There are a few occasions in my life where I've thought, "this has GOT to be the toughest decision I have EVER faced!" What makes these decisions difficult isn't rooted only in how I perceive the possible cascading effects and direction of my future, but also how it will affect the ones I care about. Intertwined is the added mystery of staying in a place of comfort versus pursuing a path of greater uncertainty.
A few tough choices that immediately come to mind:
- High school: Do I run for class president? (Understand that I'm an intense introvert and historically despised student councils because they were just another thinly-veiled cover up for 'popularity contest.' A rant for another time.)
- Near end of dental school: Do I start working in my home of Regina, SK? Or do I pursue another year of residency in Toronto, ON?
- Finishing dental school: Ending a long term relationship with someone I cared for
- After settling in Toronto: The struggles of finding a new mother agency based in the city I now live in?
- After working at a dental practice for 2 years: Do I further invest my time and energy in this practice? Or do I take this opportunity to become an international model?
- Dessert: New York Cheesecake or a slice of freshly baked apple pie with a dollop of vanilla ice cream*?
In this post I'll be focusing on "Tough Choice #5".
"Don't be a donkey"
This requires some explanation. What entrepreneur/programmer/philosopher Derek Sivers is referring to is the fable of Buridan's ass. In this paradox a donkey stands exactly midway between a stack of hay and a pail of water. In its inability to make a rational decision between eating from the hay or drinking from the pail of water, it dies from both hunger and thirst.
Like the proverbial ass (not the first time I've been called one, won't be the last), I was at a crossroads between furthering the roots in a dental practice I was invested in, or exploring the career of international modelling. On the one hand, I felt committed and obligated to the care and treatment of so many patients - each of whom entrusted me with their oral health. I'd developed a close bond and my goals were to build an amazing practice with them at my side.
On the other hand, much of my happiness and personal growth come from my interactions with artists/models in the fashion industry. Part of what makes me a tolerable dentist is a direct result of the confidence gained from modelling. I am inspired when I listen to the stories behind each artist's path/struggles, the same way I'm invested in my patients' journeys. Although there are certainly airheads in the modelling world, experience has taught me that there are many more good apples than bad.
Sitting on the fence and half-assing (a fitting term in this context) two passions is not an option. Time is on your side - you can do everything you want to do. You just need foresight and patience.
Am I ready?
I remember as a youth competing in the dreaded Royal Conservatory of Music Festivals. Just before going in front of the crowd, clutching the neck of my violin... palms sweaty, knees weak, arms heavy**. Repeating the mental mantra, "Oh bloody shit I should have practiced more."
This was no longer the case. Unlike those musical nightmares of the past, I knew I was ready to go international. I had learned the ropes of the Canadian modelling scene, and was in a good place both physically and financially to hit the ground running. I'm going to let Floyd explain this one:
"I’m either ready or I’m not. Worrying about it right now ain’t gonna change a damn thing... Whatever’s gonna happen is gonna happen. I’ve either done everything I can to be ready for this, or I haven’t." - Floyd Mayweather
Yeah. What he said.
But what if I fail?
So what if you fail? If I take a single moment to unplug my uptight brain from my even tighter butt, what are the "worst case" scenarios? What is failure? Let's approach these fears systematically and break down what scares us most (adapted from Tim Ferriss's chapter on Fear-Setting and Escaping Paralysis):
- Define your nightmare, the absolute worst that could happen if you did what you are considering. I had two major fears: (1) a cultural fear of being disowned by my Chinese parents for leaving dentistry, and (2) a societal fear of doing poorly as a model and ending up a homeless - albeit handsome - vagrant.
- What steps could you take to repair the damage or get things back on the upswing, even if temporarily? Regarding my parents, they took the news very, very well. Shockingly well. But I'm leaving that conversation for another post. As for going into the financial hole... my fall back is dentistry... there is really nothing I'm allowed to complain about. Although I may not be able to return to my original clinic, that doesn't mean I can't find work somewhere else. And my plan isn't to leave dentistry completely - I plan on practicing in Northern/rural communities for a few months of the year. I love dentistry as much as I do modelling.
- What are the outcomes or benefits, both temporary and permanent, of more probable scenarios? It's more probable that I'll do okay in modelling, likely enough to at least break even. My dentistry skills will be maintained as I continue working during parts of the year. One of the major benefits will be the unique experiences and personal growth gained from travelling around the world and encountering new people.
- If you were fired from your job today, what would you do to get things under financial control? Too late, already gone. These questions were probably aimed at those still thinking about making the leap. But if I were to be suddenly fired from the clinic, my response would be, "when's the next flight out?"
- What are you putting off out of fear? For a long time it was the conversation I needed to have with my practice. Or the fear of renting out my newly renovated apartment and becoming a landlord. Or the fear of telling my parents only to have them respond by disowning me for no longer being their "Doctor son". What we fear doing most is usually what we most need to do. Ferriss will often reiterate that, "a person's success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have." What uncomfortable conversations are you putting off?
- What is it costing you - financially, emotionally, and physically - to postpone action? Postponing action isn't an option, considering the time-sensitive nature of modelling. But should I have done so, harbouring that regret at the back of my head for 1, 5, or 10 years would have had negative emotional and physical effects, which in turn would eventually manifest itself in the quality of care I provide as a dentist. The only gain I could see from inaction was financial, and money alone should never be the reason to avoid taking the next step.
- What are you waiting for? You already know I'm a religious individual. I prayed consistently and one day it felt right. It didn't come in some magical scene where the heavens parted and a beam of light shone down as a mandrill lifted me at the edge of Pride Rock. It just felt right - my heart was at peace.
"I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." - Mark Twain
I'm Going on an Adventure!
This blog post has grown into something much longer than I anticipated, so we'll wrap things up now. My intention is to encourage fence-sitters to critically think about their fears and evaluate whether their inaction is rooted in reason or emotion. There should be no fear in failure - you take a shot and miss? It's okay, life goes on, and you can hold your head with pride knowing you played the game on your own terms.
In closing, I have one final thing to say: apple pie all the way, baby.
- *Or a slice of aged cheddar
- **...There's vomit on his sweater already, mom's spaghetti