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Saturday, August 16, 2014

Winding Path Filled With Regrets

I'm going to take a stab at this one, but there is more psychology needed than veterinary training.  I'm sharing it because I think there are others out there who feel similarly.  Here's the email I received....
 
I'm desperate. It's 1 AM, finals week, and I am bawling my eyes out because I wasn't realistic in my career/school goals 10 years ago and desperately trying to find some guidance.

I went to college and got a useless Bachelor's degree in Criminal Justice because I wanted to work for the DEA. I honestly can't tell you any good reason why I wanted to do this, except that I thought it would be intense/busy/not a desk job, etc. I dated a sh**ty guy who I ended up having to put into rehab for shooting up heroin, as well as just being a general drug addict.

This lead me to wanting to work with drug addicts. My senior year in college, I had considered going to law school, but had already been accepted to NYU where I got a Master's degree in psychology. Another useless degree because it has a low salary and without a doctorate in psych (hate research, don't want a PhD), it's essentially worthless. It also required 1.5 years of supervised hours after my Master's just to qualify for full licensure, something I never pursued. During my time in school, I had an interest in working with sexually trafficked children, and thought I could use the degree with that. Turns out, non-profits pay s**t and are exceptionally hard to get into it.

At the same time, the economy went to hell and the job market fell dramatically. I decided I wanted to go to law school, as it looked better than "counselor", but I wanted to work in the advocacy/policy non-profit realm in regards to sexually trafficked children. I took the LSATS, applied to a million schools, and went off traveling the world for a year. I got into law school in NYC and after one semester, I dropped out. I didn't want to be a lawyer, law school was difficult and I was struggling, and I realized the salary for non-profit lawyer as well as being able to get that job sucked just as much as counselor.

I got extremely depressed, sought counseling for 9 months, and somehow managed to survive with sh**ty promotional jobs for the next year in NYC as I tried to figure out what the hell I was going to do with my life. During that time, I got a puppy. He changed my life. He saved my life. He is literally the best thing that has happened to me. I had two dogs growing up, who were beaten (not by me), and as a young child, I tried to "save" them whenever I heard them getting beaten. I will always regret not calling the cops and ASPCA, but I was young (middle school?) and I was getting beaten as well. Those dogs lived in hell and although I didn't want them to be beaten, I didn't love or care for them, really. They lived outside and I would occasionally pet them on my way in or out of the house. I never walked them or played with them. My guilt lives on...

When I got my dog, I grew a passion I never knew existed. This went beyond just "that sounds like such a cool job!" (which, at this point, had been my driving force-- I looked into toxicology or other "cool or unique jobs"-- never anything fulfilling). I wanted to save dogs. I never wanted to be a companion pet vet or own my own practice. My passion was for helping those dogs saved from fighting rings or severely abused/neglected. Now that I have personally owned and been loved for and cared for by a dog, I feel so committed to this passion. I owe them, I owe my previous dogs, and an abused dog is the one thing that will bring me to my knees.

I apply for ASPCA jobs (anti-cruelty non-vet positions)-- no response. I work with local rescue groups as a volunteer, but want to do more. I get my s**t together and I am accepted to the vet school in Sydney, Australia (No pre-reqs as it was included in their program and I had no ties to NYC, yet I'm able to use that degree to get licensed in the US if I want to come back later). Greencard is expiring, can't get loans in time, I defer for a year.

I continue to pursue going to Australia the next year (renewed greencard--defaulted on law school loans--consolidated--able to get new loans) but during this time, I start getting a more realistic outlook on vet school tuition, loans, future job opportunities, and salaries. Looks bleak, and I'm already in debt from law school (I worked during my Masters and paid off all of those loans on the day it was due). I also meet an amazing guy. I decide it's not worth going to vet school because of the reasons listed above and the fact that I'd have to specialize (adding a cool 5 more years) just to get a decent salary. And even longer to actually get to a position where I'm working at an organization like ASPCA to help rescued animals (because you know they're not hiring fresh vet school grads).

I have no idea what I'm doing with my life, so I google degrees I can get in a short amount of time that are somewhat relevant to my previous degrees and can give me some sort of security in life. I find nurse practioner in psychiatric mental health (starting salary 100k, desperate shortage in NYC-- with per diem jobs, I can make 150k a year first year). I need pre-reqs, so I decide to get another Master's in neuroscience (from Columbia) to fulfill that (if i'm taking the classes anyway, I might as well get a degree out of it-- that was my logic). I load up and get this done in 1 year. Debt rises. I apply to Columbia's accelerated nursing program that gives me a BSN, a master's in nursing, and a doctorate in nursing in 4 years. Off I go. Debt rises further.

First semester-- I hate nursing. I hate people. I don't have empathy for people like I do with animals. It is difficult material, lots of material, little time. I sacrifice my sleep, my health, etc, to get through school. This might be worth it if I loved the job. I do not. This may change for the NP/DNP part (as it's not bedside nursing), but nevertheless, I have to get through the RN part (1 year).

I am 30. If I was 20, I'd go to vet school (although, my grades back then may not have gotten me in anywhere in the US. My grades now are unbelieveable). I'm struggling because I think I'm going to regret not going but I have a boyfriend I live with (path to marriage) and 75k in debt so far (quickly rising with interest), plus the fact that it would take me at least 10 more years of school. There comes a point where I'm either a lifetime student or I'm creating a reasonable life with someone.

I was undecisive and unrealistic and naive. I will survive nursing school. I should be able to get a job. I will make a decent salary. My path so far has been erratic and I somehow bull***t the connectivity of the degrees when I apply for schools/jobs.

How do I get over my regret? I've read your posts and I can't imagine you telling me to follow my passion to vet school. Am I finally rational in thinking that pursuing vet school now is unrealistic and obviously a stupid and risky path? How do I suck it up and just get over this?

Any guidance is appreciated.
 
I definitely have many sympathies for this person and it makes me sad to see the frustration and pain she is going through.  I'm not a psychologist by any stretch of the imagination, and that's probably what is needed here.  In fact, I'd recommend that she find a good counselor, psycologist, or psychiatrist that can professionally help with the anxiety and confusion.  As someone with a degree in psychology I'm sure you can understand the benefits of this advice.  There are a few things that stand out to me, though.
 
First of all, stop getting more degrees!  At least for the time being.  The very first step is to really sit down and figure out why none of these jobs have been satisfying.  What about each one makes you unhappy?  There is a consistent pattern here of multiple attempts at widely varying fields, each with more education and more cost necessary.  You need to really stop and analyze exactly and minutely why you have been unhappy and what it will take to make you happy.  This is probably best handled through a mental health professional, as this stems from mindset rather than circumstances.  But you're never going to be happy until you figure out what has made you unhappy.
 
Is it because of dealing with people and having to show empathy?  If that's the case then veterinary medicine isn't the career for you.  Every single day I have to deal with people, many of them difficult or upset, and if I couldn't handle that I'd quickly go crazy.  If you're only in it to help the animals then you're going to be quickly dissatisfied as a vet because you'll see situations every day where the client can't or won't do what is best and necessary.  You'll get frustrated at these "stupid" people and wish you could take their pet away.  Yet they have control over the situation, not you, and you can't force them to do something.  You also can't continually discount or give away services or you will go bankrupt.    You can't save or rescue all of them, and if this is going to be difficult to handle mentally then you should avoid the profession.
 
Have the previous jobs been unsatisfying because of the pay?  Again, don't go into veterinary medicine.  Using current statistics you'd acquire another $150,000 in debt on top of the existing $75,000, all in order to make $65,000 per year.  You're not doing yourself any financial favors by pursuing it until your debt is paid off.
 
I'm going to go out on a limb and share some things that I've personally learned.  And before I start I want to pause and share some of my own struggles.  Often I've hated my job and regretted ever getting into the profession.  I've desperately desired to do anything except veterinary medicine.  I've dealt with clinical depression for most of my adult life, worsening once I was in my 30s.  I've had multiple times that I've been suicidal, the most recent being just a few years ago.  I've seen counselors, psychologists, and psychiatrists in my attempts to get a handle on it.  I've been on antidepressant medications for about 10 years now.  I'm not saying any of these things to gain any sympathy or have someone feel sorry for me.  I mention it because I've had many emotional and mental struggles over the years and have found myself in very dark places many times.  The following advice and "wisdom" comes from experience and personal struggles. 
 
First, some of my favorite quotes.
 
"Success doesn't mean happiness.  Happines means success."  Garth Brooks
 
"The remarkable thing is, we have a choice every day regarding the attitude we will embrace for the day."  Charles Swindoll
 
"Our attitudes control our lives.  Attitudes are a secret power working twenty-four hours a day, for good or bad.  It is of paramount importance that we know how to harness and control this great force."  Irving Berlin
 
"If you don't like something, change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it."  Mary Engelbreit
 
"A man is but the product of his thoughts, and what he thinks, he becomes."  Mahatma Gandhi
 
Your circumstances may put you in situations that influence your thoughts, but ultimately you are responsible for your response to these circumstances. One of the methods that I learned to help overcome depression is "cognitive therapy".  This is where you become consciously aware of a change in your thoughts and emotions, stop to analyze them, and make a sincere change in them.  You make a concscious decision to NOT have a bad attitude.  Believe me, this does work, and has even helped my children.  If you don't like aspects about your job, stop and analyze why.  Then say "I WILL have a good attidue."  Like any muscle it takes excersise and practice to hone.  It's hard at first, but the more you do it the better you will become.  And if you work with a psychology professional it will be easier, even with your background.
 
There's also another very big part of what helped me control my depression and my feelings about life or my job.  Faith.  My believe in God and my reliance on Him is a huge part of who I am and how I handle life.  When I get depressed or frustrated, I pray.  When I need guidance I go to the Bible and find passages relevant to my struggles.  But it goes even beyond belief and prayer.  All of my life I've learned to be independent and self-sufficient.  Since I started following Jesus closely I've struggled with the whole idea of "let go and let God".  We are told to turn our cares and worries over to Him, rely on Him, and He will help take care of us.  Yeah, easier said that done.  I struggled with that for many years, before I reached the depths of my depression and finally just turned it all over to God.  Since then I've been much happier and have had less stress.  My wife even commented last year on how well I took some challenges that would have sunk me into despair the previous year.  It's been hard and it's still something with which I struggle, but a large part of my happiness and peace is because of my faith and reliance on God.  I don't know where your heart and faith lie, but I'd like to make a suggestion....if you don't already, pick up the Bible, read it closely, and get closer to God.  If you already do, start doing it more.  I'm rarely this direct, but at the same time I know that I didn't really conquer my depression and anxiety until I added this piece to the puzzle.  Therapy and medicaion have helped, but not to the degree that deeper faith did.
 
Okay, now some of the good parts.  Being 30 shouldn't stop you from going into vet school.  Some of my classmates were older than that and I've known plenty of people in their 30s and even 40s starting vet school.  But you need to first get your fiances and mental status under control.  And you need to really figure out what you want out of life.
 
Definitely don't feel any regrets.  In fact, you may be as unhappy going through vet school as you have been in every other area.  Belive me, it's much harder than law school or nursing school.  But you don't have to be a vet in order to help!  Find a good paying job with which you can be satisfied, then spend time volunteering for rescue groups or donate money to great causes.  You can still be fulfilled and help animals without being a doctor.  In fact, we need people like that involved in animal care and rescue.  There is no way that vets can do it all.
 
This may not be helpful enough, but hopefully you can find a few bits of advice to take from my response.  Again I would recommend seeking the help locally of someone who can help you work through the psychology of your frustrations and unhappiness. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi Dr. Bern-- I am the one who e-mailed you this over a year ago. I remember being in such a deep state of distress and so desperate for any guidance. I read your response back then, and often come back to read it again. I can't thank you enough for taking the time to give me thoughtful advice. I sought out a psychiatrist and I went through a rollercoaster of ups and downs, but I am finally in a much better mental place. I'm still not quite sure where I'll land professionally, but I am grateful that I am in a position to still help animals, like you said. You were right-- I've found TONS of ways that I can help animals and although I can't save every one, my committment to the cause has never wavered. Again, thank you so much for your heartfelt response. I appreciate the honesty and compassion behind it. (PS. I finally stopped collecting degrees...for now anyways!)

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