I am a doctor. I do medicine. This is my identity.
Yes, and no.
“Did you always want to be a doctor?” Hell no. I resisted mightily the Chinese-American pre-med stereotype. And no, my parents never pressured me. But then sophomore year of college, I became a dorm health aide. I got a tackle box filled with cold medicine, cough syrup, ibupofen, bandages, scissors, tweezers, rubbing alcohol, etc. Dormmates sought out my fellow aides and me for help with hangovers, food poisoning, splinters, and colds. I taped condom packets to my door. Every month we convened in the student health service basement for case review and didactic education, led by the physician and nurse who ran the program. I was hooked. After that, I could not not be a doctor. Damn.
So I did all the things: Went straight through, taking all the classes and exams, following the well-trodden, traditional path to today. I regret nothing that I did to get here. I also wish I had meandered a little more, taken some more time, maybe… travelled more, seen more, and done more, before committing at age 19 to the rest of this professional life.
So I encourage my kids to study abroad, to take strange, interesting jobs, gap years, to suck all the learning out of every divergent experience they can get, all in service of becoming more of who they are. I want their range to be wider and deeper than mine was at their age, and then to expand further. Son is a sailor and world traveler, and Daughter explores widely in art, fashion, literature, history, and their intersections. They both feel the freedom to make things more than I ever did growing up. Score!
As for myself, it’s not too late! Yes, I’m a doctor. I could not love it more. I’m also a speaker, a writer, a counselor, a dreamer–and who knows what else yet!?
Oh, I’m a book club member! That may be one of the best things I have ever done–exposed myself to smart, diverse women who read fiction, omg. I always thought I had nothing to learn from and could not understand the point of novels. Now I’m slowing getting it. [The Midnight Library, Remarkably Bright Creatures, Portrait of a Thief–highly recommend these, if you have not already read.] Amazingly, I’m currently binging romance audiobook #41–more on that in a future post. 😉 Through fiction I can live vicariously, explore my own inner world from different angles, and just wonder, not to mention connect with others whose experiences of the books diverge acutely from my own. It fosters empathy–how fascinating!
In the end, why expand our range–of experience, perspective, thought, and relationships?
Range allows us to reframe, to expand how we understand things, to realize how much more we have yet to learn. It stimulates curiosity, which fosters both earnest humility and audacious creativity. If we pay attention, really observe and witness the range of diversity around us, we inevitably, paradoxically, come back around, over and over again, to how those differences actually bind us together, and point us to our shared humanity, in the grand scheme of things.
By living and learning widely, paying attention generously and openly, even frivolously, we connect–to one another, and simultaneously more deeply to our true selves, in the fellowship of all of humanity. Wow.
Why, then, live any other way?