I contemplated the words in my head before uttering them out loud, as I hungrily scooped a large spoonful of homemade chocolate peanut butter ice cream into my mouth.
The question was posed on a small plastic card, sticky with the fingerprints of dozens of other ice cream aficionados of years past. Just one of a larger set of equally provocative printed questions piled on the rustic wood tabletop of the quiet but quaint sweet shop.
A simple party game designed to stimulate meaningful conversation amongst friends instilled an immediate sense of curiosity in my mind. Without missing a beat, I offered up my answer: “I would be a writer.”
Many of my colleagues will tell you that, for as long as they’ve understood what the job entailed, they’ve always known they wanted to be a veterinarian. I’m not sure why the innate compulsion is so prevalent in our profession, but you’ll find it’s a common theme if you start asking around.
I suspect it has something to do with being gently encouraged by adults who are less familiar with the specifics of the job, but who find it “adorable” or “noble” that a little person could be motivated to work in such an honorable field.
Likewise, with only a few exceptions, people really respond positively when I tell them I am a vet. People who love animals are certainly the most receptive, but even non-pet owners show excitement over me being an animal doctor. There is a near inexplicable fascination with the job. Unfortunately, there is a great deal of romanticism regarding the actualities.
As long as I’ve known I wanted to be a veterinarian, and as much as I was always encouraged to do so, I’ve known the path to success would be exceptionally difficult. The same people who cultivated my dreams would be the first to tell me how I would need to study constantly, work endlessly, possess the highest grades, and have the most varied experience, and even then, I would not be guaranteed the chance to prove my intentions.
I knew more about the low acceptance rates, challenging curriculum, and general “scariness” of the idea of putting all my professional eggs in the vet med basket at a time when I should have been encouraged to pursue my aspiration with random abandonment. The pressure was palpable long before I even truly understood what the pressure was really all about.
Writing was something I always enjoyed, but never pursued for anything more than hobby. Instead, I toiled away, earning degrees in the sciences, working in veterinary hospitals, performing research, and teaching courses in basic biology; all things I needed to do to make myself an ideal candidate for gaining acceptance to vet school. The time and energy required to complete these tasks came at the expense of my ability to cultivate my creative endeavors.
What I find so interesting is that the concept of pursuing a career in writing, like veterinary medicine, is full of an inordinate amount of obstacles. As many times as I was told how difficult my life would be trying to become a vet, it seems, a career as a writer was given even less consideration and presented in an even more negative light.
Furthermore, those of us who write are often intensely self-deprecating, lacking the confidence in the strength of our written words. We are often our own worst enemies when it comes to sabotaging our own success. We all may write, but we rarely feel comfortable enough to call ourselves writers.
A major difference between veterinary medicine and writing is that achieving a degree and license to practice medicine is a quantitative endeavor, and a person can become a doctor on calculable characteristics alone. It really was true that if I put the hard work in I would achieve what I set out for in a very measurable sense. Yet, I would be hard pressed to define how it is that someone truly “becomes” a writer, as there are no specific defining characteristics of the job.
I supposed it wasn’t truly surprising that my knee jerk answer to my adult-life dream job was “writer.” This doesn’t mean I’m not fulfilled working as a veterinary oncologist. It simply means I still possess a restless sense of my own capabilities, especially with regard to what will bring me happiness in the long run.
My story also emphasizes how important it is to encourage a dream rather than discourage it. Or maybe even to just let the dream exist without judgment, at least for a little while, in the mind of a child.
And that you are “never too old to become what you might have been.”
As I placed the card back on top of the pile, I knew in my heart that I am as much a writer as I am a veterinarian. Possibly even more than I have ever given myself credit for in my entire life.