Leaving Medical School: From Premed Thoroughbred, to Saying No to Asian Parents, to Walking away from 200k/lifelong security, all for … what exactly?
The following is the first installment of a seven-part series (Think Harry Potter. I will be saving the entire wizarding world.) of the buildup to me leaving my extremely well-paved career path. Starting from childhood, and ending with literally, right now!
Part I: ProPrologue – A Classic Asian Childhood, with some twists!
Who am I exactly? That’s a good question. My name is Tammy Su, frequently referred to as Tammysu, as it flows in some nice quasi-Southern fashion. But I’m not– I’m a first generation Chinese, New Jersey raised product of upper middle class suburbia. Growing up, my peers and classmates were other high achievers of the grade school “gifted and talented”; Asians, Jews, supplanted in magnet schools because for some reason it seemed like a good idea to pigeonhole naïve high schoolers and middle schoolers even down a specific vocation or career path before we were even old enough to understand what “passion” or the “real world” really entailed. My 7th grade self certainly cared more about my AOL instant messenger profile being appropriately colorful than things like…personal finance. But heck, it seemed like a good idea.
Dance, monkey, dance. I was a “good Asian” child in all respects; I played piano for years, feeling like a little baby Mozart as I performed dainty sonatinas for my parents’ guests. I went to Chinese school on Saturdays. (Terrible). I showed some natural affinities for school, scoring in top percentile of standardized tests. Addition, subtraction, and later geometry and calculus proved to be no big thang, and these somewhat innate abilities surprised me with certain unsolicited/slightly undeserved gifts: the ultimate praise from my parents which became my lifeblood(in contrast to my, at the time, less academically inclined older brother), plenty of scholastic achievement awards, among other accolades. My head inflated. After earning a dazzling array of high school senior awards, I sat amongst my fake marble plaques and thought, Shit – college and the real world? I’ve got this in the bag. Oops. The I-was-completely-and-utterly-wrong was about to come. Hard.
More on that in a sec.
Who was I really though? I was lucky enough that school came easily. But what were my happiest childhood moments? What were my lalala-skipping-through-daisies times in life? Let’s see.
As a younger child, we weren’t so very upper middle class. We certainly had enough by any means, but my toys consisted mostly of 8.5 x 11 sheets of computer paper, the most basic and austere set of Legos from a garage sale, and some Pogs. Since Pogs were useless, I was forced to be creative. Paper and scissors were my new best friend. No glue sticks, only staplers and scissors on hand. Somehow, it was fun for me to make small but shockingly accurate paper replicas of my house. My mother must have thought (in perfect fluent Chinese), “Wow this is great. What fine detail. But how the hell will this translate into some real world skill?” My proclivities for origami certainly would look weird on a resume. Let’s hope young Tammy shows some more normal, marketable skill sets. I did eventually, luckily…or unluckily?
Besides my love of blank white paper, I had a strange flair for the dramatics. After Shel Silverstein’s “Where the Sidewalk Ends” (Why does it randomly end?? Cue fear of unexpectedly falling off sidewalk to my imminent doom), I was suddenly inspired to be a poet. Fonts and 1995 Microsoft Word fascinated me, so I created finely printed Edwardian Script invitations for my grand audience of my brother, father and mother to come to my 8 PM poetry readings in the basement. I sat on a wooden kitchen stool, bathed under the showlights of a $20 Ikea lamp, and dramatically poured my heart and soul into reading my lovingly crafted acrostic poems (somehow not as cool when read aloud). I must have not noticed the bemused confusion of my parents and brother, and blissfully disregarded them as these poetry readings would continue on for months. To follow the beat of my own drum with little regard for the consequences or others’ opinions! Oh how this would change.
High school and middle school brought me friends with similar artistic flair. Our greatest products of these times were not the A’s and B’s we brought home, but our absurd song parodies, drawings, and home videos. It was a great time. My parents were my infallible (ha) liaisons to the real world, it seemed like it’d all be fine, and plus I had time and friends to dabble in my creative pursuits enough to balance school and not become miserable. What a life. I got into Cornell University, my blissful chapter was about to end, but at that point – there was no reason to suspect that I wouldn’t totally rock this whole college thing either. No biggie. Cue Jaws theme song.