at the end of things

It’s hard to know where to begin. So I suppose I might as well begin at the end of one of the most glorious, self-affirming, optimistic, exciting, emotionally draining, and cathartic weeks of my life. With the last and possibly most anticipated, most dreaded, and most important conversation of all.

You know. The one where I told my mother that I wasn’t going to be a doctor anymore.​

A little background may be in order first. Flashback to the beginning of college – young, fresh-faced, hopelessly naïve. Everything and anything seemed possible. I could be everything and anything, but I knew that I did not want to be a physician. Much to the dismay of my physician mother. And then somewhere in those nascent days of freedom and youth and choice, a small fear took root. One that grew steadily in the darker corners of my heart. One that grew ever stronger the closer and closer graduation and “the real world” became. You may be intimately familiar with this small, insidious fear – it is likely rooted in your heart as well. A fear of the unknown, of failure, of disappointment and shame.

I don’t think that this fear was conscious. I think that when I made my career decisions, I made them the way that everyone does – a slow slide and then all at once with a dash of retrospective rationalization, justification, and reconciliation for good measure. Looking back, I think maybe I knew that I wouldn’t be happy being a doctor. But I hoped that maybe I would be good at it, and then with time and skill happiness would come. Because somehow, impossibly, that seemed like the easiest choice. A choice that combined some of the things that I was interested in, but more importantly, a choice that was secure and safe. One that put me on a path that I wouldn’t have to really think about for… hell, hopefully for the rest of my life.

I don’t think there’s any sense in saying it was the wrong choice or the right choice – it was simply a choice that I made. One that I now know was borne of fear and a bit of cowardice. And one that I’ve had to live with for the past eight years.

And holy hell, was it miserable. And I was miserable. And those dark, dark feelings built in me, roiling just beneath the surface, pulling me into the deep waters, the ones where you can’t see the bottom but you know something is lurking. Until the day I woke up and thought “What the fuck am I doing?” Why was I staying put in this small, scared place? Why was I letting myself be unhappy? The only thing stopping me was fear again. Fear of the unknown, of failure, of disappointment (in myself, of others in myself), of shame (in myself, of others in myself). Changing tack was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do, and yet all at once, the easiest. The process started slowly, and then all at once everything was different. I was different.

So. Back to the conversation. The one that I’d mentally practiced all week. That I tested out to varying degrees as I talked to my program directors and my colleagues about leaving medicine. The one where I told my mother that I wasn’t going to be a doctor anymore.

I can’t begin to tell you how terrified I was about this conversation. I expected her to cry, to yell maybe, to be disappointed, to entreat me to stay. I had a list of tearful, choked up reasons why I couldn’t. I was ready to beg her to understand. And instead, all I found was love and understanding and support.

When I told her that I had been thinking about this move for a while, that I was unhappy with my life and felt like I had lost myself, that I didn’t want to be a doctor anymore, she responded that she wasn’t surprised.

“I want, above all, for you to be happy. Who cares what I think or what anyone else thinks. You need to be happy in your life.”

Cue the uncontrollable weeping here.

My mom talked about how much time she spent working as a doctor, striving to gain more renown, more prestige, just more. All to please my grandmother and to lay the groundwork for my life and my brother’s life. My grandmother passed away recently, and my mom has since spent a lot of time reflecting. She told me that she concluded that none of those things mattered, not to my grandmother, not in the end. My mother was loved and valued, not because of those things, but in spite of them. She told me that it didn’t matter what I decided to do, but that I should live my life striving to be passionate and happy in what I am doing, all the while knowing that I am loved and valued. That she was grateful for me as a daughter.

More sobbing here.

It was a shock and a surprise. But more than anything, it was such an immense relief. I mean, of course, my mother wanted me to be happy. Of course of course of course. But those small voiced inner fears, the ones that whisper at the edges of my mind, the ones that deal in creeping self-doubt and crippling self-sabotage. Those voices are hard to ignore, hard to quiet. But now, for a moment at least, blessed beautiful silence and the promise of a different life.