More Lessons from the Detour

In What I WIsh I Knew When I Was 20, Tina Seelig wrote, “Finding the right roles requires experimenting along the way, trying lots of different alternatives, testing the messages you get both explicitly and implicitly from the world, and pushing back on those that just don’t feel right.”

Two years ago, right after passing the boards, I seriously considered quitting medicine entirely. Of course, I never told my grandmother, lest I wanted a tearful riot on my hands. I wanted to quit because I was no longer happy, and I felt suffocated at the thought of having to spend the rest of my life in a career I couldn’t then imagine being passionate about. What I really wanted was to write, and to teach literature to high school or college students. It was probably mostly emotional exhaustion more than anything, because after this detour, I’ve more or less come to a resolution about this. I have resolved to pursue a career in medicine, though I still haven’t decided between pediatrics and psychiatry. But I am certain, after months of reading, living, and all that eat-pray-love jazz, which, incidentally, I have not yet read, that I will stay a doctor.

Experimenting allows us to push back things that don’t feel right, and at the same time, it also allows us to accept the alternatives that do. I’ve written about my hiatus so many times, I believe. There’s just one thing that I’d like to highlight this time. For five months now, I have been teaching in a Japanese university, where I have confirmed that I would have enjoyed this as an alternative career. The obsessive compulsive part of my self likes preparing the little lesson plans with the matching little quizzes. (It is also the same part that supports the illusion that I will someday make an awesome suburbian soccer mom. Partial chos.) The other, less unhinged part enjoys giving my culturally conservative kids the occasional shock. Japanese students are inherently very shy, and most of them are used to a traditional educational system, where the passage of information is mostly vertical. Aside from the language barrier, this is one of the things we’re trying to work around. We’re trying to strike a balance between helping them learn the way they know how, and encouraging them to try learning transformatively. The bottom line is, I find teaching both challenging and rewarding. Even if I don’t end up teaching literature, I think I would find some way to integrate teaching in my medical career.

The beauty of it is, being a doctor isn’t limited to confines of a clinic. I’ve never thought about it (or believed it) during medical school, but it’s actually very dynamic to be a doctor. Apart from the obvious, which in itself is a very concrete way of helping people, you can also be an educator and an advocate, should you choose to be. It must sound like I’m trying to convince myself.  But it is what it is, and to be honest, even if these are ultimately rationalizations, I feel relatively at peace with these parameters.


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