Thursday, April 29, 2010
The Underachiever's Career Guide
This week's Girl Talk Thursday topic: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
I've always been an animal lover. When I was growing up, we always had a family dog. When I was 7 or so, my parents bought me a chinchilla--and with heavy persuasion from my brother who was deep into the Lord of the Rings series at the time, I named it Frodo. When Frodo passed away, I got a grey, fluffy, lop-eared rabbit (this time I wasn't going to bow down to my brother, and oh-so-creatively named it 'Fluff'; so there!). I had a ten-gallon fish tank in my bedroom. I dreamed of animals and every creative writing piece written during my elementary years had the basic premise of a girl who found a rock (or other object) and spit on it (or it got rained on), and it turned into some fluffy creature. Magic! You'd think after that brilliance, my career aspirations would certainly involve writing, but I wanted to be a veterinarian.
Once junior high and high school came around, anatomy piqued my interest. The teacher in my high school's Anatomy class took a small group of students with the highest grades each year to see an autopsy, and I made sure I was part of that group even though my grades weren't the highest--I can be...persuasive, when I care about something. The stress of helping someone who was alive but sick or in an emergency didn't appeal to me, but I loved the idea of finding out why someone had died (and then going to court to testify in front of a rapturous jury; that sounded awesome). I took another Anatomy class while in college, and it was the only undergraduate program in the country at that time that had six whole cadavers to study each semester, just like in medical school. I loved the class, but I got a D. Do you know how many veins and arteries and nerves and lymph nodes are running up through your armpit? It's like a crazy 16-lane highway traffic jam in there. I can show you where your anatomical snuffbox is, though.
You see, I'm an underachiever. When I was young, I learned how to play the game and get great grades by doing the bare minimum. It worked pretty damn well for me in my youth, but it didn't go over very well when I got to a college that had higher academic standards than the good ol' Dade County Public School system. Thomas Jefferson was a student at my college, and I'd bet he wouldn't be pleased to know I was lowering the school's reputation. My sincere apologies, Thomas--founding fathers deserve more than that. So, my career choices of veterinarian or medical examiner hit a brick wall when I realized veterinarians were like, doctors, but for animals. And being a doctor meant going to medical school. And medical school seemed like an awful lot of...work.
At this time, I had read a lot of true crime stories and I really, really wanted to be a Profiler for the FBI's Behavioral Sciences Unit. I scored a few days' externship at the FBI training facility in Quantico, and yes, it was even cooler than you'd imagine. They had a whole fake street set up with a bank, pool hall, apartment building and the like to practice skills. The only gun I've ever shot in my life was blanks from the FBI's Glock that we used to practice clearing rooms that day (think sliding slowly with your back pressed against a wall, looking quickly around the corner with a pointed gun, the whole bit). This was it; I thought. I'm going to be an FBI agent. But then I heard about that pesky lie detector test part of the interview, the one where they ask you if you've smoked pot more than 10 times in your life. Ten? Um, who can answer that truthfully and be in the FBI?? I'm not going to come out and admit any drug use right here, but let's just say that I'm a terrible liar. So I didn't bother applying.
I managed to graduate college in four years, albeit with terrible grades. Hah! Who cares, I thought--my dad (a Dartmouth grad with less-than-perfect grades) told me that people only cared about your college grades when you were looking for your first job. It wasn't like I was going to go to grad school! And then I applied to grad school (my job as an Activities Director at a nursing home was the best I could do with my undergraduate degree in Psychology, and I lasted there a month before wanting to poke my eyes out). Luckily for me, I'm a good test-taker, which balanced out my mediocre grades and a law school took a chance on me. I figured my talent in persuasion could be put to some use.
Fast forward a few years, and my underachiever self who couldn't fathom the thought of medical school had a law degree. And had been the Managing Editor of a law journal. And had one baby and was pregnant with the other while studying for (and passing the first time, to my mom's shock and amazement!) the Bar exam. All while fixing up an old house in a developing neighborhood (okay, it was a total shithole in the 'hood, complete with a neighborhood prostitute and crack house).
I may be an underachiever, but I certainly am an adept multi-tasker. And my evolutionary biology-minded friend recently described my underachieving nature as something to the extent of 'a wise evolutionary strategy because of the effective use of energy and resources'. Sounds good to me!