When the "very best" isn't good enough
May 7, 2013 5:57 PM   Subscribe

I'm graduating college, but it hasn't gone 100% how it should have. I struggled both academically and mentally (have been getting help for both, but it's a process without any "magic bullet"). I have had a lot of pressure from all sides of the family to go into medicine, but I have to see how it is first (through an internship). How do I confidently defuse their nagging questions and bring them back to reality?

My GPA is nowhere where it needs to be for medicine. Honestly, I'll give the internship a chance, but I never particularly wanted to be a doctor. (Not that I would mind being one if I could, but not exactly much of a calling, either.)

On the flip side, I don't really know what I INDEED want to be, and I may have to go through several jobs and/or internships to really know. Just like a "normal person", I guess.

A lot of family members are physicians. Many don't really like their jobs! Yet all are trying to use me as a "sacrificial lamb" of some sort. Yes, it's bizarre.

They're not pressuring their own kids...

It's not as if most people know what they want to be, is it? It's not the 1800s anymore where you have to work the same factory job from the age of 12 to 70!
posted by anonymous to Education (19 answers total)
"I'm sorry, Uncle Bob, but that's just not what I really see myself doing, or being happy doing, in the future. I know how much determination and self-discipline it takes to succeed in medical school, and I don't want to take the spot of someone who wants it so much more than I ever would.

So, how about those Steelers?"
posted by SMPA at 6:07 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

Whose life is it, anyway?

"...but I never particularly wanted to be a doctor."

You are under no obligation to fulfill your family members' expectations. Be strong and tell them so.

"I may have to go through several jobs and/or internships to really know. Just like a "normal person", I guess."

Precisely, because you are a normal person.
posted by BostonTerrier at 6:08 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

"No thanks, I am not interested in going in to medicine. I am glad that you have found success and happiness there, though, and I admire you greatly for having gone into it!"

"Well, I'm not sure I'm 100% on board with becoming a doctor or whatever, so I'm going to see how I feel after an internship or two in the discipline and move forward from there."

"Hey, I really appreciate your faith in my abilities and that you feel I'd make a great doctor. I'm not interested in going into medicine, but it means a lot to me that you think I'd do well there. I'm looking forward to figuring out what profession is right for me."

"Hey, I appreciate your interest in my career, but lately it really feels like all you do is harp on me about your desire to have me become a doctor or a physician. I'm not ready to make that decision yet, and it makes me really uncomfortable when you pressure me into trying to say yes to something I may not want to go into. Can you please let up a bit so I can approach the career-search process the way that I need to?"
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 6:16 PM on May 7, 2013 [1 favorite]

My dad is a pediatrician, my mom is a nurse, and a lot of other people in my family work in the medical field in some capacity. While I didn't get a ton of pressure to become a doctor as a child (I was always the literary/humanities/arts kid), my parents fully expected me to do something in that universe. I'd be a drug rep, or go into malpractice law, or maybe become a therapist or something.

They were still somewhat in denial about it when I started college as a theatre major, and later changed to anthropology (which I think made it worse, because one can parlay an anthropology degree into something having to do with medicine).

Because of this, I faced a lot of What Do You Want To Do, Then pressure. And I made the mistake of having a new Life Goal every six months or so. First it was archaeology. Then grad school for linguistics. Then law school. Because everyone in my family seemingly knew from the moment they were born that they wanted to work in medicine, they all completely trusted that each New Life Goal was for real, and were confused every time it changed. They were extra confused when I graduated from college and immediately got a job in film production, of all things.

I still often feel like I'm not driven enough, or like I haven't accomplished enough simply because I didn't know that I needed to HEAL PEOPLE from toddlerhood and then go step by step down a list of things to accomplish that goal.

Because of this baggage, I'm tempted to advise you to give them some things you do want to do, and try to make those things sound as attractive as medicine. But really I think my own life proves that this is bad advice.

Just be honest with them. Be where you're at. Say, "I don't think medicine is for me, and I'd like to spend some time figuring out what really interests me." And then do that.

(I will also say, cynically if pragmatically, that this will all be a lot easier for you if you start by getting some kind of job that enables you to support yourself. Because when you tell your doctor family members that you just want to "find yourself", they tend to make a lot of unfair assumptions about what you meant by that.)
posted by Sara C. at 6:18 PM on May 7, 2013 [7 favorites]

Well let's just be blunt and point out that you have no chance of getting into med school with a sub-par GPA and no burning desire to be a doctor. Plus you'd be setting yourself up for a life of misery.

It's okay to not know what you want to do with life. Just try to do something you at least like.
posted by DoubleLune at 7:00 PM on May 7, 2013

When my father was in college in the 1940s he had a good friend who came from a family of attorneys. This friend was also, of course, supposed be an attorney.

In the spring of their senior year, my dad was at the newspaper where he worked and spent most of his time, and his friend showed up. He knew his friend was supposed to be taking a final exam at that very moment, so he asked him what was up.

"Well," his friend responded, "if I take the final exam I'll pass the class, and if I pass the class I'll go to law school and become a lawyer. But I don't want to be a lawyer. I want to go to Hollywood and write screenplays."

And that's what he did.
posted by alms at 7:20 PM on May 7, 2013 [6 favorites]

Are you in the US? If so, do you realize that there are fairly significant undergrad prerequisites for med school admissions? (Often when I would mention that I taking the second semester of organic chemistry, the other person would reply with a knowing chuckle, "Oh, I remember o-chem. That's when I realized I didn't want to be a doctor after all.") If you have taken those courses and they're contributing to your low GPA, I think you know how that's going to be seen.

You don't really want to be a doctor in the first place, you don't think you have the grades for it, and you don't seem to have any personal experience in a hospital setting. Your relatives are in denial if they seriously expect you to march off to med school, and I think you should just point that out to them.

...and I don't want to take the spot of someone who wants it so much more than I ever would.

This is a good line. Some people really do experience medicine as a calling. Let patients have that kind of doctor. And you're right -- you don't have to decide right now. Maybe after experiencing something of the world, you'll realize that you do actually want to be a doctor. I promise you med school will still be there.
posted by teremala at 8:20 PM on May 7, 2013

You don't have to decide you have a calling, but...what comes easy to you? Your college experience and stats say something, but not everything.
posted by rhizome at 8:38 PM on May 7, 2013 [2 favorites]

Keep in mind here that the subject at hand is the next 50 years of your life, not theirs.
posted by aryma at 10:49 PM on May 7, 2013 [4 favorites]

To be more blunt: some day they'll be dead. Are you going to wait till then to take possession of your own life? Hopefully not! Therefore it's ok to say, right now, "I appreciate your concern, but medicine is not for me. I am in the process of figuring out what is, and I intend to support myself in the meantime." And then do so, without apology. Only you own your life.
posted by emjaybee at 5:18 AM on May 8, 2013

Please don't even think of becoming a doctor when you're not enthusiastic about medicine and its significant role in human lives. Becoming a doctor should not be about money, reputation, tradition, or simply an extension of privileged higher education. Incomparable responsibility towards human lives comes with this job, and if you fail to recognize or prioritize that even for a second, then it's not for you.

It's perfectly natural to not know what you want to do at that age. I know it's extremely stressful to have to deal with outer pressure, but as for responding to your family members, be honest and say something on the lines of "I cannot irresponsible choose the path of medicine at this point in my life. I need to take some time for myself to discover my own path, and I hope you will allow me to make my own decisions, both good and bad".
posted by snufkin5 at 5:23 AM on May 8, 2013

You have this internet citizen's support to make your own decisions and live your own life.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:17 AM on May 8, 2013 [3 favorites]

So...why are you living your life for other people? Who cares what other people want for you? You ARE a grown-up right?

Sure, your parents or family members may have contributed monitarily to your education, but hey, that was their choice. It doesn't mean they get to choose your profession for you. Also, they don't get a vote on who you marry, what kind of house you buy or any other choices that are 100% yours to make.

So, do your internship if you want to. Apply for jobs that sound interesting, and then do them. I had a notion that I wanted to be a teacher, and I was an English major in college. Then I got a job at the phone company and it turns out that I liked doing that and I made decent money doing that. I was in telecommunications for 25 years (with a two year sabbatical to teach, which I HATED!)

Some times that job you take to pay the bills really does ring your bell. Some times you realize that a job is how you make money to fund all the things you like to do with your free time.

Those generations starting with the baby boomers and ending with Gen X all seem to think that a job is supposed to fulfill you. The reality is that most of us work to earn money, and get our fulfillment in other ways. Millennials were sold a bill of goods on that one. College doesn't guarantee that you'll get a job that lights you up. There are NO guarantees of that sort.

Just acquire some skills and get a job that you can stand. Follow your passions outside of work, and see if you can build some intersections in your worklife.

As for what your family wants, well, people in Hell want iced water, but that doesn't mean they get it.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:22 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

"It's not something I am considering or are interested in discussing with you." Repeat as necessary. Versions of this line (some a little gentler, some a little more curt) have gotten me out of some similar conversations (When are you getting married? Why don't you have kids? etc, etc).
posted by futureisunwritten at 7:42 AM on May 8, 2013

It's not as if most people know what they want to be, is it?

It's hard to pick a career if you don't have a strong sense of what you want, and aren't interested in being an easily-defined professional (doctor, lawyer, teacher, etc.). I spent a good few years flailing around trying to figure out what to do with my life after college, and here's what I wish someone had advised me to do:

Think about what part of any given class, job, hobby, chore, or other activity is fun, interesting, or exciting for you. What kinds of problems/questions are interesting to you? Conversely, what problems/questions/activities bore you to tears? In other words, if you were working some random office job, regardless of the industry, what parts of the job would you enjoy and what parts would you dislike?

Some examples of the above might be: do you enjoy doing research to identify a bunch of potential solutions, or do enjoy creating and advocating for a specific course of action? or do you like that whole process, start to finish? do you prefer to work collaboratively or alone? do you like teaching and communicating with others to help them understand, or does that sort of thing frustrate you?

Also think about which fields are interesting to you. Are there fields that, if you met someone at a party and they said, "I work in X" you'd think, awesome, tell me more? Obviously, some fields are are tougher or more competitive than others (e.g., journalism), as are some parts of other fields (e.g., in law, finding employment as a lawyer after graduating law school). And some fields are less glamorous but more potentially lucrative. You may find that you're interested in something super competitive, but not passionate enough about it to truly make a go at it--that's fine. You might also be only moderately interested in some "safer" field, but if you dig into it, you could find a way to take on a role/job within that field that really excites you. I think it's useful to think about this question after you've identified your task/activity-related interests. For example, if during college you really enjoyed tutoring classmates, and you're interested in a field that isn't obviously related to education, maybe you could become a corporate trainer or do something around communications in that field. Or, if you enjoy project management-type tasks, and you're interested in a career in healthcare (but not as a physician), perhaps you could find a role in hospital administration or as a project manager for a healthcare related company (software, medical supplies, etc.).

Once you've reflected on your interests in these ways, it'll be easier to start going to people to ask for advice: your college almost certainly has a career office that can connect you with alumni who are working in fields you're interested in, and can help you apply to jobs or internships. You can also start developing your own network--ask your friends if any of their parents or older siblings are in jobs or fields you're interested in, then have them introduce you. As you meet professionals in fields you think you may be interested in, contact them for informational interviews. Ask them how they ended up where they are, and what advice they'd give you.

And keep in mind: there is nothing wrong with trying out a few entry-level jobs to see what suits you. For entry-level jobs, you generally need to be able to sell yourself as, "I'm smart, hard-working, and have good organizational/communications/problem-solving skills; and I want to work for this organization." You don't need to be able to sell yourself as, "I'm an experienced professional in this field."
posted by Meg_Murry at 7:56 AM on May 8, 2013 [2 favorites]

"have had a lot of pressure from all sides of the family to go into medicine"? I'm wondering if you're perhaps misinterpreting people's attempts at small talk as pressure. Perhaps all these relatives know about you is "you're going into medicine". They figure you're psych'ed about it, and want to support you and talk it up: "So, I hear you're going into medicine, such a great field, congratulations". Is that pressure, or sad social floundering?

Otherwise, show them this graph: Doctor Icome vs UPS Driver, and say you're going to help people in other ways.
posted by at at 9:34 AM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

I can't speak much to the medical school part of this question, except to say that I love math and chemistry, studied them both in college extensively (math major, took chemistry through quantitative chem and two semesters of organic) and despite really loving science in general and being pretty good at my chem classes, there is NO WAY I could hack medical school. It doesn't only take a high GPA and good background in the sciences, it takes an INSANE work ethic. Seriously. One of my best friends (who lives across the country from me) is finishing up her intern year and we have barely even talked on the phone in the last few years because at any given time she's either at work or asleep. When she was taking courses, her schedule was basically: be on campus from 6 AM to 11 PM on weekdays, probably be on campus most of the weekend too. Your work ethic needs to be impeccable.

Additionally, while medicine pays well when you actually get out in the field, for your entire time in med school you are living entirely off student loans because it's not possible to hold any other job, part or full time. You'll graduate medical school with a significant chunk of student loan debt, and at that point you'd better still want to be a doctor, because only a really high-paying job is going to go anywhere towards paying that off. While you're allowed to take more loans out than the usual grad student, you'll still be spending your post-college years living VERY frugally while also dealing with lots of physical and mental stress. Knowing my own mental health limits, I know that I could not work the hours required to get through medical school, full stop.

For the more general discussion here, I like rhizome's comment - what comes easy to you? I think "finding your passion" gets interpreted so often as "find the ONE THING THAT YOU WILL LOVE FOREVER AND WHICH YOU CAN THROW YOURSELF INTO COMPLETELY", when, for me, it's just been a process of working towards finding a career in which I can draw on my strengths, be respected for my knowledge, and which fits with my life in terms of schedule, mental health/stress, and allows me to have hobbies and relationships that are fulfilling outside of work.

My own path from high school/college to where I am now has been pretty winding and twisty - not a straight shot where I "found my passion" and followed it without diversions. In high school I always loved math and science courses, so I started off college taking lots of math and chemistry. While I still love reading and learning about chemistry on my own, organic chem taught me that I really dislike labwork. I ended up with a math major because I just kept taking and enjoying math courses - there was never a moment where I thought, "I've found my passion" but I just enjoy doing the work and kept wanting to learn more. I also ended up taking enough courses for an English minor, which actually came out of my original plan for a German minor, strangely enough. I realized I really liked reading and discussing short stories in my German lit class, but got frustrated with the language barrier, so I decided to take a class where I could read short stories in English instead - and my English minor was born. After college, I went straight into a Ph.D. program for pure mathematics, and was really excited that I had found my subject I was doing to do FOREVER! Except... pure math research just wasn't right for me. I stayed there for four and a half years and did earn my M.S. in mathematics, but felt really lost at the end of it all because I had genuinely thought math was going to be My Forever Thing, and it just wasn't. So I moved back in with my parents for a few months while I figured things out, and then I moved to my current city to live with my boyfriend.

My first two years here were spent working a boring office job, basically data entry/phone customer service, because unfortunately an M.S. in pure mathematics means little to nothing in my city's job market. While the job sucked, it was invaluable in that it forced me to start thinking about just what I wanted to DO for the rest of my life - for me, not to fulfill anyone else's expectation. Boring jobs are great for that! I thought about how my graduate program had given me a bunch of teaching experience, and how while I didn't want to do pure math research, I really did still miss doing math. I investigated universities in the area, and found a graduate program in adult/higher education that would help me draw on my teaching experience and get me back into a university setting, where I really wanted to be. In the course of that degree, I've taken a bunch of applied statistics classes and realized that doing math with real-world significance to the world of higher ed REALLY fulfills me, and it draws on my strengths like no other field I've been in. So I'm starting this fall in a Ph.D. program in education, fully funded, with a focus on applied statistics within the field. I'm hoping to become a statistics professor or researcher within a higher education setting.

Which is all to say (by way of a very ramble-y story!), there is NO WAY I could have predicted my path at the time of my college graduation. At that point in time I didn't even know this field of "educational statistics" was a thing, so I couldn't have planned to be going into it. You do not need to have A Plan at this point, you just need to be working and figuring out what you want to do next. Your family can give you as much input as they want, but ultimately this is your life, and YOU get to make these decisions. Very few people have the kind of career path where it's one thing from college on, and I think the huge focus our high schools and colleges put on FINDING YOUR TRUE PASSION actually is harmful to a lot of people, because with that attitude simply finding a field/career/job that works for you and that you like isn't enough, and so you're always on this search for the perfect thing, when there are tons of awesome paths you could take that might be way more interesting or a better fit.

Okay, so looking back at this answer it got ridiculously long. Highlights: med school is INTENSE, it's okay to not know what you want, finding your passion is overrated. Take care of yourself, make choices that YOU want, and don't apologize because other people would make different ones. It's your life.
posted by augustimagination at 10:23 AM on May 8, 2013

If you're smart enough to become a doctor, you're smart enough to learn some computer programming fundamentals. Look at job boards for the community where you want to live and take a few programming classes that teach the tools/skills/languages sought in entry-level job postings. Now you've got a good way to support yourself while you decide what matters in your life. If you decide that you're not particularly driven to pursue any specific career, you can keep working with computers and making a decent living while volunteering, joining clubs, making art, training for marathons, or doing whatever else it is that gives you satisfaction. If you do find a professional field that draws you in, you can take steps to pursue that career when you discover it.
posted by croutonsupafreak at 11:13 AM on May 8, 2013

My dad has done accounting/business/finance stuff all his life. It's his job AND his hobby. Back when I was in high school and college he kept not-so-subtlely pressuring me to follow in his footsteps. "Molly, I think you should really go check out Texas A&M. I've heard it's a great school!" "Molly, you should take some accounting classes. You can use those in any kind of job!"

The idea of doing any of those things was just... anathema to me. I had LESS than zero interest. I think this was lucky because it was abundantly clear to me that I couldn't follow the path he wanted me to. If I'd felt mildly interested or just indifferent I might have felt more guilt about not trying the things he suggested.

So I went through school following my own path. English major, some art history classes, some Middle Eastern history... I got myself a job at the university press and liked it, and determined I'd move to New York to pursue a career in book publishing after graduation.

And I did.

I moved home for 8 months, worked temp jobs to save money, and moved to NYC with nothing but $1500 and some names of people to get in touch with. And I DID it. I got a job. I found roommates and an apartment. I met people. I got another job when I realized that publishing wasn't for me. I stayed 5 years, left for grad school, trained for something else and did THAT. Lived my life the way I wanted to, doing the things I was interested in.

And here's the thing. After I got that FIRST job in New York, my dad did a complete 180. He stopped nagging me for not trying the things he suggested, and he started saying all the time how proud he was of me. Even though I don't think he could have articulated it at the time, what he really had been was worried. His kid was going out into the big bad world and how was she going to survive? Well, finance had worked well for him. It took him from a working class childhood to a very comfortable adulthood. So she should try that! Once he saw that, while I was never going to make the kind of money he did, I was also competent and employable and would never starve, I think he realized that that was all he had really wanted.

Your parents might not turn out to be as supportive. They might be pushing a career on you for other reasons. But even if you don't get the "good job, kid! You've really impressed me!" payoff, the only thing to do is stand your ground and follow where your interests lead you. Practice saying, "thanks for suggesting that. I think I'm going to do this other thing instead, but that's a good idea."
posted by MsMolly at 4:12 PM on May 8, 2013 [1 favorite]

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