I have talked and written a lot lately about my struggle with career stagnation and professional alienation. Over several years I have become more and more emotionally detached from my trained profession (medicine), and more and more drawn into my avocational pursuits (music, writing, film). With each passing year I understand better and better that these things are choosing me, as the saying goes. Yet as much as I’d like to tell you all an uplifting story about my courageous and bold leap from the safe to the fulfilling, it simply hasn’t happened.
Part of my stasis has been some very legitimate and necessary considerations for my family’s financial, educational, and geographic stability. But deep down I’ve suspected and feared that, even if those considerations were eventually covered, I still might not have the fortitude to make a change. Today, one of those suspicions surfaced long enough for me to really grab hold of it and take a long look.
Its roots go way, way back. Long before the years of clinical practice, before the rigors of residency, before the chaos of medical school, maybe all the way back to a kid who was forming his first sense of personal identity and ability. Somewhere along the line that passes through all these stages, I really started grooving on being special. And letting go of that groove may be the biggest hurdle between me and moving on to something that fits.
I’ve learned a lot along the way, but I haven’t been a rank beginner at anything for two decades and almost everything I had to do before that didn’t really make me suffer for it. Not, at least, in any way that would make a meaningful and compelling story. This isn’t a boast of universal competence. It’s just that when I’ve chosen things, I have regularly steered myself to the ones that came easy (with one notable exception, thank you dive school).
But when things choose you, you not free to steer anymore. You either get at peace with going somewhere off the charts, or you drop anchor and go nowhere. Most days I think I am probably standing at the gunwales, anchor in hand. The thought of a new project or role that might highlight my ineptitude sets off something deep under the surface that makes pitiful excuses about how I don’t really want what I want. It is a miserable sophistry hiding two simple truths. That the opportunity for most growth comes before you are ready to pay, and that you have to pay for things to matter. The issue isn’t whether I am ready for and brave enough to change. It’s whether I am brave enough to pay, ready or not.
Not sure how this will all turn out, but I will tell you that the anchor drill is getting kind of old.