A lot of people change their careers.
Some do it for money, others for family reasons.
For me, it was about restoring my sanity, and being true to myself. It was about finally choosing the path that was right for me, not the one others expected me to take.
Medicine is not the glamorous, lucrative career that many assume it to be. It’s a tough slog, with many, MANY years of study and on-the-job training, working long hours, frequently on call, and constantly having to be on top of your game, even if it is 3am and you’ve had no sleep in over 24hrs, because the decisions you make really do mean life or death for some people. It’s tiring and stressful and often seemingly unappreciated. It’s the sort of work that you need to really love. You need to be passionate about it and gain enormous satisfaction from the work you are doing, in order to keep going. Thankfully for us, there are folks out there for whom this is indeed the case, but I was not one of them.
On the outside, things seemed to be fine. My colleagues and supervisors were pleased with my work. But inside I was stressed and miserable. I felt as if I were an actor, playing a part that everyone expected of me, but I gained no satisfaction from it whatsoever. A lot of the time it scared the hell out of me. I had to work really hard to learn and try to remember all that was required. I felt the enormous weight of the responsibility of my position and I was constantly afraid of screwing up.
There were so many times when I felt like giving up and doing something else. But what else would I do? I longed for a more creative life, perhaps to become an actor, or an artist. But each time I expressed those thoughts, my family and colleagues convinced me I just needed a break. They convinced me that a medical career was the sensible path and that no one ever made a proper living being an artist. They told me to stick with it, that it would all be worth it in the end. So I kept trudging along the same path, hoping to catch a glimpse of that happy and prosperous life everyone had told me about.
As much as I hated it, I’d been on that damned path for so long – 20 years in fact – so it was all I knew. It was familiar, and at least I knew what was ahead of me. Giving it all up to try something completely different was terrifying. Better the devil you know right? But in the end, I had no choice. That little voice inside me that had started as a whisper, became louder and louder until it was SCREAMING at me to get off the path I was on and find something better.
If there was one thing working as a doctor all those years had taught me, it was that life is precious. Life is fragile. And you only get one shot at it. Life is far too short to waste slogging your guts out for something you don’t really even want.
I can still remember the day I made up my mind to quit – it was almost the end of my Christmas leave, and I was due to go back to work in a couple of days. I was in a store with my Mum, rummaging through some books that were on sale, feeling absolutely miserable, not really enjoying the shopping day, thinking my life had to change, but as usual, feeling trapped and not knowing what the hell else to do. And then one book in particular caught my eye – it was called “Do What You Are” written by Paul D. Tieger and Barbara Barron, and it was like a slap in the face.
(Sometimes the universe has to literally shove something under your nose before you’ll take the hint).
The book essentially focussed on personality assessment, and how certain people are more suited to certain types of work. It made so much sense to me. I’m not saying that I gave up 20 years of work because of something I read in a book, but rather, that it was like the final straw for me. Somehow, seeing written in black and white, something I’d subconsciously always known to be true, was the push I needed to turn fear and doubt into courage and determination.
So I quit.
I requested a leave of absence from the college of Anaesthetists training program the day I went back to work, and on January 27th 2011, I did my last shift as a doctor.
I wish I had made the decision to quit earlier, when I had a bit more energy, when perhaps I could have stuck it out just a little bit longer in order to save some money and build up a bigger safety net of sorts. It would have been so much easier if I’d had a solid alternative plan in place, but alas, I did not. I had only dreams and ideas. But I knew that this was something that was never going to go away. It had been gnawing at me for a long time and it was now or never.
Abandoning my medical career was certainly one of the scariest, toughest decisions I’ve ever made, but it felt right at the time. Now, years later, I have my own handmade business (Little Deer Studio) and I AM making a living as an artist, and I can honestly say that I have not once regretted that decision. Not even for a second.
I listened to my heart and I followed my dreams. I took a different path than the one society laid out for me and you know what? The world didn’t end. My life didn’t fall to pieces. It actually improved. A lot.
I am happier now than I have ever been.
Yes, it has been challenging. I struggled for years to get my business off the ground, and it’s still very much a work in progress, but it has all been worth it. Even if I hadn’t achieved what I have so far, even if it all goes pear-shaped down the track, it will all still have been worth it, because I was following my dreams and giving it a go.
And now, I’m chasing another dream – to embrace the gypsy soul within me and to convert a bus into a mobile home / studio so I can live and work full-time on the road. It’s an idea being met, once again, with rolled eyes and shaking heads. But this time, I am not at all deterred. Because I know now what it’s like to follow your heart. And it’s wonderful.
Life to me is not about the destination. It’s about the JOURNEY.
And I intend to enjoy every step of mine.