I’ve been putting off this blog post for a very long time, mostly because it involves something that I hold very dear to my heart—something that can often be a touchy subject and something that I care about deeply—and I wanted to express everything on my mind while still writing somewhat coherently.

I think the quarter life crisis is a defining moment in a lot of people’s lives, and it applies to nearly everyone—regardless of their race. That being said, I do identify with a lot of the sentiments in this article that I recently read from WordPress’ Freshly Pressed. My dad has a PhD and has always been an academic, and I also internalized the academic mindset (or fervor) that drove many of my choices in high school. I also labeled myself as a “math and science” person because I finished math quizzes quickly (and was embarrassingly smug about it, too) and because I scored well in both subject areas. It took me a while to realize that I was never an any subject person. I wrote abundantly even in elementary school, taking great pride in my short stories and poetry. I wanted desperately to compete in the state-wide GeoBee. I spent hours sitting in the library devouring books. It also took me a while to realize that there was no real reason for or rigidity in that label I gave myself so hastily.

Med school was something I never fully understood, even though I latched myself onto the idea as early as my freshman year of high school. I didn’t really have a good grasp on the university experience, the job market, the dynamics of each field of work that was available (or unavailable, given the economy) out there. It was automatic simply because of that restricting self-label, and simply because it’s what I knew. As a high schooler, I had no idea what a radiologist was. What a molecular biology researcher did. In my mind, science was a natural segway into medical school.

But the more I learned about what being a doctor really meant, the more I began to feel uneasy. I took a health sciences course in high school because I was starting to feel doubts about my previous focus on one day applying to med school, and though I enjoyed the course, I could start to feel myself withdrawing. I kept changing my mind—maybe I’d look into a PharmD or maybe research—but at the end of the day, I was still trying to shove myself as a square peg into the round hole that was scientific vocations.

I found myself starting to study biological sciences in college as well, and I felt more out of place than ever. The weird thing is that I so enjoyed LEARNING about science, yet felt lost and uncomfortable among all the med school hopefuls that surrounded me. The more I heard about people’s excitement for applying to medical school, for one day doing clinicals or conducting experiments, the more I began to doubt my decision to pursue science. It was confusing at its core solely because I couldn’t understand how I could be so interested in science yet so turned off by its career prospects.

I played with the idea of becoming a teacher for the first time during my junior year of high school, and part of me almost wonders if it stemmed from my early days where I would pretend to teach a cooking course using Legos and stuffed animals. Or whether it had anything to do with how much I enjoyed teaching my little brother how to do new things or about all the things I learned in school. I don’t know if teaching was written all across my childhood interests, but it began to settle into my brain and…well, it fit. But at the same time, I also had to entertain the idea that maybe this was just a fleeting thought—something akin to an offhanded comment like “Hey, what if I became an FBI agent?” or “Maybe I should run for president someday”. I had to consider the possibility that this “quarter life crisis” was nothing more than me panicking about my future and that I only wanted to do something—anything—other than med school. But I would think about it more and more, and teaching excited me in a way that all my other career considerations didn’t. I began accepting it as a reality, and I would go on to learn how to embrace it as something that mattered to me.

I was so afraid of my parents’ reactions—not that they weren’t supportive or encouraging, but because I was worried of breaking some imaginary mold that all the other Asian Americans seemed to be fitting. In the community that I grew up in, Asian American families were painfully aware of each other’s children—especially their successes. It made sense, in retrospect, especially because it’s completely natural to want to brag a little about your child’s achievements. But it also meant that we were conditioned, in a way, to feed off of the glorifying spotlight. Look what my kid won. Look at the position my son just got. Look at the college my daughter just got into. I began focusing on achieving things almost because I wanted to have something to give my parents to brag about.

And although that aforementioned community wasn’t just chock full of Asian American children vying to become doctors, the vast majority of those families would always laud career choices that were linked with prestige, job security, and respectability. At the dinner table, my parents would share when one of our family friends got into a top tier business school. When one of them snagged an engineering job straight out of college. They all set this precedent that I was terrified of straying away from.

Because my parents never came home to share with us about a family friend who started up at teacher’s college. Of course, the topic of the way society views teaching as a profession is another conversation entirely, but I fixated on that because it made me nervous about the way I was starting to picture my future. I pushed the thought to the back of my mind for the time being, but as time went on, I found it harder and harder to ignore it. Teaching interested me. Teaching seemed like a challenge that I actually WANTED to take on.

And so once I reached my sophomore year in college, I scooped the idea back up and began to look into it more seriously. What would I have to do to get certified after undergrad? (apply to a teacher prep program) What would the lifestyle be like? (enormously difficult) I began to fall hard for the profession.

When I finally told my parents about it, they… didn’t take me too seriously. Not that they laughed at me or thought I was joking, but I think they might have believed it was a “phase” I was going through—one that I’d leave behind eventually. But it didn’t go away, and last summer I worked at a teaching internship where I got to teach science to middle school students at a summer enrichment program for underrepresented students. It was without a doubt the best experience I’ve ever had.

Of course, this put a lot of questions into my head, the main ones being: How do I redefine the values I associate with my career goals? What did that experience teach me about education? What did it teach me about myself?

This upcoming summer, I’m returning to the program. I have an Excel document listing all the teacher preparatory programs that I’m considering applying to, with their respective deadlines and application requirements.

The best part in all of this is that although I didn’t wind up pursing the career sector that my parents may have originally envisioned for me, my parents haven’t rejected my decisions either. Teaching is a tough field—one with rocky job prospects, long hours, low pay, and enormous challenges—and my parents are always saying how that’s what worries them the most. But ever since I expressed my choice to them, they have communicated more and more openly with me about it. I always have to remind myself that I almost shoved the idea of becoming a teacher aside simply because I was afraid of what my parents and my peers would think. I am so grateful that people have been for the most part supportive (every time one of my friends learns that I want to become a teacher and says “You’d be so good at teaching!” I can’t help but feel my heart expanding), and I constantly remind myself that if I had let that fear get the better of me, I could very well have ended up spending the rest of my life doing something I had no interest in.

I’m nowhere near the end of my career goals (in fact, I’ve barely begun that journey—and sometimes I still daydream about doing something radical like dropping everything to work in a bakery), but I like to think that the “quarter life crisis” I had wasn’t so much of a crisis as it was a self-discovery that helped me reevaluate what was important to me. It would be a job that I would have to go to every day for the rest of my life, and at the end of the day, it couldn’t be a career that I submitted to—it had to be one that I truly believed in.

One thought on “Career Choices and Cultural Schemas

  1. hi! thanks for the shout. i loved reading your story! so much of it resonated with me — the embarrassing smugness of finishing math quizzes quickly, wondering if the doubts were just a phase, the fear of telling your parents that you might want to do something different, the dinnertime discussion of what the family friends have accomplished. i’m so glad you’ve found something you’re passionate about and truly fits you — and that your parents have been open to it and open in communicating with you about it. that’s awesome. best wishes to you as you continue on your journey!

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