How do I believe in myself again and make a choice I can truly own?
September 6, 2013 6:35 AM   Subscribe

After years of parental pressure and self-conflict, I no longer know: do I want to be a doctor or not? I am paralyzed with self-doubt and indecision and have repeatedly shot myself in the foot. How can I stop spinning my wheels, climb out of the deep rut I dug myself, make a choice and act on it with conviction?

The stereotypes about immigrant Asian parents are true for mine: pressure to excel academically, expectations to become a doctor, etc. My parents were controlling about not just my goals but the specific way I should achieve them. When, for example, my mom found out I was secretly entering (and winning) short story contests with the encouragement of my h.s. English teachers, she angrily confronted them (“Don’t distract her. Don’t give her any ideas.”).

I went to an Ivy League college (not even of my own choosing--I was forced to rescind my initial choice as it was not HYP), and it was assumed I’d be premed. Sophomore year, I decided, Fuck it. I wanted the chance to explore. I took only classes I wanted, got straight A’s, received a summer travel grant, etc. My parents pulled out all the stops to pressure and emotionally manipulate me to return the grant and attend summer school. In the end, I relented. I hated myself for not being more assertive, but I couldn’t break free of filial obedience and the psychological power my parents had over me. The momentum of my awesome sophomore year was broken; I was back to being premed. Junior year was a nightmare. Despite studying most of the time, I got C’s and D’s in my premed classes and was put on academic probation. I must’ve been rebelling on some level, but ultimately I sabotaged myself.

After college, I escaped abroad. The irony: during those 4 years working in global health, I slowly realized I wanted to be a doctor after all, so long as I could carve my own path. I grit my teeth, retook my premed classes as a post-bacc, and did well. I didn’t ace my MCAT but did ok. But my parents thought my score was sub-par. Despite supposedly gaining emotional independence abroad, I did as told: did nothing but study for 8 months to retake the test. And I did worse. Once again, my momentum vanished. I applied to medical school (i.e. completed the common app) but failed to submit secondaries for nearly all of them. (Secondaries are the follow-up mandatory essay questions individual to each school). The next year, I re-applied, but did it late in the application cycle (a disadvantage, compounding that of being a re-applicant), and again fell apart on secondaries. I know it was partly to protect my ego and have something else to blame. All this while, I have languished as a poorly-paid, lowly research assistant--a dead-end job premeds take to bolster their apps.

So here I am, wondering if I should apply one last time, before my better MCAT score expires. It's my last shot--I need to do it right. But I am again self-sabotaging. I'm even later in the cycle than previously. I have not had the courage to beg my college to endorse my application again (contacting them for help so belatedly would underscore their reasons to lack confidence in me). Instead of focusing single-mindedly on doing my application right, I procrastinate and wander the internet in desperation because actually logging into the application website makes me feel sick and scared. I am overwhelmed by all I need to do, the accumulation of my fuck-ups, and my sense of failure. I dwell on the past, wishing I could rewind. I feel I squandered my 20s and my abilities. Increasingly, I worry about my biological clock and going through med school/training while raising kids. I've disappointed and cut off my support systems. (“When you're screwing up and nobody says anything to you anymore, that means they've given up on you.”) Even worse, it seems I’ve given up on myself.

I used to be driven, resourceful, hustling after opportunities. Now I’m verging on 30, without spirit, savings, hard skills or experience applicable to another field. I know I'm still dealing with internalized parental expectations (i.e. do I only think I want this?), and conversely, emotional baggage (e.g. resentment, shame) that colors my attitude and has been (clearly!) hard to cast aside. Working hard to replace D's with A's shows that I really did want this. But I’ve been trapped in my headspace and dragged it out for so long, I no longer have any intuition about what I really want. (I flipped a coin and felt numb.) If only I had a sense of agency and empowerment, like I have a chance. But I simply don’t believe I can get into medical school anymore. Meanwhile, I am clearly depressed, and my procrastination and avoidance have seeped into all areas of my life.

Things I've tried: exercise (I run); CBT (spent $3K+ on various therapists for a year at center for anxiety disorders, no avail); talking to my parents (who claim they were only trying to “guide” me benevolently -- it always ends in fighting and tears); no contact with them in 10 months; being accountable to friends; and considering Caribbean/DO/NP/PA schools rather than MD (but after conversations with people with these degrees, I’ve concluded that what I want to do in medicine, beyond clinical care, would be best achieved with an allopathic MD).

Way, WAY TL;DR. I am lost and floundering. Is it still possible for me to become a doctor? Should I consider the past decade a sunk cost, leave it all behind, and struggle to find a wholly new direction to take my life, though I have no clue as to what that would be? (I would feel a great sense of loss. I cannot shake the vision in my head of myself as a doctor, feeling fulfilled, happy.) Most importantly, how do I believe in myself again and turn my life around??
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (24 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
This whole post makes me sad for you, angry with your parents, and frustrated on your behalf. I hope you find a path forward that you can feel good about throwing your full energy behind. I share some of your problems with needing to be emotionally engaged with the thing that I'm trying to do, and making very little forward progress, hurting my long-term best interests, procrastinating, and just not doing what needs to be done, if I'm conflicted about things. I don't really know what to recommend - in fact if I gave you instructions I'd feel like a hypocrite for not following them myself. What I will say is that it sounds like the process of applying to med school is standing in your way of being able to make a clear decision about what you want. Stalling out about whether you want to be a doctor, or whether you want to GO to med school is keeping you from even having the choice of entering med school or not. Applying to med school is not making a decision, it's giving yourself a real option instead of a hypothetical choice. So, apply.
posted by aimedwander at 7:22 AM on September 6, 2013

I think that most people have more than one path in life that they could find happy and fulfilling, even if what those other paths are is not always clear; so it can simultaneously be the case that you would be happy as a doctor and that you could be equally so in another career. I've also found that thinking this is the thing I'm meant to do and it's important that I do well can actually add more stress and make it more difficult to do well compared to this is a thing I'm good at and like doing, whether the pressure is internal or external.

With that in mind, my suggestion would be that--if you think there's still a chance it would make you happy--you give your application to medical school one last shot, completing the entire application, while at the same time exploring other possibilities for things you would enjoy doing, remembering that all of these choices are equally valid and there are ways to find happiness whichever path you take.
posted by beryllium at 7:34 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

My cousin went back to school for medicine at 32 years old, after years working in hi-tech. It just is is calling to be a doctor. The CEO of RadioShack (The Source by Circuit City) went back to school in his 50s to be a doctor (his lifelong dream, but his parents had pushed him into business). Meandering paths to life are a-ok.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:40 AM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Meh. Go to dental school. Lower stress from what I hear.
posted by Doohickie at 8:08 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

To be honest, if you're procrastinating and sabotaging yourself at the application stage, medical school could be a real nightmare. It also sounds like talking to your parents at all, in any way, about what you're doing in your life is not helping you here. It is possible to keep your parents completely in the dark about what's going on in your life while still talking to them, but if you can't do that then you need to go no-contact for longer than the 10 months you went for before. Just don't involve them in your life decisions at all. Even a little bit. They have forfeited their right to even know what you are doing, either on a day-to-day basis or long term.

I don't think this is your final chance to be a doctor - after all, you could always take the MCAT again, on your terms. I think you need to get your relationship with your family and your own goals sorted out before you even think about undertaking an exhausting course of study for many years. I also think you need to give some serious thought to what is really meant by your fantasy of being a happy, fulfilled doctor - it sounds to my untrained ear like what you really want is for your life to be both happy, and approved of. The sad fact is that you may have to choose only one of these, and your parents have made the choice for you by making it literally impossible for you to be successful enough to gain their approval. At the end of the day, if you're able enough to potentially be a doctor you're able enough to do a million really fantastic things. The world is a big, big place, and there are possibilities you're not seeing right now because your brain isn't working right.

Having parents who let you down through their own incompetence and lack of empathy rather than through being straight up arseholes is a special kind of disappointment with which I am somewhat familiar. You need to understand that you are not being kind to them if you give them any further opportunities to mess up your life.
posted by Acheman at 8:15 AM on September 6, 2013 [14 favorites]

Have you considered studying public health? I'd look for a university where you can see yourself spending some time and getting comfortable, maybe a state school where you could study public health and, if you like, reconsider med school. Find the right environment for you with faculty willing to support you and make a fresh start.
posted by kat518 at 8:44 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

Don't go to med school. Most doctors are unhappy. It's a stressful, unsatisfying job. As you say, you have this "sunk cost" and it's normal for that to influence your thinking about your future, but just because you've invested a lot in this path so far doesn't mean your net outcome at the end will be better if you continue this way.

If you love international health, you can still do that without becoming a doctor! You like writing? An MPH and a career with a focus on global health and health education could be a really satisfying path for you.

To come back to this "sunk cost" idea: most working people in their 40s or 50s are already on their second or even third career. I don't know a single person who is working in the field they got an initial undergraduate degree in. None of those people "wasted" their time in their first academic or professional worlds. What you learned pursuing med school has become part of a big package that is now you - a you you couldn't have achieved without having done what you've done so far. Even if you end up in a totally unrelated field, this knowledge and experience will serve you.

It sounds like you're at a really tough juncture, but it also feels like a crossroads where things could really move somewhere positive right now. Maybe feeling a bit overwhelmed and flailing is part of the process that's going to move you to a better place. Good luck to you.
posted by latkes at 8:49 AM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I agree with those who say that if your anxiety is already through the roof during applications, med school will be a really hard row to hoe. I'd work on being a little healthier and happier before trying to move forward on med school. Anxiety is a sign that you're hugely torn, and from everything I've heard, it's something you have to really want to get through.

One of the things I disliked about CBT was that it didn't help me explore important ideas like what I actually wanted out of life. Talk therapy with an eclectic therapist (for years) was a boon in helping me to figure out how and why I was getting in my own way, which way I might really want to go, and how I might get there.

You deserve happy and fulfilled. Make priority number one your own self.
posted by ldthomps at 9:05 AM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

As somebody on the verge of finishing med school after starting the process with a post-bacc at 29, my counsel would be not to do it. Becoming a doctor is a long, expensive, often unrewarding and sometimes agonizing process, and based on your story (with all its equivocating, second-guessing, application process half-measures, etc) I feel you'd be setting yourself up to have a bad time.

There is life beyond medicine, beyond your parents' expectations, and beyond your own expectations that you HAVE to do this (really it just seems like you've internalized your family's expectations for what constitutes a positive path in life). Go forth, explore and find something YOU really like to do. You're free. Take advantage of it!
posted by killdevil at 9:27 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think you need to let go of all that stuff about trying to be a doctor. Start over with an idea or a life path that is more appropriate to your internal makeup.

You know when people talk about big/little fish and big/little ponds? Here's the thing to consider: Unless you have an amazing support system and are totally clear of other lingering issues, you should always save a bit of yourself and pick an easier career than you can actually manage. If you could be the top rocket scientist in the universe (Ph.D. Aeronautical Engineering?), I'm not saying you should settle for being a fry cook. But maybe you want to be a B.S./M.S. Mechanical Engineer with a P.E. license and call it a day? Because you are still going to need "internal resources" to deal with everything else you might want to do with your life. If you sink it all into being a rocket scientist, then there's nothing left for anything else and that kills most people's chances at happiness.
posted by 99percentfake at 11:05 AM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

OP, I'm so sorry that you are going through this. Trying to give you some things to think about from the perspective of a person who has had several first- and second-generation friends from countries in the Asia Pacific (and I've seen your version over and over again in friends, in addition to seeing parents do this to their own kids). I also used to teach human anatomy for premed and health students and saw what is happening to you over and over again (i.e. student realized they did not want a health career but a parent was pushing them to pursue this for years).

Some of these things may not apply to you at all, but I'm making assumptions/suggestions of things based on the things that I've seen and from what you mention in your post:

• One thing that bothers me in your description is it almost seems as if you are electing this option because you completed the courses and there was a force behind, but it still seems as if you are doing things to undermine this (not turning in secondary apps, applying late). Applying to med school will be the least of your stressors. Going to med school and studying ridiculous hours, or licensing exams, paying off the giant giant loan or worrying about it, or doing a residency will be the extreme stressors that will go on for the next XX years depending on your specialty, but not this part. What I see missing is an excitement or desire to go into this particular field. If you have not done it yet, I would encourage you to volunteer in a health setting (an hour or two a week) with patients and shadow physicians or health care providers. If you do this as a career, it isn't the technical knowledge, but do you enjoy interacting with patients? The idea would be that there is something for your to pursue because you are excited about it.

• If you are a research assistant, one of the typical benefits of that type of job are the free uni courses. I would consider exploring other ways of contributing to global health (nthing public health, like epidemiology or statistics) - you can contribute so much and if you go for a masters, it will not suck away the next 10 yrs of your life. You don't have to make a decision, but just take a public health class, especially if this already is a job benefit, and ask "Do you like this area of study?"

• This suggestion may sound odd to you and other mefites, but one concern that I have (and especially from observing other friends with your cultural background) is that for your entire life, you have been told "this is valuable, this is not" (i.e. stop writing stories/entering contests, don't travel on the grant, etc.). So the challenge is knowing what do you truly value without the voice of your parents inside your head. Adding to this if you followed their directions, there can now be cognitive dissonance as to what is or is not valuable to you. So I am going to suggest that you do something to reclaim the things that you were told were not valuable. You mention stories. Can you rewrite a story now? Or volunteer with kids to get them to write stories? This does not need to be now, it can be next year, 5 years from now, etc., but something to do to reclaim your prior values and listen to your own voice.

• Not sure if this will help you, either, but I did witness at least one student reclaim their life and begin to feel free to pursue her own career goals. She went home and told her parents something along the lines of -doing the steps towards health career [human anatomy] were not making her happy and was making her sad/feel like a failure/cry everyday and she did not think that she would be happy doing that career. Would they want her to do it at the expense of happiness? In that person's case, she did get her parent to acknowledge that it was okay to pursue something else and acknowledge that her happiness was most important. Anywho, I don't know if having some version of this conversation would help your parents realize what it is doing to you, even now. If I were in your shoes, I would not tell them anything about your career decisions moving forward.

• Nthing ldthomps in the suggestion for therapy. OP, your question has several life-long issues wrapped up in it and it may take a while for you to find out whom you are and what will make you happy in life.

Feel free to memail me if you think that it will help.
posted by Wolfster at 11:14 AM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

I've heard that being a doctor these days is not all that much fun. A lot of bureaucratic issues, unhappy patients, crazy hours, and not necessarily great income (at least in relation to the amount of work and responsibility required). Maybe being a medical researcher or an academic would be better?

A lot of "old school" parents push their kids to be doctors, either because of the status or the presumed job stability and income. But keep in mind that many of those parents may not realize what it's really like to be a doctor these days, and many of those parents come from countries and cultures where status is a different animal than it is in a modern first world country.

You really need to make your own decision because doing a job for 30 years that you don't like will be a miserable experience. If you like doing something, you will enjoy it and excel at it. If you are really not sure about being a doctor, try to find a way to spend time with doctors so you can see what their work is actually like.
posted by Dansaman at 11:29 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

You don't need to become a doctor; you only want to become a doctor. There's a difference, and once you see it your way forward will be clear.

(I learned this the hard way.)
posted by fix at 11:31 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

i do agree tht you may need to go no-contact with your parents again. speaking as someone who is culturally similar, i would like to suggest a particular argument to take if you ever want to broach the subject of you pursuing what truly works for you - your emotional health makes not one whit of difference, because likely your parents has learned to subsume theirs as well, but point out, the more they get in the way of your success, the harder for you to take care of them when they're older. (i'm not saying you will or you want to, but frame it as a economic consequence of their destructive behaviour)
posted by cendawanita at 11:41 AM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I like killdevil's advice above to "explore."

You wrote, "Should I consider the past decade a sunk cost, leave it all behind, and struggle to find a wholly new direction to take my life?" My thought is - yes, but why is the word "struggle" in there?

I get the feeling that you think you need to have some grand plan, and if it's not becoming a doctor, then it needs to be something equally important.

But, that's not really true. You don't have to think like a student anymore. You don't have to think like a minor anymore. (I don't think you need to go no-contact with your parents, but you probably should put up a mental "wall" to keep from being manipulated by them for now on.)

Maybe you should take a break from trying to impress anyone, at all, for a while...mentally cast off all that weight that you are carrying around, and start from scratch.

You say you "used to be driven, resourceful, hustling after opportunities." You excelled in school and won contests. And, I can tell you are a good communicator. So, you know you have these talents in you! And you're so young - to me! : ) Trust that you have a bright future.

But let that future come to you slowly, organically, over time. Start small...get a job, any job, that will support you. There is no shame in ANY job, is my opinion. It doesn't have to be a stepping stone to anything. You'll do well and your boss will take note of it.

In the meantime, explore your interests and hobbies, visit local parks, whatever is cheap. This phase doesn't have to be forever, and it won't. So don't work harder than you have to. Your drive and hustling abilities will be needed eventually, but there's no need to push it. You'll rise to the occasion when it shows itself. I wish you the very best.
posted by see_change at 1:03 PM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

Is it still possible for me to become a doctor?


Should I consider the past decade a sunk cost, leave it all behind, and struggle to find a wholly new direction to take my life, though I have no clue as to what that would be?

The value of the past isn't static - in the sense that it doesn't need to be a sunk cost unless you value it as such. No one "does" life perfectly (even if it seems like some people have). It's possible to choose to find aspects of our experiences to learn and grow from... it's also possible to despair to the point of being unable to see how we can even consider certain parts of our past as valuable learning experiences.

Things can come in useful eventually, if you find ways to let them be useful.

Most importantly, how do I believe in myself again and turn my life around??

You can do it! And you are wonderful as you are. Even if you don't become a doctor, or you don't "become" anything - you already are. You are a valuable person, with or without your parents (and all that they've given or taken from you), with or without all your tangible achievements, with or without the MD.

I think you know you shouldn't become a doctor just because your parents want you to. But equally, you shouldn't put a mental block around the idea of being a doctor, or run away from being a doctor just because your parents want you to. "Don't cut off your nose to spite your face." I know it's easier said than done... and it's difficult to figure out who you really "are" apart from your parents. (And maybe we will never stop being an extension or result of our parents' desires and influences etc... we just need to figure out a way to balance these aspects of identity in a healthy way, if that makes sense.)

Once you get your head and heart in a happier place, the rest will follow. ...One thing I'd suggest towards this: try to look at all you have, right now, and find ways to appreciate what you do have now. This doesn't mean you should give up the other goals and dreams you want, but it does help to find small things to be thankful for. Maybe you feel you're behind some sort of imagined/projected "schedule/timeline" that your parents or you or your friends think should be followed (or are trying to follow themselves) - e.g. the "do ABC by XYZ time in your life and you are On Track" mentality or ideas like "during your early 20s, you should do ABC; by your late 20s, you should have accomplished XYZ; in your 30s, you should..."
Expectations and standards like that can sort of make us constantly judge ourselves internally, and over time it becomes difficult to see and appreciate the things we already have when those expectations/'schedules' make us feel like we constantly don't have enough - or that we're always lacking (or worse, increasingly lacking). It's... not very healthy (or productive).

If you can find a few things, daily, to be happy about - I think that could be a start. Even simple stuff like "I had a nice lunch" or "I met a deadline at work today" or "I had a good conversation with my friend today". And see if you can rewrite or reframe your own narrative - for example, instead of seeing a string of failures (wrt applying to med school), don't forget that you were also trying and making the effort to begin the applications, despite all those circumstances. Trying counts, and I admire that you kept trying despite everything.

Sorry for the run-on sentences and icky syntax, but I hope some parts helped. You aren't alone. No one "does" life perfectly, and life is not some sort of competition/race where you have to keep hitting milestones other people set for you. (You can memail me if you need to talk/vent more.)
posted by aielen at 1:16 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Your parents abused you and had the gaul to claim they did it because it was in your own self interest. You don't owe them shit! Cultural stereotype or not, it's b.s. I would immediately cease all contact with these shitty people.

Self-sabotage is your subconscious saying: "This is not what I'm meant to be doing." The things that you're naturally drawn to -- the subjects in school where you got A's without even trying -- follow those things, wherever they take you.

I have a friend who went through a similar Asian parent mandated Med school crisis, and is now extremely happy as a nurse. She loves traveling and uses her nursing skills to bring care to underserved communities around the world. Parents still badger her to go back to med school, become a "real" doctor.
posted by hamsterdam at 1:20 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I am not Asian, nor was I pushed toward a high-paying career. I was, however, pushed very hard toward a career and way of life that were absolutely unsuitable, and like you I grew up with a very strong family culture of "this is worthwhile and that is a waste of time, it doesn't matter what you personally want or like". Like you, I had a lot of trouble sorting out what I actually felt and thought, and even in the good times, I was constantly trying to square what I wanted with making myself acceptable to my parents because conflict with them felt so catastrophic and impossible.

I've been to talk therapy, somewhat better now, some fix on what I want to do even though time has passed and some doors are closed to me.

But the real take-away here is that I "wasted" both my twenties and my thirties, and not on anything as skilled as international health work or lab research, either. (Try temp work and secretarial gigs.) My point being, you feel that you've wasted so much time, and from my lofty perspective of maybe finally having gotten it together before I'm forty, I look at you and think "oh hey I wish I had been able to get things together when I was thirtyish". You've got more time than you think - not infinite time, but I remember feeling like my chance to make something of myself was over when I was thirty, and it's just not.

I'd suggest talk therapy if you can find it - if you're an actual university employee, you should have insurance that will cover mental health. I've found that social justice oriented therapists are more likely to be open to just talking rather than trying to push you into CBT or other quick-fix methods.
posted by Frowner at 3:09 PM on September 6, 2013 [7 favorites]

Just a thought: whenever I've found myself self-sabotaging, it's always indicated that I actually did not want to do the thing I was sabotaging.
posted by forza at 4:04 PM on September 6, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel really bad for you. The thing is, you have been severely thwarted and disappointed in your quest just to turn into your own true self. You say you know you are depressed, but you haven't said whether you are on any medication? I believe if you went to a doctor describing your feelings and your difficulty in making decisions you would be instantly offered medication - has this happened and you turned it down?

The thing is, perhaps it's counter-productive if people tell you what to do, since the problem is you haven't been able to do what you wanted? Perhaps it's up to you to work it out now? But I'd like to tell you that sometimes, the drugs do work: it's nothing spectacular, or sudden, but after a while you wake up in the morning without a terrible feeling of impending doom, or of having taken a wrong turn. And after some - months - of feeling less threatened, and experiencing - some - pleasures, the ability to want things, and to make decisions comes back. But it does take months.

So not in the spirit of telling you, but of suggesting: there isn't a deadline. It isn't now or never. Time is never wasted, it is experience, and it contributes to who you are. If you don't make mistakes you learn less than if you do. Mistakes are the learning experience par excellence. So if you decide to re-apply or not, or if it works out or not, it's not that you did it wrong: that's just the way it turned out for any number of reasons.

But you could go easy on yourself. Decide or not: really, now, what's important is what you want to do. But if a doctor suggests you start taking pills, that's the same as putting a plaster on a broken leg. It helps. You're not quite well. No shame in trying to fix that first.
posted by glasseyes at 4:23 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would be on board with everyone here saying to find something else if it weren't for the fact that you say that after 4 years working in global health, you really did want to be a doctor. It sounds like maybe the application process is what's dragging you down.

I can think of two explanations for the procrastination/anxiety you have going on. One is that deep down, you don't want to be a doctor. The other is that you DO want to be a doctor, and that the prospect of applying and not getting in and dealing with your parents' disappointment is so anxiety-provoking that you're putting up psychological defenses to protect yourself from trying and (potentially) failing. In that case, the only way through is just to do it, and to do the best job you can, and find someone to hold your hand through the process and help you break it down to manageable chunks (like, ok, this weekend you will write one essay). This person should not be one of your parents, for obvious reasons.

If the reason you're having so much trouble is that deep down you just don't want the MD, that's ok. Many very smart people who would make fine doctors just aren't that interested, and it's certainly not a career path that has a lot of good exit strategies until you're out of med school. But if the problem is that you're tripping yourself up because it's easier to avoid the challenge than face failure...well, if this is something you really want, you need to find a way to get through the application process.
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 7:25 PM on September 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

If your parents were dead (and let's face it, one day they will pass) and you didn't have to justify or answer to anyone, how would your life look? What would you do? Do that. You only get one go at this life, and while your parents may push you into med school, it's fine for them, they don't have to deal with the stress of exams or people's lives in their hands. Chances are, this is just about ego and bragging rights for them. Eventually you're going to have to make your own decisions, it might as well be now.

My dad pushed me very heavily towards Medicine when I was in school - my brother is a doctor - and when I say pushed, I mean he used physical violence. It didn't work. I told him if he was so keen on med school, go do it himself but I wasn't a conduit for his dreams. We no longer talk and I've moved to the other side of the country to get away from my parents. I'm much happier. It's a drastic solution, but it worked for me.

I think you need to start by separating what you want from what your parents want and go from there. Until you can do that, you'll never really be an adult. Or happy.
posted by Jubey at 8:00 PM on September 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Although you have gotten good answers, I will add my voice to the chorus as a doctor myself.

Yes, it is possible for you to still become a doctor, but I do not recommend that you keep struggling in that direction. As noted above, medical school is just a continued series of further high stakes opportunities that you may perceive as your chance to fail your parents and yourself again. You do not sound like you are anywhere near a head space where you want to be taking on high stress assignments, exams, and interpersonal situations on a regular basis.

Just remember, your vision of yourself as a doctor "fulfilled and happy" is a fantasy. It is similar to the way people can fix on a love interest and how perfect their relationship would be if only they were dating that person rather than their actual partner. Medicine as your career is a mirage, just like that theoretical romance is. You're looking past all its flaws and imagining something idealized.

I enjoy my job, but it has very challenging moments. I would discourage anyone from going in to medicine because they have a fantasy of themselves as a hero, saving lives, and how much they will enjoy and be fulfilled by that. Yes, on rare occasions, you do get an incredible thrill from being able to save a life. But when considering a career choice that I'm going to have to be content with for decades of my life, I need to also be able to picture myself failing to save the life of a dying child, but coming back to work the next day and seeing 30 patients in a shift without falling apart. I need to see myself laughing and able to let it roll off my back when a narcotic addicted patient screams at me that I am a terrible doctor who doesn't care about leaving a person is horrible pain, and that they are going to sue me 10 ways from Sunday and report me to every known authority. And I need to be able to visualize pulling myself together after realizing I made a medical error that caused someone to die or suffer serious disability (statistically, it WILL happen no matter how smart I am), and not beating myself up endlessly but striving to do better in the future. Right now, I can do those things, and so I feel comfortable continuing a career in this profession.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 9:59 PM on September 6, 2013 [5 favorites]

I have immigrant parents, and I understand your plight. My parents were far more lenient than average, but they had their moments of applying pressure. They pressured me to choose pre-med, which I did for a short time and abandoned. When I graduated college, I had a job offer from a cool startup. My parents pressured me to turn it down, which I ultimately did. That startup grew to 4000 people and became an industry leader. I've gone through my moments of bitterness, resentment, impatience. But after some years, I've worked through the majority of those feelings.

What I did was to re-parent myself. One therapist told me: "Be the parent to yourself that you wished you had". So I started rewarding myself for completing tiny tasks. If I spent 10 minutes doing an arduous task, I'd give myself a treat, such as a delicious snack or a relaxing bath. My actual parents would have said, "10 minutes? You barely started! You're giving yourself chocolate for working on this for 10 minutes??? Why do you expect so little of yourself? Don't you want to be disciplined?"

It was hard to pamper myself at first. I felt silly. I kept thinking, "I'll just reward myself with mentally saying 'Good job' but not give myself that chocolate until I've done a reasonable amount, like 4 hours."

Over time, as I actually gave myself the rewards, I started to relax. I found it easier to complete tasks because I didn't dread them so much. I lowered my expectations for myself, so that instead of frequently falling short and reprimanding myself, I frequently exceeded my own expectations and then praised myself. For years, I feared that if I lowered my expectations for myself, I would descend into being a lazy blob who got nothing productive done and just watched TV all day. Instead I got pretty much the same amount of work done, but I was happier doing it.

Over the years, I also made peace with my parents' meddling. As I got into my 30s, my parents felt sheepish that they had meddled. They were embarrassed, and would change the subject (sometimes literally leaving the room) when I brought it up. At one point, I said to them, "Look, you gave me this bad advice many years ago, and it's bugged me since then. Now I'm about to make a risky decision with my career, which you're not going to like. I want you to not harass me about it. I prefer if you pretend to support it, but if you can't, then just be silent about it. If you agree to do that, then I'll forgive the bad advice you gave me pressuring me to give up that startup job."

My parents agreed immediately, and then they made good on that agreement. That helped me too. I subsequently managed to achieve certain things that have made me pretty happy. I no longer hold the meddling against them. It's ancient history to me now.

If I were in your shoes, I would drastically reduce my expectations for myself for the next 3 years. Ironically, that is what will actually propel you toward achieving your long-term dreams. In your situation, I would drop my expectation of getting into a superb med school this year and getting straight As. I would let my good MCAT score lapse. I would instead set tiny goals that move me 0.01% toward my long-term goals. If I read one page of a relevant medical text, I'd give myself a treat. If I attend one interesting seminar, I'd reward myself.

Over the next couple of years, you will reprogram yourself to do these things out of the love of it, not out of obligation and force of will.

Then you will actually shine at it. I believe you can actually achieve all of your long-term goals. But you have to be nicer to yourself in the short-term first.
posted by cheesecake at 10:09 PM on September 6, 2013 [16 favorites]

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