At 24 years and some odd months old, I feel like I have some things figured out. My bills are on autopay; I know what vegetables I like (mostly); and I know what I want to do for the rest of my life: be a doctor. However, as a 24-year-old, the decision to go back to school and attempt a feat as great as taking the MCAT, getting into and graduating from medical school and completing an OB/GYN residency didn’t come to me overnight, and it surely didn’t come to me as a freshman in college who changed her major a staggering six times.
Sure, when I was in high school, I dreamed of becoming a world-renowned neonatologist who sewed up tiny hearts and turned basketball-sized baby bumps into, well, babies. But when I began college, I dreamed of Faulkner and The Washington Post, space travel and kindergarten classrooms. I tried it all, until junior year when I became practically obsessed with psychology and eventually decided on that as my undergraduate degree. I graduated, planned to take a gap year before applying to graduate schools and worked at a newspaper in my hometown. I wrote and edited and listened to countless stories of injustice and recipes for grits, not recognizing until eight months in that what I really wanted was a career. Not in journalism or psychology, basket weaving or oversleeping, I wanted to go to medical school.
I respect journalists and writers because this is a difficult craft to break into. And for me, writing offers a cool glass of Hendrick’s and lime when my brain sends me spiraling into a deluge of existential doubt.
The reality no one tells you when you enter college or post-secondary adulthood is that no one really knows what they’re doing. No one knows truly knows what they want to do right out of school (and if they do, then kudos to them. Overachievers). Choosing a career path takes thoughtful planning, self-reflection and a few come-to-Jesus moments, most happening right around the time Sallie Mae starts to call.
My decision to go back to school and begin MCAT prep took two months of research and prayer, as I was in a somewhat important position at my job and knew that I would be sacrificing a year and a half of work for something that may or may not work out. I built relationships with my coworkers, editing skills and investments into myself to live a life as an award-winning journalist. But I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t feel useful or even challenged enough in any way that would strengthen me. I would drive past the hospital twice a day, five days a week, and feel my heartbeat against my ribcage. Family members would be ill, and I would take twisted pleasure in watching doctors slip into secret doorways, nurses poking and prodding in their cheerful scrubs.
I told myself becoming a doctor was for another life until one day I saw an overexposed Instagram meme that said “You believed in Santa Claus for 10 years of your life. You can believe in yourself for five minutes.” It’s cheesy, but it worked. I put in my notice, applied to a second-degree program in biology, and now I’m (hopefully) a year away from taking my MCAT.
Having lofty dreams or seemingly unattainable goals without a plan can cause paralyzing fear and dissatisfaction in everything you do. Visualizing myself, scalpel in hand, sends a flush of relief over me I never thought existed, and not once in the past year have I considered quitting. I am utterly hopeless at trigonometry, but no matter how hard school gets, I stick it out because I believe and hope one day I will be able to hold infants in my hands and spread joy to those whose whole life has culminated into a tiny ball of inspiration and love. Plus, have you smelled a baby recently? I mean. Come on.
Find something you can’t imagine yourself not doing for the next 40+ years and pursue it like your life depends on it because it does. Everything will fall into place if you let it. Obstacles, self-doubt, fear of failure or even Sallie Mae can’t knock the hustle. All of it is background noise. You got this. The only thing left is taking the leap. Don’t worry about being ready. Just take a deep breath. Now, jump.
Maya, the reigning queen of marathon sleeping, is a freelance writer and student at Jackson State University. She enjoys power walks through Target and aggressively sending memes to all of her friends. Follow her on Twitter at @MayaLMiller for tweets about puppies and politics.