! Could you please include a link referring to what you mean by emotional manipulator? I'm curious to understand what makes you qualify the OP's family that way.
    – avazula
    Apr 4, 2018 at 7:31
  • "emotional manipulators" sounds like an interesting concept, do you mean the mode of persuasion pathos? Apr 4, 2018 at 10:53
  • 3
    They are clearly attempting to convince the poster to change his/her life choices (this is manipulation) and they are doing so using emotional arguments. I don't see how the label "emotional manipulator" can be controversial in this context. Apr 4, 2018 at 12:35

Put the focus on yourself, your field, and how you fit into it.

Don't make comparisons between you and them. Instead, talk about your situation by mentioning the changes in your life you've managed to make with your career: "I just got a new apartment", "I bought a car", "I'll pay off my student debt in just a month!", etc. Whomever you're talking to will be able to make the comparison themselves without feeling like you're insulting them.

Depending on your field, you may want to mention that workplace experience is often more important in the hiring process of senior positions especially if your field is one that often has many openings available.

Personally, I'd go with something like this:

I'm not worried about finishing university; I'm in a comfortable position with a comfortable salary and I assure you that with my experience and training that I will have no trouble consistently holding a job.

As an added note, I find that mentioning anecdotes and statistics will often make you seem more defensive by virtue of other people thinking you had to prepare just to defend yourself.

Also, unless you're an extremely successful millionaire, don't mention the myth of the college dropout (see: Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, etc.). That's just pretentious and people will interpret that as you comparing yourself to them.

  1. Tell them how you feel.
  2. Tell them about your job but don't compare yourself to them.

It's come to a point where I don't even want to visit anyone (my parents, aunts, brothers etc.) anymore because I know the major topic is going to be my education situation - and it's things like "you're going to end a beggar", "no one will respect you" and such.

Tell them that their continued (unfounded) claims about your possible future are making it so you don't want to visit them any more. They should know that. They're your family and they (apparently) care about you enough to pester you about your potential future - let them know that their pestering has bothered you to the point that your potential future may not include them... or will include them much less.

My interest in visiting you is low because all that happens when I do is that you pester me about finishing my degree. You don't ask questions about how my life is, you just assume that it will fail. I understand that you're concerned about my future and I appreciate that. I'm not. I hope that we can move past this because I generally enjoy being around you but not if this is the only thing you want to talk about.

I would hope that understanding how much it's upsetting you to be constantly bothered about a future that is unlikely to happen would encourage them to clam up. It's unclear if this is more serious or teasing behavior from them but, either way, it's making you uncomfortable and you don't have to hide that from them. That said, telling them so will potentially lead to more arguments if you don't also explain why you feel secure.

And that's where the second point comes in... they're obviously concerned about you and interested in your success, so tell them about how successful you are - without comparing yourself to them. Many people don't necessarily understand the work others do, they just have a nebulous concept of it and they make assumptions based on what they know (or don't know). They often ascribe their preconceived ideas about one thing to something completely unrelated.

Be willing to fix this. Tell them about your job, the prospects you have in it. Talk about how comfortable you feel in your profession for the time being and - if you have any info about it - talk about what the standard expectations are from people in the field. Perhaps having experience or subject matter expertise is more valuable than a degree... Come armed with some actual info.

The important thing is to make this a discussion rather than an "I'm listening to you complain about my life without being willing to listen to me" session. Let them ask questions and you answer them. If you don't have the answers, do some web searching to find them together. The more they understand, the better they'll accept your choice... and then you can always mention that, if it's necessary to move forward that you have a university degree, you will finish your degree. Perhaps a future job will even offer to allow you to do so while you're working.


You could start by pointing out the fact that neither Bill Gates nor Steve Jobs graduated from college or university either, that you're not going to wind up a beggar because you already have a job.

You may tell them that your focus is to lock down your career first, then get the education along the way, that you haven't given up on anything but are taking your own path.

If the topic of respect comes up, you can tell them

My family will always love and respect me, and that is what matters to me, not the opinions of strangers.

It is hard, I know. I do not have a degree either, and for the same reason. I am doing well in my career as it is and don't really need one. There is no shame in that


One thing you need to be aware of is that your relatives may be annoying but right. You say that finishing your degree is not a priority for you right now. The problem is that it may be too late if it ever does become one, and it becomes increasingly harder to get this over with.

You also need to be aware that you'll get less pay without a degree and be let go in case of problems sooner: when upper management has to perform cuts, they'll do so first on less valued or less permanent employees, and without a degree, you are likely to be in a smaller pay class and be considered more volatile. Also there will be less of an incentive to give you pay raises or any other incentive or benefits since not having a degree makes it harder for you to move elsewhere.

Yes, this is stupid but stupidity rules the world. Now people will point out famous entrepreneurs never having finished their degrees: of course if you end up running your own company, nobody will ask about your degrees. However, there is little point in betting your livelihood on a really rare kind of success when a reasonable backup is in comparatively easy reach: after all, you already finished almost all of the requisite work.

Now to silencing annoying people: acknowledge their point before deflecting them. A degree puts you on a different career path than a non-degree, and you very much make it sound as though the kind of perseverance and focus expected from a graduate is not readily accessible to you, so the kind of career paths and responsibilities connected with the different position and pay a degree would afford you would be more detrimental on your personal life than the advantages could offset. That turns the base of your decision from "not a priority" to "not a good idea".

Is it that? If so, it might be a more sobering sell than the "not priority" bit. And people might still think they owe it to you to convince you otherwise. But it might help you if you yourself have a less evasive stance about your choice.

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