In this day and age, most people have quite a lot of freedom to choose their career paths. Obviously, this is a great thing. However, it can also be a double-edged sword if we don’t make what is perceived to be “the right” decision in the first place. The reasons for this challenge range from being forced or pushed by parents to choose something specific, to simply not having enough data to make an informed decision. The latter is mainly caused, in my opinion, by the lack of proper support from school staff and parental figures when it comes to choosing a college, field, career or generally speaking, next step after school.
In my case, it was a combination of insufficient information and some form of obsessive-compulsive pattern around cleanliness and germs. You can imagine how amazingly that goes with being a veterinarian. Ironic I might say. The problem with not having enough data and not knowing what and where to search, before deciding to go after a degree that will take six years of your life, is that you might end up spending even more than those six years chasing and struggling with something that maybe wasn’t for you to begin with.
Becoming a veterinarian is not the only way to save animals, but that’s what my young mind thought at the time. It is however, one of the most hands-on and the most difficult for your mental health. It is one of the most expensive (overwhelming student debt) and longest degrees (though education never truly ends). It has a very high level of responsibility and despite this, it’s seriously underpaid in most countries. It’s not all bad though. The feelings that flood you when you save an animal’s life or improve it in some meaningful way can be truly priceless (in that moment). But this is a subject that can have a stand-alone article, so I’ll stop here. As for my germaphobia, you can imagine it makes everything (at least) ten times worse.
The cherry on top regarding my decision to change paths was my transition to veganism. Even though I learned in university how to kill animals (not only save them) and I witnessed some gruesome things in person, it took a while for that click to happen and to finally see that, in reality, veterinary medicine is not as vegan-friendly as one might think. This awareness made it really hard to continue being active in various branches of the field, because many of them exploit, hurt (or kill) animals in one way or another. Talk about irony, again. The branch that mostly saves them (small animal clinic) also has a lot of those germs my mind can’t cope with. So, as you see, I was pretty much between a rock and a hard place.
None of this was or is easy. Especially when you invest so much time and resources in a degree or a career, it’s incredibly difficult to admit to yourself that it’s ending, not to mention admitting to others. It’s kind of like you have to reinvent yourself. Or maybe discover yourself, particularly if your career wasn’t your choice. As a child, I wasn’t encouraged much to try out different sports or artistic activities. Therefore I’m figuring it out now, as an adult who came to terms with the fact that what I thought for years was going to be my career, is actually not anymore.
I’m wondering and exploring what I really like, how I can use what I already know and my available skillset, what areas align with my (vegan) values and what I need to do in order to pursue what I find to be true for myself. I haven’t decided on a fixed path yet, but no matter what that is, it will most likely require some additional study or research and I’m okay with that. I don’t think I would start another university degree at this point, but that is one option. However, I would definitely go for a three-week or six-month course or a number of research and self-study hours.
If I were to look back now (although I’m still in the middle of it) and summarize a couple pieces of advice for others or my younger self, they would be as follows:
If you are young enough, take time to try different things. Be it basketball, playing the piano, painting, dancing, math, biology; discover what you truly like. Does it make you smile? Does it make the world better? What education option can you choose that gives you the tools to take what you like and make it an enjoyable source of income that also contributes positively to the world? Talk to people who are already where you want to get. Ask for the real answers, the struggle, and the compromise. Find out the truth, not a fantasy version of it used for marketing purposes.
If you are an adult already, do the same, but with a few tweaks. First try to rule out self-sabotage. Many people feel like they are not good enough or have imposter syndrome even after a solid education and years of working. If you feel you did your best or there are other issues (like my germaphobia which I’m working on) in the way, see if it’s time to let go. Work with your feelings, not against them. Be at peace with needing a change and start exploring. I don’t think it’s ever too late. Follow the steps above, ask the questions. Use your existing knowledge, wisdom and skills. Try a few things because it will not take long to realize which is for you and which is not (I had a few other jobs besides vet). This is a good time to return to yourself or reinvent yourself, whatever your soul needs.
I don’t know who said this one, but I love this quote: “Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
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Photo: Karsten Winegeart via Unsplash; Logan Weaver via Unsplash