Maternal vs Paternal Function: Is There a Difference?

Cascade Creek Falls

Over the long holiday weekend, we drove cross-country to Colorado where we re-locate for the summer. Although the drive can be grueling (about 26 hours over two days) and it sometimes seems as if Kansas will never come to an end, I enjoy certain aspects of this annual trip. In particular, I relish the wealth of time for thinking. We drive in shifts, but even when I’m behind the wheel, it doesn’t take much concentration to keep the car on a straight line across the plains. While on the road, I mapped out virtually the entire sequence of events in my next fairy tale novella, Snow White at the Dwarf Colony. During those long quiet hours (you can only make so much conversation when you’re constantly together), I reflected on a great many other things as well, including maternal vs paternal function, and differences between my work as a psychotherapist when I first began versus the nature of my practice today.

I saw my first client in the counseling center at my school when I was 26 years old, looking a bit younger than my actual age. While many of my clients idealized me, or saw me as having it all together, I don’t think any of them viewed me as a father figure. My training taught me to focus much more on the maternal transference, so I may simply have overlooked it; after all, transference feelings are often immune to reality and as far as the timeless unconscious is concerned, my actual age would have been irrelevant. Still, I don’t think I inspired a father transference in many of them, nor did I have particularly strong countertransference feelings (in the broad sense) of a fatherly nature. Of course I felt concerned about them, but not in a particularly paternal way. At that time, my clients tended to be roughly my own age or younger, and that may have played a part in it.

I’m 58 now, and I find that I often feel quite paternal toward my clients, partly influenced no doubt by being a father of three. I believe that both men and women can be paternal; when I use the word, I refer more to function than to actual gender. From my point of view, maternal function is about feeding and nurturing: helping a child to feel safe in the world, to tolerate need and dependency, to learn to master one’s emotions. “Mothers” help us develop core self-esteem and teach us about intimate relationships. Paternal function relates more to the world-at-large; it encourages personal responsibility and prepares one to compete outside the family. “Fathers” also build self-esteem through encouragement and support, but at the same time, they embody a different set of standards and demands related to the outside world. “Fathers” help us to face and accept the often painful limitations of “real life,” to respect social mores and the rule of law.

These are very broad generalizations, of course, and to repeat: when I discuss maternal vs paternal qualities, I’m referring more to function than actual genders. Many fathers can be quite maternal; many mothers do very well in the paternal roles I describe.

I currently have a number of young adults in my practice, men and women in their 20s and early 30s. Relationship issues come up in our work, of course: the difficulties of bearing vulnerability/shame as they let themselves be truly seen by another person in order to develop intimacy. But much of our work focuses on the big question: “What am I going to do with my life?” Several of them are college graduates, gainfully employed but not particularly satisfied with the work they do. As they look ahead to a lifetime of employment, they feel dismayed by the prospect; they have a hard time envisioning a line of work that wouldn’t feel like a kind of entrapment. One of these young men would like to quit his job and travel the world “before it’s too late.” Another is continually wanting to attend graduate school in another country; to me, his urge feels like flight because he’s not moving toward any place or career but rather away from his present life. Anywhere but here.

When I listen to them talk, I am often reminded of similar things I said during the early years of my own therapy. I had virtually no guidance from my parents concerning education, training or career. After I finished my undergraduate work, I didn’t know what to do with my life, how to make a meaningful living and so support myself; I didn’t even know what was possible for me. I’d always wanted to write novels and felt angry that even selling a novel at age 23 didn’t earn me enough to support myself. I felt entitled, expecting that the writing life I wanted should be given to me now. I emotionally rebelled against the limitations inherent in adulthood: that one must leave childhood behind and take care of oneself, which means earning enough money to pay one’s bills. My therapist was very clear about this issue and never felt sorry for me. With a firm but kind hand, he would interpret my sense of entitlement and describe the reality I didn’t want to face, what I needed to do to survive. He never treated me like a child, as much as I wanted him to take care of me. (He actually expected me to pay for my sessions!) He would stress that I needed to investigate different career possibilities; he would gently suggest that perhaps more education would be needed. He was a good father to me.

I empathize with my client who wants to travel the world. I don’t believe he feels entitled as I did, but I think he’s confused about his future, struggling a bit with the restrictions inherent in adult life, and not particularly fulfilled by his job. I also empathize because I believe he has a creative nature, dislikes the realm of high-testosterone competition and would value some adventure in his life. I can’t be certain, but I doubt that quitting his job and traveling for six months is the answer; I think he needs to devote his energies to sorting a career path. I try not to squelch his adventurous spirit but I do point out some of the unfortunate facts about adult life, the ones my own therapist pointed out to me. I’m concerned about my client’s future, how he will support himself and contribute to a family if he one day marries and has children. I know that choices he makes today will affect the course of his entire life. These feelings echo the concerns I have about my own children. I definitely feel fatherly toward this client.

Another client, a young woman with a high-profile, demanding career also inspires paternal feelings in me. She’s fortunate in having found a career she loves, but fights the level of commitment needed to be successful in it. She often would prefer to socialize when she knows she needs to put in extra hours; immediate gratification versus long-term benefit is a frequent topic in our sessions. At times, I can feel that she wants me to sympathize with her desire to have fun rather than work hard. Instead, I point out that she herself has decided what she wants and there is only one way to get there: hard work and commitment. Sometimes, she’ll try to evade responsibility, wondering whether she really does want to succeed in her line of work; maybe she should pick something less demanding and enjoy life more. Neither of us is fooled by that dodge and I never feel sorry for her. As a good father, I’ve been helping her to develop the self-discipline and work habits she needs to achieve her goals.

I’m not suggesting that fathers have a monopoly on this kind of feeling; most mothers I know have similar concerns about their children. But to me, a large part of paternal function is offering encouragement while helping our children to face and accept the limitations inherent in the adult world. Paternal function involves guiding our sons, daughters (and clients) in their career paths and important life-choices, helping them to understand and fulfill their resonsibilities as adults. Paternal function stands in for rule of law and social values; it makes demands rather than addressing needs. Maternal function wants to ensure that children get what they need while residing in the family nest; paternal function offers support and guidance as those children prepare to leave the nest and make their way in the world.

Of course there’s much more to maternal and paternal functions than this, but it’s what happens to me on my mind this week. My oldest child graduates from college on June 14th, beginning his first “real” job in Chicago on July 8. My second son will be interning and living on his own this summer in Paris. Both boys, young men really, have launched upon their careers and I’m concerned that their mother and I have equipped them to handle the responsibilities inherent in the adult life awaiting them.

P.S. — The above photo captures one of my favorite early hikes: Cascade Falls above Monarch Lake. This past winter was heavy on snow and the creek is sure to be wild tomorrow when we take our first hike of the season.

By Joseph Burgo

Joe is the author and the owner of, one of the leading online mental health resources on the internet. Be sure to connect with him on Google+ and Linkedin.


  1. Interesting post. I think there can be a fine line between realism and discouragement of real and important desires. Of a creative and adventurous spark that, once extinguished, is very hard to recover. Fathers want to protect their children from making mistakes, but at some point we children (all of us) must find our own clarity about how to tread that line between what the “adult” world demands of us and what we, in turn, want from the world. It’s a dialogue, and if someone else mimes our words for us, the resolution will be fragile and tend to disintegrate.

    I’m curious how old the client is about whom you said, “I’m concerned about my client’s future, how he will support himself and contribute to a family if he one day marries and has children.” Obviously I don’t know him, but you seem to be yoking him to “adult” responsibilities before he has even chosen to take them on! How about a more expansive view of parental function than embodying society’s expectations, something like “teaching courage and integrity by example?”

    1. Good points. He’s 27. I’m not pushing him to adopt any responsibilities but rather helping him to recognize that he is making choices now that will have consequences, and to think clearly about what he wants from his life. He may choose not to marry and have a family — many people do and there’s nothing wrong with that — but I think he needs to be clear on what he is choosing and why.

  2. Being successful in life seems more like a means to me than an end. More on topic, I think there is something that a mother can give that a father cannot and something that a father can give that a mother cannot. I don’t think it’s essential, but I think it’s there.

  3. When working with your clients, do you find that you switch between maternal and paternal roles in an attempt to help the client find a healthy balance. For example, if you had a client that was a workaholic. Let’s say that he or she was only concentrating on their career for their identity and lacked in every other aspect of life and relationships. Do you as the therapist change roles to bring attention to the client that he/ she may be unhappy because they are out of balance?

    1. I probably do that without realizing that I do. As I’m thinking about it, one of my workaholic clients comes to mind and I’m definitely more “maternal” in my work with him.

  4. First of all, I am excited that you are working on Snow White at the Dwarf Colony- I look forward to you releasing it Joe!

    On topic – once again you have written on a subject close to my current experience. So interesting to hear the therapists perspective on this subject. I fell into a painful pit of transference from day one of working with my therapist– a need for him to be the father figure I crave and will never get from my own dad (literally from that first session onwards I had very strong feelings for him and he has not been far from my thoughts since). I eventually was brave enough to bring it up in session and although excruciatingly embarrassing it has been so beneficial to my progress that my feelings for him are now ‘out in the open’. His therapeutic strategy is not to ‘work with’ transference as such but also he does not ignore it. He just says we accept that it is there and part of everyday life both in therapy and out and I am welcome to talk with him about it if I wish.

    I have learned it is one of my biggest issues – this desperate neediness for people to fulfil a parental role in my life. I am recognizing that it is what pulled me into vulnerable situations as a young teenager – being drawn to men older than me looking for support and paternal love but receiving something entirely different. At the age of nearly 30 I am so uncomfortable with this feeling it aches and I want to shake it off/cut it out of me. It’s like being starving all the time and never satisfying the hunger. I liken it to when my toddler is tired and tearful in the evening and she lifts her arms to me for a cuddle and cries, ‘mamma’ and I hold her close as she settles; her sobs subsiding to deep contented sighs – I feel like that’s what my need is like – it’s a really raw, primitive vulnerability – a wanting to be held and comforted and for someone else to take responsibility for my well-being and happiness.

    During one particularly difficult session in which I was sharing past experiences about my dad relating to my abandonment issues, my therapist (upon expressing his upset and anger at the way I was treated) said he listened to me talking as if he were my father. He has been trying to help me work on feeling compassion for my dad in order to work towards forgiveness. I hoped that by saying what he did, he was suggesting he had paternal feelings for me but I guess that’s my transference at work again; wanting to be important to him, wanting him to genuinely care about me, wanting for him to think about me outside those four walls. I know on an intellectual level that he is far more important to me than I am to him – that I will never cross his mind, I also know that I don’t really know him, I only know the way he is with me in this boundaried therapeutic relationship, but the little kid in me goes wild imagining what an amazing father he must be and wondering about his life and what it would be like to be a part of it. (This I think is also me idealizing him).

    In a sense he is providing both maternal and paternal guidance – as you put it he is guiding me towards being able to better tolerate my need and dependency and to learn to master my emotions (maternal) but he is also teaching me about life’s ‘painful limitations’ – namely that my parents did not and will not ever be able to fulfil my most basic needs and that as I struggle to find a balance between my professional life and life with my own young family I need to take responsibility for my ‘self’ (paternal) – I hope I understood you right?

    I do wish I could have progressed through therapy without experiencing this attachment as it feels like one more thing that I will eventually have to grieve, one more thing I will have to come to accept that will never live up to my ever demanding needy ‘inner brat’ as you call it. I can imagine my therapist will have a place in my heart long after our sessions end.

    Anyway, forgive me for another loooong comment. I do try to edit and shorten but I always end up with so much to say – your posts give me so much to think about! On the subject of having a lot to think about I am slowly digesting your book ‘Why Do I Do That’ and am astounded at how your writing is managing to help me piece together so much of myself. Thank you Joe.

    Lastly – congratulations to your sons on their successes – you and your wife must be so proud.

    I hope your time over the summer is productive and restful.


    1. This may be long but it’s very interesting. Here’s another possibility: that over time (years), you may get something of what you need from your therapist, some experience of paternal concern that will help make up (in part) for what you never got from your father. I still feel about my therapist that he was a kind of father to me, more so than my own father.

      1. Thank you for that insight. I would love for that to be true and to have the luxury to be in therapy for as long as it takes for me to feel ready to fly the therapeutic nest so to speak. However, that’s not possible at the moment. For a start I only have enough money for another couple of months sessions (one session a week) and another reason is that he will retire in the next year or so. I am only just about coping with that fact by thinking that it is very probable that at some point in my life when money is a little less tight (please let there come a time when this is so!) I will go back to a therapist to pick it all up again. I am doing the best I can with the resources I have at the moment, that’s all I can hope for right now.

        I relate so much to your experience Joe and it’s so comforting/validating to read how you have clearly overcome so much and become so successful. My narcissistic mother and emotionally unavailable/passive aggressive/withdrawn father gave me next to no guidance or support and I left home at a young age (after their very traumatic separation) with zero identity of my own and no idea how to do this whole ‘living’ thing. I am angry that so much of me has been shaped by their selfish and inadequate ‘parenting’ and that they will never see anything other than how flawed I am.

        I do wonder though how someone who develops such an intimate and important bond with a long term therapist ever feels ready to say goodbye. Don’t you feel like you still want to see yours as he was so important to you?

  5. We single mums pretty much have to fulfill both functions, I guess?

    I don’t want to “out” myself by giving totally recognizable details of my career here – but, I had a relatively high-flying career demanding lots of hard work and commitment, not to mention financial investment. I think (this insight is from me only, not from therapy) that I hoped this career would give me a “voice that would be listened to” (which I had not had in abusive childhood). Ten years on, I have quit that career totally, have a creative life and small children. In financial terms, I am much, much poorer than I ever would have been had I stuck with the career, but I’m so much happier, with only the tiniest tint of regret due to loss of ambitions. I feel that my “voice that would be listened to” is more likely found in my everyday, more centred life than ever in the old career.

    I certainly have looked for a fatherly figure throughout my adulthood, having not had one in any meaningful sense from my actual parents. The ones I’ve latched on to have been very supportive, non-judgemental but “demanding” in that they always expected the best of me. I have valued them enormously…

    How you describe your own situation (“I had virtually no guidance from my parents concerning education, training or career. After I finished my undergraduate work, I didn’t know what to do with my life, how to make a meaningful living and so support myself; I didn’t even know what was possible for me”) was exactly mine too (and add in several life crises as I coped with aftermath of severe abuse). I feel really sorry for the self I was 15-20 years ago, not having a clue about anything practical in life and trying to earn a living for the first time after college with zero help, in fact, much sabotage from parents. I’m totally determined that my children will have a different experience, though they’re young I’m already looking into how I can be a “bridge” to the world for them as I think a good father would – e.g. joining supportive sports/ self-defence classes, sharing with them how practical life/ financial life operates etc….so they don’t have the difficulties that I have had.

    Sorry that was a long response (and I should be reading Cinderella!) but this post struck a particular chord with me.

    1. Don’t be sorry — this was very interesting and even uplifting to read. And you’re right — single parents have to fulfill both functions for their kids. Sounds like you’re doing a great job.

  6. Hi Jo
    Thanks again for a insightful article. It comes at a time where I have beem thinking a lot about my recently deceased father and the role he has played in my life. My therapist asked last week if there was something I wanted to talk about as I must have seemed pensive. There was. I wanted to talk about this wonderful man that loved me so completely and yet at the same time I was at an absolute loss as to what to talk about. He was a complete enigme to me. I really and truly didn’t know him at all. I have not one single memory of him ever talking to me\guiding me about anything as a child. It saddens me as there is so much I wanted to know about him and at times I struggle to come to terms with how he helped shape me. I guess on the one hand I have come to realise how emotionally unavailable my dad was, but yet somehow he always managed to fill me with absolute love. His belief in me and my goodness was a gift, often simply displayed by his big hugs and those 3 simple words. I love you. It was all he had to give and it always felt genuine. I was blessed to have him. I’m still processing a lot of things about my dad. Thanks for the space.

    1. Gayle, that’s very poignant. At least you have the absolute certainty of having been loved and you will carry that throughout your life. What a gift! I don’t mean to minimize the painful aspects of what you’ve written.

  7. My guess is you had a socially conservative father Joseph.

    I do think nurture and limit setting are two sides of parenting. I’d like to distinguish limits of reality from limits of thought and value.

  8. I found all of this post very provocative and insightful. My only quibble is with the continued codification of a particular style of parenting as “maternal” or “paternal.” Why continue to perpetuate these gender stereotypes when a father can be “nurturing” or “maternal” and a mother can be “goal oriented” or “paternal”?

    1. I thought I said as much, Andrea. But I do think there are distinctions worth preserving between maternal and paternal functions, regardless of which gender parent is practicing them.

      1. Joe,

        In re-reading my post, I realized that I was woefully unclear. You did indeed focus on function rather than gender….what I inartfully tried to say was that even with that caveat, words like “maternal” and “paternal” carry a powerful weight and will inevitably conjure up an image of an actual mother and father even if one does concentrate on the function.

        I tend to focus on this point after reading far too many non-fiction books that recognize that folks like doctors, lawyers and scientists are obviously both male and female but then state that for the sake of convention, the masculine pronoun will be used throughout the text and then realize while reading that regardless of that opening disclaimer, my imagery throughout my subsequent reading is shaped to be of male doctors, lawyers and scientists.

        I could be wrong but I just don’t think that I’m alone in having my mind work that way.

        1. I understand what you’re saying and I agree. No matter how much I might hear the disclaimer, my mental imagery of those professionals will also be of men. I’m not sure what is the answer, other than to use than awfully cumbersome construction “he or she” every time you mean something in a gender-neutral way.

  9. i think my education through grad school also supported maternal qualities. since becoming a dad, i do not feel that i’ve become more paternal with my clients, but when i work with young people, i do notice that i have a parental concern or interest in my client’s success. i wonder if things will change in the years to come as my role as a dad continues to grow/change.

    as always thanks for deep things to think about

  10. Hi Joe,

    Interesting got me thinking..

    I do a 12 step programme and I know that there’s some transference in it-I don’t know if that’s the right way to put it but hear me out 🙂 There is a Higher Power concept in it and I tend to think of it as God but basically, as the father figure I never had..loving, kind, caring, patient and this seems to soothe me a lot-I feel needy when I feel like this.

    I do sometimes get annoyed with my Higher Power though and feel like I’m being controlled and that I just want to do my own thing instead of being told what to do all the time (basically how I felt with my father growing up) but then I feel guilty and run back to my Higher Power emotionally, basically thinking that it’s my fault for not following the 12 steps properly in the first place, for being willful etc. When I run back, it’s like I’m full of remorse and sort of make a silent promise not to act up again but inevitably, I do again..

    It’s like I just use the whole idea of the Higher Power as a crutch almost until I feel confident but once I feel like things are going okay, I want to go off and just abandon the 12 step programme-which is not a good thing for me by the way. I find the 12 steps very effective for me personally so it’s frustrating me that I seem to make a big issue out of nothing over this Higher Power concept.

    I’m wondering whether there is some kind of hidden meaning behind this though-whether me imagining my Higher Power as kind and benevolent is basically idealising him and then when I feel annoyed at all, blaming him and basically devaluing him…

    Does any of this make sense?

    1. It makes perfect sense and I find your explication to be interesting and right on. I’m not sure how you work through these father issues; after all, a higher power — if he is a benevolent, all-knowing God — actual IS ideal, so how can you idealize someone who is already ideal? I don’t know if you devalue your higher power but it sounds like you get him confused with your real dad at points. Maybe what needs to happen is for your higher power to become flawed but still pretty darn good.

      1. Thanks for your understanding response 🙂 Yes, I feel like my Higher Power is ideal however he’s not physically present in the way that an actual father would be. I suppose that could be considered a “flaw” I would love to have a father-daughter relationship where I could ring up my dad and ask for advice.

  11. You seem rather harsh in your memoryof your father, JB – doesn`t your old man deserve some gratitude for having provided food and shelter for you, until you could provide for your self?

    Admittedly, that was all I received in the way of goodness from my father, and he often used me as a scape goat for his own vexations. But I do see what he provided for my stomach, without any thanks in return.

    Wishing you all well in this strange journey called life.

    1. I guess I’m not conveying my feelings for Dad very well. I do feel some gratitude and affection for what he gave us. I respect his work ethic and his commitment to supporting his family. I’d say that the gratitude and affection I feel is commensurate with what he gave to us, no more.

  12. I really appreciate your sharing your POV on what fathering is supposed to look like. Unfortunately I had an on again off again father . I saw him during visitation but he pawned off much of my care to his female relatives or once he remarried, to his wife. I’ve lived through what LK described. What I’ve done is read what men say about parenting, the advice they give each other and the expectations they have of each other and it’s helped immensely. I follow it and that new perspective and high expectations have helped me grow up and get going instead of staying stuck in over indulgence. Women would be so much better off with a balance of maternal attention and paternal attention. Everyone needs to grow up balanced with the wisdom of both approaches.

  13. Another deep and thought provoking post, Dr Joe. My training as a therapist focused on allowing much of my emotional experience of clients actively into our work – I feel parental with many folks and believe my avuncular way of experientially modeling emotional intimacy actually does help fill major gaps and heal wounds from clients’ earlier family experiences. It’s an interesting thing to balance genuine caring about clients with realistic clarity concerning their responsibilities to themselves for their own lives.
    It feels a lot like an altered state in which I both show I care deeply when these feelings develop over time, and that I’m available to clients only symbolically. There are so many ways to do good healing, and I guess as a therapist matures, each finds the approach that seems to work best for them and their clients in the long run. Often I’m simply doing in therapy whatever feels right, and my trainees can explain what and why I’m doing better than I can. I hope the folks who’d benefit more from your approach to therapy get to work with you, and I have someone like that in mind to refer to you. Word-of-mouth from my other clients seems usually to get folks who’d benefit from my style to hire me.
    I expect it’s OK to post a link to this post on my site, as I have several of your previous posts.
    Warmly, Dr Bob

    1. Bob, I wondering what you mean when you say you’re “available to clients only symbolically.” That makes it seem as by the therapist-client relationship isn’t entirely real in an immediate, primary sense.

    2. How do you deal with attachment theory, Dr. Bob? Do you allow your patients to express their dependency and/or love for you? I think that most patients understand boundaries, and really just need to be able to say emotionally vulnerable things without the fear of shame or punishment. Am I making any sense? Are these the type of patients you might refer to Dr. Burgo?

      This is all so interesting and it really speaks volumes about the vast differences in therapeutic approach.

  14. Thanks for the clarification; you’re a close and careful reader. I don’t want to imply that my relationship with clients is only symbolic — rather that within our very real relationship, the mental images of our interactions are available for clients to store permanently in the back of their minds, so they can Feel acknowledged, valued and cared about by a kind of “foster father”.
    Usually folks have no problem with this, although sometimes we need to process extensively appropriate limits in our real world relationship. For example, I’m not available for meeting socially outside our sessions, nor at home for telephone therapy . Dr B

  15. I have a question for you. My 18 year old daughter has almost no contact with her father, since he left 3 years ago. He left without explanation, saying goodbye, or with a plan for keeping their relationship intact. I pleaded with him for about a year to please pay for her to get counselling so that she could deal with the trauma of his absence, since he was earning over 300k, and I, nothing as a stay at home mom. He replied that he felt she did not need it, she is intact, and I was being delusional. To admit her pain, would be to take responsibility, which he has trouble doing. I am deeply troubled by all this, infuriated by his neglect, yet also greatly concerned about how to interact with her and support her. If I agree with her, and join her, I am afraid of polarizing. I want to be helpful, and I am aware that I am on some level feeling glad that she has nothing to do with him. I have also at the same time tried to maintain as neutral ground as possible, encouraging her her to sort things out with him, not standing in the way of her seeing him, phoning, etc…it is a terribly difficult place to be, for both of us.I am in therapy and have been for almost four years. There is lots of trauma in my history that I am sorting out. The pain of facing myself and my choices at times seems unbearable, and I am afraid of passing on my crap to my kids. It is inevitable to some degree, I see that limitation. I just wish it were otherwise. It’s enough to want to protect our kids from outside harm, but what if the harm is coming from me, or their father? I want to know how I can help my daughter and validate her experience without adding to her polarizing, or is it more that i just accept where she is at, and just be here for her?

    1. Yes, I think that’s about all you can do. If she expresses sadness or longing for her father, you can acknowledge her feelings without trying to turn her against him. She can miss him and feel hurt without you describing him to her in negative terms. Focus on her feelings rather than on him.

      1. Reading your article with much interest, and perhaps you won-t mind another slant on the topic. Surely it is good for this young man or any young man or woman to travel the world while there is time? Six months, for example, is not a big chunk out of a lifetime. Better to do it now, while young (and many of my younger relatives have done it) than “busting out” in later years.

        I certainly agree that career guidance is very necessary, not to mention the realization that the household bills have to be paid. But we cannot, ever, foretell the future. Nor, to paraphrase a saying from another language: “We should not try to twist the hand of destiny”.
        Maybe the young man you mention (or indeed any young person) might find their ideal career choice in another country, and would not, evidently, come upon that opportunity if they remained in what might look like a “safe” career.
        As for the young lady you mention: perhaps her instinct is telling her that job is really not for her. A job (any job) will help pay the bills but if that is all there is one becomes dead inside.
        I’ve seen too many people suffer because they stuck in a career they hated, because it was “the right thing to do”, and all too often they bust loose at a later stage in life, with unfortunate results.
        Others I know did go abroad, not intending to stay there, but nonetheless found the career they actually wanted and made a go of it.
        Everyone is different, of course.

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