“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I remember having a myriad of answers as a tiny grade school student: astronaut, policeman, teacher, soldier, actress—the Starstruck Kids were at their peak, don’t blame me—and doctor. A child’s imagination is unimaginably vast.
Eventually, I discovered that training rigidly in military camps and dodging bullets are not my idea of courage and that singing, dancing, and acting in front of an audience are equivalent to submitting myself to mockery. (During “talent showdowns” in grade school, I was put in front only because the arrangement became aesthetically pleasing with students lined by height.)
Among the choices I considered, my fascination for an option never dissipated: becoming a medical doctor.
When I was in high school, I’d occasionally visit the college campus, see grownups rushing to their next class and chasing deadlines, and think how they must have a blueprint for their post-grad life. How naive of my younger self to think 20-somethings have it all figured out. (Don’t worry, this is not an Elite Daily list of what 20-somethings should do.)
I first told my family I’d work for three years in a different field before deciding whether this is the path I want to pursue. But if I had been keeping this a second option since high school, how come I never let it go? What sign from the heavens am I waiting for? I would be giving my older self a disservice by letting this chance slide and go straight into the pile of what ifs. What is the worst thing that could happen? Even more important, what’s the best thing that could happen?
The clues were there in my younger years but I figured I should explore other options i.e. communication course, as I don’t want to dive headfirst only because it is the most familiar path. I love studying communication and I immensely enjoy learning human anatomy, physiology, and social sciences (although physics and chemistry remain my archenemies). How the blood circulates through our bodies, how air passes in and out, how illnesses form and eradicate.
Understanding these things was fascinating. I remember studying for a general subject, biology, during my freshman year and seeing it not only as means to pass the subject but as a learning experience. As with other subjects, I channel mental energy onto something only when I see it valuable in the long run.
I’m aware of the “end of history” illusion wherein “people underestimate how much they will change in the future.” (For example: My 12-year-old self thought firstname.lastname@example.org was a cool email address.) I myself am surprised with this shift, but people’s priorities and minds change. As Rae in My Mad Fat Diary (MMFD) frankly puts it, “I owe it to myself to try. You don’t need fixed ideas about who you are or where you’re headed… You just need to be ready to cope with whatever crap comes your way.”
Then again, how will I know whether a choice is right if I wouldn’t make it? The paradox of choice is real.
Let’s put it this way: I know I like fried rice and dried fish as much as Kellogg’s mueslix and scrambled eggs, but for a long time I see myself having the latter for breakfast.
‘Making a life, living’
As I explained how and why I’ve become dead set on taking this course, the delight in my mother’s eyes was unmistakable. “Nalipay kaayo ko ani,” she said, each syllable clearly pronounced.
My parents never pressured me to immediately find a job (and free them from financial obligations) or to take up medicine because most people expect so. They assured me of support, no matter how unfamiliar an aspiration is for them and as long as I don’t dream of joining ISIS. Financial resources are always a concern and I feel a tinge of guilt when I remember that their retirement plans will be postponed. “You do your part and we’ll do ours,” my father reassured.
Although this decision is purely my own, I would be lying if I say they don’t have the slightest bearing. I put a premium on how my choices affect them; to hear them express happiness provides encouragement when my internal motivation begins to wane.
They are proof that all medical doctors being filthy rich is a huge misconception. Our modest means can provide three meals every day and a sense of security, but to say all doctors can buy high-end gadgets like plain shirts and go on out-of-country trips whenever wanderlust stings is not realistic at all. If you’re planning to be a doctor for the sole purpose of amassing wealth, then do not do it.
I have seen firsthand how they’ve made life easier not only for our family and friends but also for a bigger community. (Sounds like a line from a government official’s campaign speech. Don’t worry, I don’t have plans on running. At all.) To cut the long story short, I have seen how treading this path answers yes to these questions:
- Is this a source of joy?
- Is this something that taps into your talents and gifts, and uses them in the fullest way possible?
- Is this role a genuine service to the people around you, to society at large?
In case you’re in the same fork road, this excerpt might help make you that dreaded decision:
Instead of advising young graduates to “follow your passion” or “follow the money,” I think we should be telling them to “follow what’s valuable.” I suspect we’d have a much happier, more motivated society—not to mention a better functioning economy—as a result.
“Making a living is not the same as making a life,” Maya Angelou said. I guess this nugget of wisdom is applicable to other career choices.
Man vs himself
Yesterday, I realized if I would be asking someone else whether I’m ready or not, then perhaps I’m not ready. My instincts are here for a reason. But I never questioned my preparedness. It is not so much the issue as my insecurities.
To begin, I graduated with a degree in development communication, which, I suppose, is a course that requires the least amount of studying—at least in the conventional sense. My classmates and I could not relate to our other friends who spent half of their lives reading and understanding thick books and tons of handouts. Our “hell weeks” were spent planning seminars, creating radio plugs, videos, and newsletters; interviewing and writing; organizing theater productions and exhibits.
But hearing how graduates of computer science, accountancy, and other degrees far from being a preparatory course successfully wade through med school gives me a different perspective. I also know people, studying nursing and biology, whose list of aspirations excludes “become a doctor.”
Liking an idea is different from pursuing it. I like the idea of learning Japanese or immersing myself in Somalia but my determination to experience it is lacking. In the same way, I know I can develop my study habits as long as my motivation remains crystal clear. I am not voluntarily checking out of my comfort zone and exploring med school only because I don’t have anything else to do. I tried taking a masters in sociology last year. Instead of feeling challenged and healthily dealing with stress, I faced an overwhelming sense of learned helplessness. Perhaps that occurs when one’s motivation is not set to being with.
My parents have repeatedly mentioned my social life—as if it’s of an “it girl”—will massively change. I am not worried at all. People eventually outgrow things and I cannot imagine my 30-year-old self still feeling the need to party or go out every time. It’s a way of letting loose but I can definitely live without it. See: law of diminishing returns.
I can’t believe I am gradually taking concrete steps to make this idea, incubated for years, a reality. To borrow a quote from MMFD, “Being brave is never about being afraid. It’s about what you do when you are. Whether you can keep your head, whether you can do the right thing.”
This is a subheading for the ending
I don’t intend on announcing this to a wider group of family and friends yet because I haven’t taken the NMAT yet. I don’t want to count the chickens before the eggs are hatched and face the reality that the chicken didn’t turn out beautifully as I imagined. Maybe I am afraid of being seen as a failure although I’m well aware that it’s part of life. Then again, the application is always more challenging than the concept.
But a conversation with my mother gave a wake-up call to my spontaneous, come-what-may self who was afraid of failure even before setting a goal. She was, as early as now, advising me to overhaul my routine, adjust my lifestyle, and prep my mindset:
“Let’s cross the bridge when we get there, ma.”
“I know. But you should also think of and prepare for crossing that bridge.”
I’m not surprised this decision could be met with disbelief and doubt (e.g. “Maybe she’s taking up medicine only because she’s jobless.”) Such remarks put a dent on my ego, although I know people mean no harm and are just curious of such unusual undertaking. I figured I might have taken things too personally, as I’ve never experienced immensely wanting to realize a dream until now. I put myself in two situations: a) a UN organization would offer a job—presumably the dream of a development communication graduate, and b) the plane tickets for next year’s Europe trip are ready. Needless to say, I’m willing to forego and postpone these equally appealing options for med school.
The feeling of having a clear sense of direction is refreshing, as opposed to adopting the “I’ll go wherever fate takes me” mindset. Maybe big shifts such as this require a balance of being proactive and being aware anything is possible. In an email, my favorite uncle gave a much needed reality check:
I know the honeymoon stage will end and the excitement will eventually die down. In the first place, feeling euphoric all the time is abnormal. The way I explained it to a friend: You have to choose a pair of shoes from shelves of options. You see a pair which you fall in love with at first sight—and fit—yet you continue looking at other shoes in case you find something better. Ultimately, you end up with the first pair after several nights of sleeping over it.
So, yes. I am claiming it: I have around 50 days to prepare before the exam.
Hopefully, I will re-read this entry a year from now—in my white uniform, while I give myself a pep talk for Monday’s quiz—and give myself a high five for trying.
P.S.: In case you’re wondering why I was thanking Rae Earl of MMFD, this decision became clearer while I was watching the last season of the series. That’s all, nothing deep or philosophical. I appeared as if I was watching an educational film for an exam, as I paused each scene wherein the character seemed to be helping me figure out an existential crisis.
I know, epiphanies are usually portrayed in more movie-like settings like the aftermath of a dramatic confrontation. Or in the mountains as I perfect a yoga pose while the cold breeze swishes through the pine trees. Or in the seaside as I write on my leather-covered journal and stare at the vastness of the water while pigeons festoon blue skies.
But there I was, in my old, ratty t-shirt and boxers, binge-watching a British TV series, eating peanut butter sandwiches, and deciding on this shift.