I am a journalism major, so you can imagine the input I have received. But, if you cannot imagine it for yourself, let me provide you with some extraordinary examples.
At my senior grad night, a middle aged DJ asked me what I was majoring in at college and when I responded he exclaimed, "Journalism is dead! Do you know that? Do you have a backup plan? I hope you do. You definitely should." Needless to say, I was not sure how to respond nor was I too convinced he was in the position to criticize my life choices—there is no shame in being a high school DJ as your main longterm gig, but it's not like you are at the top of the career ladder yourself, mister.
There's more. But, to make many long stories short, I've heard "how are you going to make any money?", "You just became interesting, journalism is going to reverse that and make you boring again", "Are you going to join those crooks in the media?", "Journalists are a dime a dozen, good luck!". You get the idea.
And I'm not forgetting you STEM and pre-professional majors! You get hassled too, for different reasons, but just the same. The questions about medical or law school--how you're going to pay for it, that you will be in your 30s by the time you get out of residency, or how hard it is to pass the bar exam, the competition, fulfillment, etcetera.
Here are some of the plans I have devised in the case my major is attacked again over winter break. I have thought up some easy and low-conflict approaches as well as some bolder rebuttal strategies. I invite you to adopt some of these in preparation for fending off crazy and negative family during the holidays.
Be prepared. Think of this encounter as a test or challenge. Look up statistics about career trends so you are ready to throw out facts at any moment. Plus, it is probably important that you know these anyhow!
There is a reason you chose your major (hopefully), if your family member or unsolicited critic has any respect for others, they will acknowledge and accept your drive and goals in your field of choice.
3. Drop some names
Pull up some successful people who followed the career path you have in mind. Prove that there are success stories and you believe you can be one of them!
If the input is unnecessarily harsh, just point out that the person is creating a negative situation for no reason. Ask them why they can't contribute something positive. Ask why they feel the need to dim your light. You are the future of the world and your career, they should be encouraging you, not crushing you for their own entertainment.
5. Turn it back on them
By reflecting on my experience with the DJ and others I've wondered if I should turn the question back on them and ask, "Has your career been perfect?" or "Did you make the right choice?". Obviously, you are taking a risk with this one. But if you use the right tone, asking a question of that nature may actually be productive by forcing the person to self-reflect and consequentially step off his or her high horse. Sometimes when people discourage your aspirations, they are projecting their own feelings of discontent, failure, or view of society which is unfair to place on your shoulders.
Removing yourself from the situation is never a bad idea if you either don't have the mental energy to handle that conversation or if it will not lead to any resolution or positivity.
7. Their opinions do not determine your success, so keep doing youAwesome Eminem GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY Giphy
Ultimately, everyone has an opinion and most of them are worthless. None of those family members, friends, or guests at your holiday event have a crystal ball to predict your future and they won't even be the people interviewing you or opening the door to your future job someday. Their negativity doesn't have anything to do with you and it shouldn't affect you either. I guarantee that their comments will annoy you and get on your nerves but nip it in the bud or move on without even blinking an eye. What has helped me the most is finding the comedy in those situations—I may sound come across as bitter toward the DJ situation because of how many times I've mentioned it, but I actually find it really comical and a great story to tell. Don't let people put a damper on your dreams, ambitions, and action plans.
I'm not saying that constructive criticism and real wisdom should be ignored. People shouldn't tell you that your career path is going to be perfect and all sugary sweet either. Because it won't be. Every career is unnecessarily glamorized and has its downsides.
But you should be able to differentiate the people who have actually invested time, energy, and interest into your success and care about advising you. An aunt, uncle, grandparent, booger-filled cousin, distant friend, or friend of a friend that you see once a year during the holidays probably doesn't have productive or mind-blowing insight into your goals and even less, your intended career. Unless, of course, they are a respected profession in that field of work.
You can spot which criticism is productive, balanced, and backed with facts versus degrading, patronizing, opinion-based commentary. Listen to one, diffuse the other.
Good luck this holiday season and stand your ground!