I don't have many memories from grade school, but there are a handful burned into my life's montage. One in particular from the fourth grade: I am sitting in my reading group, literature textbook closed, and staring off into space. My imagination is running wild until I am snapped back into reality by the teacher scolding me for not participating. The problem was the reading group was too slow. I was finished and bored waiting for everyone to catch up. Again. The teacher didn't sympathize, I was told to follow along anyway. Pure torture as I listened to my peers stumble through the words...
Looking back, that was the first of many signs. Nine years of standardized testing with reading comprehension in the 98th percentile, and math barely above average. Three rounds of the Dental Aptitude Test (the dental version of the MCAT) proving the exact same point. Yet, I ignored the facts. Numbers don't lie. (Perhaps that's why I hate them...) Instead, I held onto a conversation. One I had with my Grandma just before she passed.
My freshman year at Boston College, I re-discovered how much I love fashion. This time from a writer's angle. I love reading the stories in Harper's Bazaar and Vogue almost more than looking at the latest trends. Each story beginning much the same way. The scene set (usually with the subject looking effortless), the angle for the feature introduced, and the promotion for their "new whatever" tying all the loose ends. Predictable. But I love it.
I brought the magazines to the hospital, and it was one of the final conversations I had with my Grandma. Discussing my new appreciation for the "fashion feature story" she asked the question, "Do you like this stuff?" I gave the answer I felt I should give, "I really like it, but it's not a realistic career to pursue." Her answer haunted me for years. Every time I felt beaten down by the grades, statistics, and test scores her words would creep in, "I think you would make a great dentist. You should stick with that."
So I did. For seven years I pursued a career in dentistry. Truth be told, I chose it as a means to an end. From a young age, I dreamed of wearing designer labels, and teeth were the answer. My fascination only helped to hide all the shortcomings. An inexplicable and strange love, but a lucrative one. Teeth would pay for my education. Teeth would buy the shoes, handbags, and jewels. Teeth would secure a comfortable future. So I stuck with it.
I wore blinders, never once considering another option. I ignored the facts until they couldn't be ignored any longer. One morning it finally hit me. Another gag reflex gone awry, my failure to be accepted into dental school was a blessing in disguise. I had a fascination, not a passion.
It's an important nuance, and I learned the difference the long, but scenic way. Fascination is an intense interest. Passion is a calling. A weird quirk to add a little variety to life, versus your life's work. Something that sucks every last ounce of energy, takes all of your heart, soul, and then some kind of life's work. Roadblocks define the limits of our fascination. Passion knows no such thing. With it, we achieve the unthinkable.
Dr. Woo at NOVA Pediatric Dentistry and Orthodontics was the one who gave me a shot. I couldn't be more thankful for the experience I had in her office. Had I gone straight into dental school, I would have never learned I am too sensitive to handle the anxiety of others. Or that I am too regimented to deal with constant schedule changes. Or that I am a true cat...I like being around people on my own terms. (Some days you just need a desk to hide behind!)
Fascination rarely translates into career material. When I asked myself what I actually liked about dentistry, my list was pretty short. One item to be exact. Teeth. (Unless you count them separately, then there are thirty-two!) And teeth alone a career does not make. My dreams of being a dentist had turned to dust.
"If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan." Well, I am a comedian who isn't afraid to vacuum. I have a new dream, and each day I am more confident that it's a true passion. Oddly, I was first told I had a knack for writing after giving my Grandma's eulogy. Perhaps her way of saying dentistry did not have to be in the cards forever. A clue missed, but not a lesson. Don't fear the fresh start, because who knows what gems are lying beneath the dust.