I Regret Choosing a Science Career Over One in the Arts

After so many years studying molecules, I'm heading back to school to hone my writing.
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Rebecca Chant
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After so many years studying molecules, I'm heading back to school to hone my writing.

I chose a career in science because, well, why would I choose anything else? I was primed for it in high school, thinking the options were either doctor or lawyer. I hated my history classes and was pretty decent at biology so I went for doctor. 

But I spent high school hating physics and chemistry, while loving my art class and after-school choir. Put me in front of a mic or a blank canvas and I'm the happiest aspiring artist out there. Better yet, give me a book or manuscript and I'll read my little heart out.

However, I chose science because I thought anatomy was cool in a geeky "let me watch esophageal scopes" kind of way; not in a "let me spend my life convincing people to take better care of themselves" way.

I didn't end up having the marks to apply for pre-med so I opted for dietetics. It was that or gender studies. Dietetics led to a profession, and at age 19 I thought gender studies led to... not much. My life was spent memorizing biochemistry diagrams instead of reading, writing or creating. 

Right after graduation, I was hired at a children's hospital. Friends who chose art degrees were jealous I had a "real career," and friends who studied dietetics were jealous I had a "prestigious job."

I loved it. For about two years.

I realized that the next 35 years of my life could be spent going to the same office every day or I could get on a plane and explore the world. Thankfully, I ignored everyone telling me that I was sabotaging my career and I got on a plane.

The next two years were spent forming memories in exotic cities, while also realizing that there were endless possibilities. Was a nine-to-five job really for me? Should I challenge myself more and reapply to med school? Should I change paths altogether? What if I revisited that idea of gender studies?

All the while, I was writing about walking the Great Wall of China, scuba diving in the Philippines, climbing Macchu Piccu, and visiting Mosques in Turkey; about devastating Cambodian history, shocking culture differences in India, and cruel bull fighting in Spain. I discovered a new sense of feminism and wrote about struggles around the world. I read voraciously in 100-degree hostel rooms, on 14-hour train rides and during 10-hour airport layovers. 

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I met artists in every domain: photographers, writers, painters, musicians, designers and bloggers. I met the people who weren't scared to follow their passions.

I came home (because money does tend to run out) and went back to working at the hospital, except with an entirely different view on life.

I was craving something creative. I'd come home from work exhausted and would sit in front of my computer to write. Slowly, my paints made their way out of boxes. My words became stories on a screen. My colored pencils sighed in relief. I sighed in relief.

The nine-to-five job isn't very conducive to creativity. In my case, you've schlepped to work, dealt with sick patients, heard coworkers complain about their home renovations and lack of vacation, and then make your way home to cook dinner and hopefully go to the gym (when the mood rarely strikes). Thankfully, I have no children to take care of, so my life is significantly less stressful than it could be. 

But when are you supposed to write? Sit down at a blank canvas? Read a book?

I took the plunge and decided to focus on my writing by cutting down my hours at work. I have days at home dedicated to researching, writing, pitching, editing and drawing. It involves a lot of hot tea and cozy blankets, and it is wonderful. And frustrating and terrifying and liberating. I am surrounded with post-it notes covered in article ideas. I have connected online with other freelancers. I get to do what makes me happy. It doesn't yet pay the bills, but I'm working on it.

I'm going to be 27 this summer, and I am heading back to school. I spent so many years studying molecules that I need a little extra help to sort out my writing. I haven't been this excited for class since... well... ever.

In high school I wanted to be a doctor. In university, I wanted a science career. Now, I am choosing to follow what makes my blood rush. It's not a simple road, but it is certainly easier than spending my life trying to squeeze in creativity. Changing paths is always scary, but for me, this one is definitely worth it.