The Distant Past
When I was a little girl, I would refuse to get an injection at the doctor’s office until my dad closed his liquor store, made his way to the clinic, and wiped my tears.
He would then bribe me with the promise of toys in order to get me to stay relatively still while the clinician did the deed, probably hating her life all the while because she had to deal with a patient like me.
The Kinda Distant Past
When I turned eighteen, nothing had changed really.
I developed a keloid on my upper back, and it needed to get biopsied to check for cancer. I was freaking out. My mom sat in the waiting room with me, still ill-equipped to get me to calm down. She finally caved in and said, “Do you want me to call your dad?”
“Yes,” I replied. A thousand times yes.
As he’d always done, he left work, drove over to the hospital, and sat next to me.
One could say my history as a patient made it obvious that I wasn’t cut out to be a doctor.
My parents were immigrants who came to America as part of the large South Asian unskilled labor migration in the 80s. They, along with their friends, worked at and eventually ran gas stations and liquor stores.
They both had to learn on-the-fly about the American school system as they parented for the first time. When it came to the skilled labor sector, they had minimal knowledge. Being the oldest sibling in my household, I had to figure most of this stuff out on my own.
Of course, my South Asian mom really wanted me to become a doctor or a lawyer, preferably the former because her own mother had not allowed her to attend medical school. Why? The school was co-ed, and my grandmother decided that propriety was more important than her daughter’s dreams.
The South Asian Nursery Rhyme
“You have three choices of career:
Doctor, Lawyer, or Engineer.”
Please Don’t Make Me Be A Doctor
I entered college with a very general understanding of what I wanted to do with my life. I wanted to help people, I liked health and wellness, and I was intrigued by technology. I was good at school, but I didn’t know how to turn good grades on tests into a career path.
When I was 25, I joined an intense Post-Baccalaureate Health Sciences program with the aspiration of becoming a doctor. I was directionless, and the path to becoming a physician is laid out pretty straightforwardly, though it is inarguably one of the toughest things to accomplish.
I already thought that I was shamefully late in the journey to becoming a doctor. I planned to finish the Health Sciences program in a couple of years, so (with the gap year added) I’d hopefully enter medical school at 28.
I’d get through that in 4 years, then pursue residency, so best case scenario: I would be a non-resident doctor at 34–35. From my 25-year-old eyes, that seemed really old.
What I didn’t realize back then was that I was having trouble committing to spending all this time in the pursuit of practicing medicine because I didn’t want to do it. Simple as that.
Here, I’ll say it without flinching. I did not and do not want to be a doctor. That’s a sentence South Asians frown upon.
Realizing My Truth
I spent years on the wrong path for me because of two major reasons:
- I wasn’t actualized enough to ask myself what I really wanted and go looking for it.
- I wanted to make my mother happy, so I tried my utmost to find happiness in the path to becoming a physician. I even controlled my gag reflex enough to administer flu vaccines at a clinic during one internship.
The prospect of taking care of sick people for the rest of my life didn’t make me happy. It sounded like a terrible thing to say at that time, and I still cringe a little while writing it. Nevertheless, this is my truth. I don’t like hospitals, and I’m not equipped to handle the emotional cost of being a doctor.
After I decided to release myself from the path of practicing medicine, I felt a wave of relief that has lasted for years.
I subsequently taught myself Python (the programming language) and SQL and joined the health technology industry. I’m still figuring out exactly what I want to do, but I know in my gut that I’m on the right path for me because the process doesn’t give me existential anxiety.
Yes, I realize that I made the hop, skip, and jump transition to the realm of engineering, which isn’t exactly classifiable as super rebellious.
The point here is that I transitioned from doing something I didn’t want to do to something that brings me happiness. I prioritized my self-fulfillment.
I’m 31 now, and the last few years have taught me some important lessons.
Self-discovery is a Western privilege that is trickling to other parts of the world.
My immigrant parents worked themselves to the bone in order to provide us with a shot at the American Dream. There’s an unfathomable difference between their lived reality and their children’s experiences. They made sure of that because they wanted more for us than what the world had offered them.
I’m learning to have empathy for the resource-scarcity based anxiety that our parents inherited and then tried to pass onto us. In their own way, they were just trying to make sure their kids would be able to make it in this jungle of a world as adults.
That said, I am grounded in my conviction that the generation after mine deserves to see South Asians in a variety of different professions. Of course, society needs doctors and lawyers. We also need Brown writers, dancers, singers, activists, furniture-designers, etc.
I’ve also realized that people are capable of changing their minds. I recently overheard my mom talking about me, and it almost made my heart burst from fullness.
“She has a very important job,” she said.
What this showed me was that our parents can be convinced that our alternatives paths and choices can lead to successful outcomes. We may have to prove it to them by being the example. After all, it’s hard to believe what you haven’t seen.
The generation before us opened the door, and it’s up to us to diversify the paths. We can do that by pursuing the things that make us happy.
You can follow my journey at rebecaansar.com