When I was 3 years old, I told my mother I wanted to be a fashion designer. She told me that I was going to be a doctor.
And like a good Indian daughter, I didn’t argue.
From the age of 3 until high school, I told everyone who asked that I wanted to be a doctor when I grew up. My punishment for misbehaving would be copying words from my father’s medical dictionary (which I later studied for my own amusement. Yes, I’m a nerd). I researched diseases and was convinced that I was suffering from a brain tumor when I had a headache, or that I had leukemia when the doctor told me my hemoglobin count was low (due to my vegetarian diet). I was so convinced that I would grow up to be a pediatric oncologist that I even announced it among my fellow SmithKline Beecham employees’ children at Take-Your-Kid-To-Work Day.
And then, I took Chem 142 my freshman year in college. And I quickly began examining other career options.
Under my father and cousin’s recommendations, I stuck with the science coursework, declaring a biochemistry major and looking at patent law as a career path. Struggling through the science coursework while flourishing in my history classes had me confused about what I really wanted to do, and the complaints and war stories I heard from friends already in law school had since put me off that path. I stumbled into a marketing internship that I adored and excelled at, and quickly changed my career plans to the business world.
After slaving through the required coursework for the biochemsitry and history dual degrees, I knew the last thing I wanted to do was more school. And that I definitely wanted to make money. Sales seemed like the best path to go, and I accepted my offer from Cisco Systems’ Sales Associates Program.
This program was no joke. Out of over 10,000 applicants, only 200 were selected to enter the year-long training program. And yet, whenever my parents’ friends asked what I was doing, they said I worked in “marketing” at Cisco. As if sales was an unacceptable job to have.
It was frustrating to listen to my mother talk about her friends’ children in medical school with a wistful voice and say, matter-of-factly “well at least you have a job.” I was confused and hurt whenever I told my Indian friends’ parents what I did, and the conversation passed over to the law student’s summer associateship applications or the engineer’s current projects. Apparently it wasn’t enough to have a job and financial independence in lieu of bankrupting my parents with a medical or legal education, but apparently that’s the Indian parents’ dream.
Things are (slightly) different now. I’m working at a pharmaceutical start-up, freelance writing, and taking business classes at Villanova, all which seem to garner pride from my parents. And I hope as we Indian-Americans make advances in fields other than medicine, engineering, and law, we encourage the future generations to take the paths less traveled as well.
And who knows? Literature, thanks to Jhumpa Lahiri, Aravind Adiga, Arundhati Roy, and Vikram Seth, may very well become the new medicine. But more on that another time…