Stories of inspiration

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I quit my job to go to med school

Shivali Misra
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Published Wednesday, Jul. 20, 2011 5:11PM EDT

I spent all six years of my full-time career utterly lost. I was getting by in the conventional sense – I received promotions and was respected by my colleagues.

But no matter how hard I tried, I was tortured by an inner monologue of self-doubt: Is my job stimulating? Am I making an impact? What exactly is the problem? Am I fundamentally incapable of being happy?

This seemed plausible. As a management consultant I was exposed to clients in a wide spectrum of careers accessible to me with my business training. But despite the options, none seemed capable of quelling my discontent.

My quarter-life crisis started very shortly after receiving my undergraduate degree. As the years passed, my internal monologue became part of my daily routine and increasingly robbed me of my ability to be myself and feel inspired to achieve, not only at work but after hours too.

Six years later, I read a book on the topic of intuition. I learned that if I could not answer a question, I could ask the universe for an answer and it would come. Desperate for more fulfilment from my professional life, I wrote on a sticky note, “What is the right career for me?”

I tucked it away under my pillow and forgot about it. Two days later, I received an answer.

Whether inspiration came from the heavens, my subconscious or elsewhere, I woke up that morning and felt a pounding urge to become a doctor. It seemed completely random. And yet it resonated unlike anything else had my entire life. I started to recall visions I had had in my younger years of being in the operating room, surgical mask on, gloves in hand and a team of health professionals by my side.

In speaking to close friends and family, I found out they, too, could remember several moments in which I had expressed my interest in medicine. How had I forgotten about this? Entrenched in my business career, I had dismissed the idea of not using the training I already had to improve my job satisfaction. But at what cost?

The reactions of family, friends and especially co-workers ranged from incredulity to sympathy. Then came a barrage of uncomfortable questions: Did I know what I was getting into? How would I pay for it? Did I have the stamina to go back to school at the age of 30? Would I even get in? What about my biological clock?

That ever-ticking, always yearning, biological clock was the trickiest topic to address, because it was a valid point. The reality was that I would possibly have to delay having a family to my late 30s or – gasp – 40s. It might not be what I had initially planned, but a family wasn’t something I wanted more, or sooner, than this. Not surprisingly, this was incomprehensible to members of my parents’ generation.

If our purpose in society is to abide by its benchmarks, then I may fail. I may never meet someone and have kids. I will not be in my economic prime by 40. But if I sacrifice my dream career to achieve this, will I have done myself a service?

We applaud those who go against society’s expectations when they succeed, but don’t seem to encourage them beforehand – and especially after their failures.

When I figured out I wanted to be a physician, the weight lifted from my shoulders. I felt thankful and elated at how close the fit was with my personality and strengths. And then I was scared. I cried out of fear of pursuing something so drastically different from the career I had taken six years to build.

It took three weeks before I gave my notice at work. Within one month, I gave away my downtown Toronto apartment and moved back home to Montreal with my parents. My plan was to go back to school full-time for a year to complete the basic science courses required to apply to medicine.

I dream of the day when I will get to explore the mystery of the human body. I recognize there is a chance I may not succeed as I had initially planned, but I will succeed overall because I’ll never be able to say “I should have.” I’ll rest easy knowing that if this does not work out, it’s because life has something better in store for me. I have committed to staying true to myself no matter what.

A year and a half later, medical school applications have been submitted and processed and interviews are done and gone. I received three offers and will start medical school next month. Although I don’t have a science undergraduate degree to support me through my studies, I’m not daunted by the challenges – the hardest part was mustering the courage to steer myself in this direction in the first place.

The most rewarding life change has probably already occurred. I hear the birds chirp more often. My neighbourhood feels green and lush, like an oasis. The broken record of my monologue has finally stopped, and I am discovering with greater awareness what it means to “live in the moment.”

When I was a child, my mother explained that it was possible to have more than one career. Today I pass on that message to anyone out there who is willing to listen.

Shivali Misra lives in Montreal.

© 2011 The Globe and Mail Inc.

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