We all think we should be doing something, and sometimes, we do it without even asking ourselves why we’re doing it in the first place. We’re all guilty of this, especially me.
It was around this time of the year, 3 years ago, when the doubts I had about my career choice started to push its way to the surface. It took meeting someone special, a thought-provoking life question, and an extremely tough and heart-breaking conversation with my parents to finally admit that medicine was just not my cup of tea.
Truth be told I wished someone had asked me these questions sooner, and maybe that’s why I’m writing this now.
If you’re having doubts, I hope your heart finds the answers it needs in these questions. In doing so, I hope it gives you the insight and courage you need to make that jump (or not).
In the wise words of Stevie Wonders (and I’m paraphrasing here),
“If you don’t ask, you definitely will not get.”
First, why do you really want to be a doctor?
It’s hard to believe but I’ve never once stopped to ask myself this very simple elementary question.
Part of it was because it was obvious. I was smart. Doctors save lives. It was a stable and respectful career choice.
Part of it was because there were so many people waiting to answer it for me. My parents, at family dinners. My aunts and uncles, when they asked how much longer until I’m a doctor. Strangers, when they applauded my decision to go down such an ambitious path.
It took some time, but masking these noises was only the first step to answering this question. What followed was an honest dialogue between who I am, who I wanted to be, and how I wanted to be useful in this world.
To do that, I asked myself this behemoth of a question:
What’s the purpose of life?
I’m not a religious or highly spiritual person, but it was this question that sparked my early quarter-life crisis and gave my life a whole new meaning and purpose.
When do you really think about medicine?
I’ve only thought about medicine on two occasions.
First was when someone asked me: What do I want to be?
To be a doctor, obviously.
Second was when I was studying or immersing myself into anything health-related to boost my resume and experiences. There was a time when I was really convinced I was meant for medicine, specifically surgery.
It was in 2016 and I was in Saigon with a group of surgeons, nurses, and other volunteers giving free operations to children with congenital facial deformities like cleft lift and palate. It was an amazing and heart-warming experience, and for a second, I was convinced. I mean, who wouldn’t be?
Looking back, I’ve never once thought about medicine or being a doctor on my own. I didn’t daydream about it, and I certainly didn’t lose sleep thinking about how I’m going to save lives or play a part in advancing medicine. I didn’t drink, eat, or breathe it like some of my pre-med friends did (and that’s okay).
To this day, I still have a deep respect for doctors and those in the pre-health field. To give up so much of your life to save someones else is truly admirable. But if I was being honest, I’m much too selfish and impatient to spend another 4–6 years in medical school. What I found after switching from medicine to design was that I could still be a part of this medical community and contribute back, but in a way that made sense to me. Spoiler: It’s related to design. When I realized this, it felt like I had connected the dots and came full circle. (But that’s another story for another time.)
At the end of the day, I never really saw myself going down this path to medicine so when I never asked myself why I wanted to be a doctor, naturally, I never followed up with ‘Should I?’.
And honestly, maybe that's the most important question of them all.
If you weren’t doing what you thought you should be doing, what would you really be doing instead?
Seriously. How do you spend your free time? Have you really gave what you called your ‘hobbies’ a once over?
Now, take it back even further. What did you like to do when you were young? Back to when there was no societal pressure. Back to when your parents and relatives thought you were too young to force their views on you. Back to when you did things because you actually really really liked it.
What was it?
For me, I have always gravitated towards doing creative and entrepreneurial things. When I was in 4th grade, I would sell my left-over Pokemon cards to my classmates. In middle school, I taught myself Photoshop and some HTML to customize my own Myspace and Neopet layouts. In high school, I picked up photography and participated in several state-level business competitions because I was too late in joining the Medical Academy (and I really needed an extracurricular for my college applications.) And you know what? I really really liked it. It felt natural to me.
Are you good at it?
I’m willing to bet you are. There are many studies out there that show we perform better and are more creative when we’re not placed in a stressful state or environment.
When I was in elementary school, I didn’t just sell pokemon cards. I was a freaking dealer, a hustler. I would buy those booster Pokemon packs, kept the ones I didn’t have for my collection and sold the extras. The hustling part? I would charge a 50 cents interest DAILY for anybody who wanted to buy a card but didn’t have enough money for it. It wasn’t much but it paid for snacks, and well, more Pokemon cards.
Those Myspace layouts I created for myself in middle school? I decided that if it was useful for me, maybe it would be useful for others as well so I ended up starting a layout site. At first, my only friend was Tom. Eventually, I started making friends with other smaller layout sites where we would help each other out by promoting each other on the bulletin boards. After gaining a couple of thousands of friends, I started to get cozy with even bigger layout sites and providing an even wider selection of layouts. Next thing you know, I was providing layouts for over 80,000+ people worldwide within months.
So here’s my belief:
When you give yourself the attention and time to focus on your strengths and do the things you love— that’s when you truly allow yourself to find success in your abilities and who you really are.
Lastly, what really keeps you up at night?
Besides the 7:30am physics exam or the paper due at 11:59am.
What really keeps you up tossing and turning at night? In the best way.
One of the reasons why I knew I made the right call switching from medicine to design was because of how nerve-racking but excited it made me feel.
I can still remember this one night 3 years ago when I was working on my first design project. It was past midnight and I had finally just finished putting up the last sticky note on my wall, turned off the lights, and tucked myself peacefully into bed when all of a sudden... a new idea popped into my head! And the next thing I knew, my mind was racing, glossing over the idea, again and again, refusing to let up until I got out of bed and back to my desk. And, that’s when I knew.
Finding ways to creatively solve problems was what kept me up at night. Design, strategy, and business was the thing I wanted to talk about when no one asked. It was what I was good at. It was who I am. It was what I enjoyed doing all my life despite my many attempts to suppress it out of fear.
Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of being judged. Fear of being a disappointment to my family, and worse, fear of being a failure to myself if I was to make that jump. But if you don’t make that jump, how else will you know what’s on the other side?
Since my switch from medicine, I’ve gotten the opportunity to move abroad and work for an amazing travel start-up in Vietnam where I got to lead my own product team, collaborated with big tech companies like Airbnb, got in touch with my Vietnamese roots, and traveled to my heart’s content. (Travelling around South East Asia was surprisingly, incredibly cheap!)
That special person I mentioned at the beginning of this article? I met him when I was graduating from college. He was also graduating, but with his second degree in Computer Science. Prior to it, he had graduated with a finance degree and was working in a career that ate away at him. After spending another 4 years in school and starting completely over, he’s now working happily at IBM.
So if you’re wondering if it’s too late — It’s not. It’s never too late to be yourself, and it’s definitely never too late to chase after your dreams.
It won’t be easy, but as we all know, nothing worth having comes easy.
“You cannot be anything you want to be, but you can be a whole lot more of who you already are.” ― Tom Rath