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Laundry On Sundaes

Every beginning is only a sequel, after all, and the book of events is always open halfway through.

(Continued from Part I and Part II)

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.

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