Monthly Archives: October 2010
“Because when I was growing up, I thought I would be a lot happier if I was famous and successful and if I had money. And I think that’s because we live in a culture that celebrates fame and commerce and consumerism and money, so that if you don’t have those things, you feel like you’re not enough. And I think we live in a culture that makes you feel “oh I’m a little too fat” or “I’m too thin” or “I’m not right” and “I don’t fit in.” And I think that increasingly I’ve realized as I’ve tried to change and tried to adapt and amend and pursue these ambitions, that ultimately, everybody has a beauty within themselves. And if you can find it and accept it, you will be happy, regardless of external attributes or material things.”
- Russell Brand, on Ellen
Questions like these abound, and answers were not easy to find. But a few weeks ago, I stumbled upon something that quite possibly changed everything.
While searching for something loosely relevant, I came across the website for the Association of Medical Illustrators. This was only slightly intriguing, since I knew that the profession’s existence since high school. In fact, my art teacher even suggested that I look into it, him being one of the few people who supported me having a career in art. I never followed his advice, probably because I was too wrapped up in preparing for my then-supposed illustrious scientific career. But this time, out of sheer curiosity and convenience, I decided to look around the site.
When I click on the Education page, my heart stopped and I sat in awed silence for at least a full minute. I have heard of the profession alright, but I knew next to nothing about what it takes to actually become a medical illustrator. As it turns out, it actually requires training that is way more specialized than I thought. Currently, there are only 5 institutions in North America that offer an accredited graduate program in the field. And the coursework includes not only classes in illustration, design, etc, but also biomedical science classes such as anatomy and and pathology alongside medical students.
Could it be? It’s possible to have a graduate education, and a career, in both art and science? This sounded like something I wanted, and needed. And since the prerequisites include a slew of science classes, my coursework for the last 2 years have not been a total waste. But on the art side, I was sorely lacking. I have not taken a single art class since high school, and I have no respectable portfolio to speak of. But that’s ok. It’s not too late yet. I still had 3 semesters left, and if I still don’t feel like I have enough skill and a good enough portfolio before graduation, I’ll take a year off and work on it and apply the next year. Because for the first time in my life, I felt like I’ve found something I can do for the rest of my life. Something that would make me feel happy and fulfilled and… excited. I was actually excited about the possibilities that this future hold. For the first time in my life, I felt like I’ve found my calling.
What a refreshing sensation. This is what it should feel like when you’ve found the right path for you. Not dread or despair or constant doubt. Almost miraculously, the fog that had been obscuring my future suddenly lifted. Now, not only do I clearly see what my past had been, I also see concrete, realistic, steps I can take in order to achieve a goal that I actually care about. Of course there are still questions and uncertainties, but these fill me with not fear or apprehension, but excitement and passion. Of course this is a departure from what I had originally planned for my life, but isn’t it finally time to take a leap? To take a step for the sake of my own dreams that I’ve neglected for so long?
Some people might think me foolish for abandoning such a noble, prestigious, and lucrative career opportunity as medicine. My parents would probably fall into this category. When I had expressed the slightest interest in art therapy 2 summers ago, their reaction was that of extreme discouragement and disappointment. Anything less ambitious than medicine would seem to them as me not fulfilling my potential. I’m so brilliant and talented, they tell me, and if I give up now and choose to do anything else, I would be wasting what’s been given to me. But you know what? Sometimes giving up is the bravest decision.
So I fully recognize that I may not get the support that I would like from my parents, emotional, financial, or otherwise. But that’s ok. I can turn to other people for support. I can get a loan to pay for school. It’s not their life. It’s mine. And I need to do this for me. Even if I fail, even if I find out that maybe after all, I want to change my mind again and do something else, I need to do it so that I won’t be regretting it for the rest of my life.
I don’t need anyone else’s permission to do what I feel is right for me. Sure, my new goal my not be nearly as ambitious in the conventional sense as my previous one, but that’s not what matters. I may have been ambitious before, but that ambition lacked the passion to drive it. My heart was not in it, and the resulting misery is something that I would rather not experience ever again.
What is ambition without passion? Nothing but an empty chase after a dream that’s not your own.
This time, it’s going to be different. On the verge of turning 21, and with that, of growing up, I think I’ve finally found a good answer to the question we’ve all been asked so frequently as children. This time, the answer fills me with both ambition and passion. And that’s the way it should be.
There’s a new member to my stuffy family: Mumu!
Mumu is a baby cow from Geneva, Switzerland. She likes mooing and chewing on her favourite leaf. She’s also become good friends with Spiky.
Speaking of Spiky, he’s so well traveled now that he can’t wear all the souvenirs from all the places he’s visited anymore. Luckily, he now has a new suitcase to put all his extra stuff in! It comes in the form of a metal box from London that used to hold yummy toffees.
(Continued from Part I)
Sometimes, it would be painful. The classes were tough, the stress of getting research experience gave me headaches, the MCAT was always looming on the horizon, application process itself, the insane competition, and even after all that, medical school and actually being a doctor… it would all make me incredibly upset. But I still believed that it was part of the process, that really, it would all pay off in the end. So what if I had to slave away to get perfect grades, be stuck in a lab every summer, put my life on hold to be in school for another 8 or 10 years? I was ambitious like that.
It wasn’t until this summer that I began to honestly question my decision. I was working in a lab, as any good pre-med student should be. And I was miserable. I was so miserable one weekend that I left as soon as I arrived at the lab and went home crying. I began to question everything. Why was I doing this? Why was I working in another lab when I didn’t even like last summer’s lab experience? Because I needed to do it for med school. Why did I want to go to med school? Because… I didn’t know. I didn’t know why I had been working on a goal for the past 2 years. I did not like many of the pre-med classes I had taken, doing research in a lab all day is not appealing to me, the idea of taking the MCAT and the whole application process sickens me, and I definitely do not want to stay in school until I’m nearly 30. Besides, as an international student, the chances of getting into a top American medical school is pretty much nil. And at the end of it all, to be a doctor? A noble dream; but it was not my dream.
My life felt so wrong. This was not what I was meant to do. This was not what I wanted to be when I grew up. Finally, I was seeing my life more clearly than ever before, but it was not a pretty picture. I had been carried away from my center for too long. I had lost sight of what I truly wanted in life. I really had believed that becoming a doctor was what I wanted, and everything that came along with it, I had to endure. But I was wrong. Now I understood why I never felt as enthusiastic as the other hopeful future doctors, why my voice grew weaker each time I told someone that I was pre-med, why I did not look forward to the life ahead of me for the next 10 or 20 years. This was not what I was meant to do.
I took a wrong turn somewhere along the road, and now I was lost. I didn’t know where to go, what step to take next, who to turn to. I’ve long lamented the fact that I probably should have gone to art school, but it’s too late now. And to be honest, I do feel incredibly luck to be at Columbia; I just haven’t been doing the right things here. But what now? I’ve already come this far down a path I knew was wrong, is it too late to start over? And if not, how and where? And has everything I’ve done so far in college just been a waste?
(Continue to Part III)
… If it weren’t so darn rainy and cold outside.