How’s that for two utterly unrelated metaphors? Huh? Yeeeah, boyee.
Now you are surely not asking, “what got you all twitchy and agitated, Anna?”, but I am going to gift you with an answer anyway! I’m hyper thanks to the latest advice column from Cary Tennis, which is published at Salon.
Today’s edition of Cary-wisdom is inspired by a letter writer (LW) who can be neatly summed up by the title of the column:
I don’t want to be a doctor!
Fair enough, LW. A good number of us did or didn’t, but I want to know more about you, even as part of me groans, knowing I will regret it and get all uber-bitch on your ass by the end of this.
Aug. 28, 2007 | Dear Cary,
I am 20 years old, go to a state university, and am severely confused on what I want to do in life.
When I was little, I wanted to be an “artist.” With the beret, paintbrushes and canvas. Then, I moved on. Sure, I loved art, and enjoyed it, and was good at it, but I realized I wasn’t exceptionally creative in that sense. So I wanted to be a journalist. That idea left as soon as it entered my mind in high school. Then, toward the lag end of high school, I got interested in becoming a doctor. It wasn’t out of some desire I had to cure the world or make lots of money. It was because of my parents.
My parents and my family are from the Indian subcontinent and are Muslim. In their minds, the best thing to be is a professional. Especially a doctor. My father always tells me that I should be a doctor to help people and to be independent. My dad works away from home and flies back to my family every three to four weeks. It’s a hard life for him, because he misses out on our lives. It’s important to him that I become independent and have the ability to work wherever I want to. So, in high school, I took some medical classes. I enjoyed them; they weren’t my favorite classes, but they were, I suppose, “all right.”
When I started applying for university, for my possible majors, I would alternate between political science and English. My mother would ask me to write “pre-medicine” next to the others. Therefore, when I got accepted, I was put into the pre-professional advising. I never truly desired to become a doctor. The only reason I wanted to become one was to help people. To fix them. So I kept going. I took biology, chemistry, bioethics.
Then, my sophomore year, last year, I fell apart. I took physics and organic chemistry. I was doing terribly in both. I made a 48 on my first exam in physics and a 63 in organic. I had to decide whether or not to drop physics. I eventually did, and I was so disappointed in myself. You see, I did well in high school. I took many Advanced Placement classes, made A’s, and was an excellent student. And I got burnt out. I just couldn’t force myself to work. I tried, but it wasn’t enough. I didn’t care enough. So I eventually made a C in organic.
It was during this semester that I would get these sort of panic attacks. I would just cry and cry when thinking about how badly I was doing in life, in organic, in everything. This is what really scared me the most. I always prided myself on not stressing out, not freaking out, and doing well in what I was studying for. But here was a class that just broke me down into tears. I couldn’t study when I was like that.
Then, the spring semester began. I took the second part of organic. Struggled through it and was averaging a C in the class. Then I fell apart again. I made a 48 on my last test, which dropped me to a D. I had to make an amazing grade on the final. I didn’t start studying for the final until the night before because I had basically given up. I failed the class with an F. In all my other classes that semester, I made A’s and B’s.
So now I don’t know what to do. I’m signed up for organic again this semester, with the same professor I failed with. I’m already freaking out about it. I don’t want to have those panic attacks again, but I can feel my heart rate getting faster just thinking about it and typing it out. I don’t think I want to be a doctor anymore. But I don’t know what else I can do. I’m majoring in English, and I enjoy writing, reading, and analyzing, but what could I do? I know I’m good at it. I’m thinking about public policy, law school, etc. Sometimes I blame my parents for, in a way, forcing me to do pre-med. It prevented me from pursuing architecture, for example. Or anything else. I know I shouldn’t blame them, but it seems so convenient.
I want to do so much with my life. I don’t want to regret anything. I want to study abroad and travel and do the Peace Corps and help people. But I need to make a decision.
What should I do, Cary? I trust your advice. I read your column and your advice is always sound. If you could help me, I would be so grateful.
Typical Confused College Student
There is this phrase in Malayalam my Father used almost daily; I wish I could recall it, so I could butcher its spelling right now. It was something to the effect of, I’ll break your bones and GIVE you something to cry about, you little twerp. Or similar. But let’s allow the sensitive Amreekan (whom I’m a huge fan of, normally, btw) to have his say, since it IS his column we are
Dear Confused College Student,
We interupt this post to raise a point of clarification: I’ve numbered the paragraphs below , so they’re easier to refer back to and pillage, no need to thank me, it’s just the kind of blogger I am.
1.) Your parents are sitting on the floor in the living room, playing with a doctor doll. The doctor doll wears a nice white lab coat. The doctor doll is good-looking and rich. The doctor doll has a whole doctor household complete with doctor grandchildren and doctor spouse, and the doctor is in a Lexus driving down the street waving to admirers. Your parents have some play money and they have piled it up next to the doctor. The pile of money is nearly as tall as the doctor.
2.) Your parents would be very upset if someone were to take the rich doctor doll away. So you must use the tactic of redirection. You must show your parents something that is just as interesting to them.
3.) You must wave a shiny lawyer in their faces. You must say, “Look, parents! Shiny, famous lawyer! Rich, famous, shiny lawyer! CNN consultant fees!”
4.) In this way, you can induce them to turn their attention from the rich doctor doll to the rich lawyer doll, without feeling that they have lost a precious dream. If all goes well, they will forget about the doctor and will soon be back on the living room floor, assembling a rich lawyer family, complete with lawyer spouse, successful lawyer children and a big expensive lawyer house filled with money to the ceiling.
5.) You would think that you could just talk to parents. But they aren’t like that. You can’t talk to them. You have to treat them like children.
6.) You, on the other hand, are fairly adult. You know what you need to do. You just have to clear some space for yourself to do it.
7.) While you’re at it, in case you are feeling alone, take a look at this article on Sound Vision. It addresses your situation almost precisely: “The child wants to be an artist; his parents want him to go to med-school and become a doctor. The child wants to be a political scientist; his parents want him to be an engineer. This clash seems to be especially prevalent in immigrant Muslim families.”
8.) And it makes one particularly encouraging observation that might be persuasive to your parents: “Muslim leaders have long complained about the lack of Muslims pursuing careers in the media.”
9.) Law is a difficult career, and it may not be exactly what you wish to pursue for your entire life. But I think you have a good shot at it and should give it a try. It can be a springboard to many other occupations, journalism and writing principally among them.
10.) Your parents are right about one thing. They know, as countless other immigrants have known, that though American society is an open place, it is not a kind, safe place. It is a place where you have to make your own way. You have to establish status for yourself. If not, you will be trampled. That’s the way it is here. So they are right to push you to acquire a profession that will afford you some protection from the vicissitudes of capitalism and individualism.
11.) Sure, you will have to change some of your educational arrangements. But you would have to do that anyway. You flunked organic!
12.) Don’t worry. It’s probably the best course you’ve ever flunked.
13.) Law is excellent training for a writer. Look at Salon’s Tim Grieve, for instance, and Glenn Greenwald. They are both lawyers. They are also powerful writers working as journalists.
14.) So drink some coffee and cancel the pre-med studies.
15.) Throw yourself into what you love best. Make yourself happy. Excel. Immerse yourself in it. Go toward what you love. Work. Graduate. Stay healthy.
16.) Keep telling your parents you’re going to law school.
17.) Then join the Peace Corps.
18.) After the Peace Corps, you’ll know what to do.
Oh, my. What struck me first about all this was how– for lack of a better word– unoriginal the dilemma is…a LOT of us have been exactly where LW is, which partially explains my sarcasm-infused title. Anyway, what follows are my thoughts on specific points Cary made (see why I numbered things?).
Re: no. 3 Anyone else sick of people substituting law school for med school, as if the two are super similar? No? Just me? Meh.
As for the â€œfamousâ€ and â€œCNN consultantâ€-bit, I thought there was a glut of lawyers, who are often an ambitious, deliciously ruthless bunch (I speak fondly because like every other quondam debate dork, I almost went, you know), who will annihilate this sniveling child as if they were an amuse bouche.
Re: no. 5 You canâ€™t treat your parents like children. Not if theyâ€™re desi. Well, you can, if you enjoy the sensation of a Bata chappal as it glides upside your head, but thatâ€™s all you. Seriously though, I know Iâ€™m officially ancient because Iâ€™m indignantly offended on behalf of this kidâ€™s parents. You know whatâ€™s awesome about being 32, though? I DONâ€™T GIVE A SHIT.
Re: no. 6 â€œFairly adultâ€ my callipygian rondure. This kid has been directed and pushed, their entire life, â€œguidedâ€ forcefully by parental decisions. Thatâ€™s why LW canâ€™t make an important choiceâ€”they donâ€™t know how. Believe me, I speak from experience, after being raised by an over-protective Father who chose MY major for me, as well.
The one thing Cary SHOULD have told LW is to take a deep breath and prepare for some harsh-but-necessary emotional growing pains. Hie thee to the student counseling office, honeychile, because you gonna need it. Itâ€™s awful and challenging, but learning how to make your own choices MUST be doneâ€¦long before you mindlessly traipse off to law school or whatever else. Take it from one who knows and has the scrapes and scars to prove it.
Re: no. 7 â€œespecially prevalent in immigrant MUSLIM families (emphasis mine)â€?? As opposed to the obvious lack of clash in immigrant homes which religiously identify as Christian, Jewish, Sikh or Hindu? Come ON. This is not a Muslim thang. Mira, this is a BROWN thing. An IMMIGRANT thing. Really, a normal thing.
Re: no. 8 I really donâ€™t think the Muslim community needs more problemsâ€”LW canâ€™t speak on behalf of themselves, let alone a massive world religion. One thing at a time. See: my response to number 6.
Re: no. 9 STOP TELLING PEOPLE WHO DONâ€™T KNOW WHAT TO DO TO â€œGO TO LAW SCHOOLâ€. This is why every lawyer I know (and I know almost a hundred), with the whopping exception of four of my friends, HATES THEIR LIFE. The Law is not an easy-way out. Respect it, donâ€™t use it when what you really need, is a year off to backpack around Turkey or Nepal or just chill, while you figure out what you think you want to do for the foreseeable future. Taking out loans which will later encircle your ankle like a golden chain, keeping you trapped inside corporate law will not make you any happier than flunking O-Chem, LW.
My most miserable friends are the ones who regret going to law school, who work at â€œbig firmsâ€, who wake up to find hair on their pillow, because itâ€™s falling out, who have ulcers and budding substance abuse problems. I find the â€œOh, wellâ€¦if I canâ€™t figure out what to do, Iâ€™ll just go to law school!â€-attitude offensive, because I really love the law. One of my friends who is a medical resident said something to the effect of, â€œBe damned sure this is what you want to do, because itâ€™s not worth the sacrifices unless itâ€™s what you love.â€ Um, yeah. That goes for everything, because just about everything requires sacrifice, if you want to achieve success.
Re: no. 10 Your parents are right about plenty of things, LW. I started to grok this around age 23. Donâ€™t get it twistedâ€” you, LW, and I, will NEVER know what manner of struggle our parents survived, as new immigrants to this foreign place. There was no internet to utilize as a resource for information, and if they came here in the late 60s, early 70s, there was no community to cushion their landing, either. My mother didnâ€™t know that Oklahoma would get cold in the winter, so she didnâ€™t have a proper coat. She shivered until she could save enough to afford one. My father, who was worried that everything had some meat byproduct in it, unless he cooked it, was a borderline manorexic.
Your parents suffered, too. It made them fierce and strong and it taught them ridiculously valuable lessons about life, which they are using to guide you because they love you more than anyone else will and want to see you thrive. I could never pick up at 21 and move to a totally different country, where I didnâ€™t have a single family member and knew nothing about the local culture, and build a life for myself. I canâ€™t do that at age 32. But my mother did it, when she was more than a decade younger than me. And I worship the ground she treads on, because of it. When Iâ€™m not swearing in two languages in her long-suffering, tolerant presence, that is. My point is, your parents, more often than not, unless they are advocating extreme things like forced marriage, are right.
Re: no. 11 You know what I wish Cary had said at this point? What I wish the dean at the College of Letters and Sciences had said to me, when as a miserable Freshman, I said that I hated my major and wanted to transfer schools, but didnâ€™t know what to do, since I was a sheltered, barely-18-year old. Hereâ€™s what the dean said:
â€œCollege is tough, but at least your parents are paying for itâ€¦youâ€™ll be fine. Political Science can be fun! And much more useful than South Asian Studies, which youâ€™d have to go to Berkeley forâ€¦â€
Hereâ€™s what I wish he said:
â€œThere are these amazing resources called pell grants and student loansâ€”if youâ€™re concerned about the financial implications of standing up to your parents, head to the financial aid office and see what your options are.â€
If this kid is worried about getting cut off financially, there is no better country in which that could happen. Especially if youâ€™re at a state school, which is cheaper than a private one.
Re: no 13 (and now I have the Pixies in my head, â€¦Law is excellent training for a lot of things, but as my embittered ivy-league JD/MBA ex-bf reminded me, ad nauseum, when he got home from work every morning at 1:30 am from his â€œbigâ€ Manhattan firm, for his five hours of restless sleep, IT IS NOT REQUIRED IN ORDER TO BECOME A WRITER.
Re: no 15 Yes. Do what you love. If you are passionate about something, you will give up jealous boyfriends, reading for pleasure and half of your social life for it, even when you donâ€™t get paid. LW, once you find something which fulfills you to the point where you canâ€™t imagine NOT doing it, youâ€™ll be all right. College, where you can have a range of different experiences and the opportunity to sample so many classes, is an excellent place to start the process through which you uncover your bliss.
Re: no 16 Sigh.
Re: no 18 Maybe. Sometimes, that sort of experience/perspective-gathering/kick in the kundi is exactly what we need.
What do you think (like I need to ask)?