“Show me a mother with that much thwarted ambition,” a character in Laura Moriarty’s The Chaperone says, “and I’ll show you a daughter born for success.”

It’s a line that jumps out because it rings true–and not just for mothers and daughters. If we’re not careful, anyone of us can find ourselves being pushed in the direction of someone’s failed ambition. Whether a parent, an older sibling, a lover, a mentor or a boss, people have a way of wanting to live vicariously through someone they can influence. That urge is never stronger than when they’ve tried and failed to achieve their own dreams. In The Chaperone, the mother in question is an unhappy housewife whose dreams for academic and professional success were cut short prematurely. The daughter is Louise Brooks, the real life silent film icon of the early 20th century. The latter pushes the forward to read voraciously and be a huge talent–and though it fosters resentment, it also aids in the girl’s historical successes.

But what good are successes if the idea to achieve them didn’t originate with you? If you’ve never had time and opportunity to decide for yourself what you value and want in life, how will you know if you’ve found personal contentment? So many of us feel the pressure to “go farther” than our parents did, but unless that forward motion is on a path of our own choosing, we’re not following our own road to happiness. We’re following someone else’s bliss.

It’s never a great idea to make decision on the basis of who you’ll please. Not only will you feel disingenuous and unhappy, but you may encounter jealousy. Though you’ve been pushed toward a success some forebear didn’t attain, and though he or she may enjoy living vicariously through that success, he or she could just as easily resent you for succeeding where he or she failed. In the end, no one’s happy.

Have you ever felt pushed down a path you didn’t pave? Have your parents (or anyone else) been vocal about their desire for you to follow in their footsteps or succeed at something they’ve always dreamed of accomplishing? How did you handle it?

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