15 Famous People Who Picked Careers Their Parents Disapproved Of

Getty Images
Getty Images / Getty Images

Choosing a career isn’t easy, especially when your parents object to your proposed line of work. But sometimes, ignoring their advice and following your dreams can land you in the history books—just like these 15 people who followed their passions and made an impact.


You might not guess that pop star Katy Perry was raised as an evangelical Christian based on her music, especially her breakout single "I Kissed a Girl." But as the daughter of two pastors, Katy was raised according to a strict religious code of conduct that prohibited coed dances, parties and many pop culture staples like movies and magazines. Katy’s interest in songwriting and musical performance came to fruition at age 16 when she released her first album, but the faith-based CD tanked. After re-tooling her music, image, and name to the now-known Katy Perry, the singer’s next three albums went platinum. But, her parents still disapprove of their daughter's career, regardless of how successful she's been. "We strongly disagree with how she's been conducting herself," Katy's mother has said, "and she knows how disappointed we are." Ouch, mom.


Singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson has crafted hits that have been performed by stars such as Johnny Cash, Gladys Knight & The Pips, and Elvis Presley. But Kris’ success in the music business wasn’t supported by his parents. After graduating with a master's degree in literature in 1960 (he was a Rhodes Scholar who studied at Oxford), Kris joined the Army. When he was discharged, Kris received an offer to teach literature at West Point, but he rejected the job in favor of moving to Nashville to become a songwriter. His parents thought Kris was throwing away his future and disowned him. His way of working through losing his family? Writing songs and pitching them to artists.


Florence Nightingale substantially impacted the course of modern nursing and medicine, but if the “Lady with the Lamp” had listened to her parents' objections, it wouldn’t have been so. Nightingale was born into a wealthy British family living in Florence, Italy, in 1820. Her father was a well-to-do landowner, and Florence’s mother was an ambitious socialite who expected her daughter to conform to the Victorian standards of marriage and childbearing. Nightingale expressed her interest in nursing to her parents, going so far as to say she felt a Godly calling into the medical field. In those times, nurses were considered uneducated and even promiscuous, and her parents forbade her from that line of work. But after refusing a marriage proposal, Florence had the gumption to enroll in nursing school at age 30. Her parents finally conceded when they realized she valued nursing over marriage, and Nightingale’s career led her to improve sanitary conditions at hospitals, develop better nursing practices, and create educational programs and schools for other nurses.


Renowned painter Edouard Manet came from a well-to-do, politically involved family, which could be why his father rejected the idea of a career in art. Edouard’s father, August, hoped his son would climb the ranks with a career in the Navy, and though Edouard attended the French Naval Academy on his father’s wishes, he failed the academy entrance exams twice before moving to Paris, where he dove deep into studying art.


Miles Davis created iconic sounds and influenced not only jazz, but other genres of music. But, the nine-time Grammy winner may have turned out differently if he had followed his mother’s preference of playing the violin instead of the trumpet. Miles’s mother, Cleota, thought an interest or career in the stringed instrument would be more socially accepted in a segregated society. Miles’s father, meanwhile, hoped his son would become a dentist, but he understood Miles’s interest in music and bought him a trumpet. The Davis family eventually supported Miles’s instrument decision and career, but not without a few surprises. In 1958, a year before his masterpiece Kind of Blue was released, Miles said he discovered his mother could play blues piano despite her classical music education: “I didn’t know until after I’d gone back there for a visit a few years ago, that my mother ever knew one note of the piano. But she sat down one day and played some funky blues. Turned out that my grandmother used to teach organ,” he said.


Also known by his backpacking pseudonym Alexander Supertramp, Christopher McCandless left behind everything his parents wanted for him in May 1990—a degree from a prestigious university with the potential for an impressive career. Christopher’s parents were career-driven; his father worked for NASA as an antenna specialist and later, both of his parents launched a consulting company together. It's speculated that the pressure to succeed, along with alleged abuse at the hands of his father, led McCandless to abandon his trust fund and disappear into the Alaskan wilderness to live off the land, alone. Christopher died from starvation after 100 days living in the woods, but his life story became known through the book and movie, Into the Wild.


The founder of the Nobel Peace Prize didn’t initially want to be a scientist, and he kept up his passion for his original career choice: literature and poetry. Alfred’s father, Immanuel Nobel, was a Swedish inventor and engineer who hoped his son would follow in his footsteps. When Immanuel realized Alfred was more interested in writing and reading than science, he sent his son on an educational trip where he learned chemical engineering in four counties. Alfred would go on to create dynamite and hold over 300 patents. But, behind closed doors, he continued writing, creating poetry, plays and novels that were never published. And, he ensured the Nobel Peace Prize would honor standout writers.


British activist and journalist Helen Archdale made her mark on history through her involvement in the suffragette movement. Unlike many figures in history, it wasn’t Helen’s parents that disagreed with her activism, but rather her mother-in-law. Helen’s involvement with the suffragettes ranged from leading organizations to breaking windows with rocks, and she was arrested numerous times. Her mother-in-law disapproved so heavily of Helen’s political efforts that she plotted to kidnap Helen’s children, though luckily that plan was foiled.


Cuban-American singer Celia Cruz sidetracked her father’s feelings about singing salsa music to become a Latin music icon. As a teenager, Celia won a radio singing contest in Havana, Cuba, and was encouraged by her mother to attempt a music career. But Celia’s father pressured her to instead be a teacher, and though she did attend a nearby teachers' college to appease her father, she chose to return to singing. “I wanted to be a mother, a teacher and a housewife. But when I began to sing with La Sonoroa Matancera, I thought, ‘This is my chance and I’m going to do it,’” she said in 1985. Her father eventually came around.


Comic book writer Kurt Busiek is known for his work with The Avengers and Marvels. But his childhood infatuation for comic books was something he had to keep secret. As a kid, Kurt’s parents thought that “comic books rotted the mind,” and he was only allowed to read comics that were cherry-picked by his parents—essentially ones that appeared in newspapers, like Dennis the Menace. But by age 14, Busiek had found an interest in popular comic books—namely Daredevil—and began making his own throughout high school. Now, he's an award-winning comic book writer with his own series, Astro City.


Veteran broadcast journalist David Brinkley’s love for reading helped spur his interest in journalism and storytelling, but it wasn’t something his mother encouraged. During his childhood in the early 1920s and '30s, bibliophile Brinkley would read in the evenings with help from an electric light. His mother supposedly thought the bulbs attracted mosquitoes, and at times, David instead had to read outdoors under street lamps, if at all. "I was essentially a loner who went to the library a lot," Brinkley told People in 1992. Once, he gave his disapproving mother a story he had written. "After a brief glance, she threw the paper in my face," he said. '"Why are you wasting your time on such foolishness,' she said. It was a scar slow to heal."


While Edgar Allan Poe is now known as a literary great, his own father didn’t agree with his foray into writing. Poe entered West Point for a military education in 1830 as a way to get out of the U.S. Army while beginning his writing career. At the time, his published poetry was not well received. His foster father, John Allan, had hoped Poe would join his mercantile business, but Poe was determined to make it as a writer. However, once Poe was expelled from school in 1831, Allan disowned him, citing Poe's gambling and "lack of direction" as causes. Two years later, Poe won a writing prize from a Baltimore newspaper, which in turn helped him gain some more recognition and contacts.


If Robert Zemeckis had listened to his parents, Back to the Future might not have made it to the big screen. Neither would Forrest Gumpwhich he won an Oscar for. Robert’s blue-collar family thought his interest in filmmaking was only a phase, and didn’t look on it too kindly. After applying to USC's film school, Zemeckis waited before announcing his decision. His parents' response—“Don’t you see where you come from? You can’t be a movie director”—fueled him to succeed.


San Francisco native Lloyd Nolan started his acting career in Hollywood gangster movies in the 1930s and '40s. But the actor, who managed to have a long, successful career in both television and film, disappointed his parents by not joining the family shoe manufacturing business. An interview with Nolan’s parents in 1933 suggested his busy career didn’t bother them too much, but it reeked of guilt: “However, all these jobs meant little or nothing to the Nolan family back in San Francisco. Here they had a prosperous shoe business and Lloyd could have fitted in so nicely instead of struggling in a profession that was a bad risk both in society and business. This season, however, the Nolans have changed their minds and their attitude is more sympathetic toward the son in his chosen career.”


The 19th century composer Engelbert Humperdinck (not to be confused with the 1960s British pop singer) should have become an architect. Or at least, that’s what his parents thought. Unable to fully resist his parents' wishes, Humperdinck studied architecture in Germany until he was 25. But he had also continued his music education, which led him to win a number of prestigious awards, including the first Mendelssohn Award, and led him to be a full-time composer. Now, he is best known for his opera Hansel and Gretel, which was the first work broadcast live on the radio from New York's Metropolitan Opera for Christmas 1931.

All images courtesy of Getty Images