Doctor vs. Artist: How I Determined My Life Plan Without Compromising My Passions

"What are you going to do with your future?"

The number of times I've been asked this question—whether it be my parents, close friends, curious relatives, even myself—is staggering, yet not unexpected.

Several months ago when I was still just a high school senior, I would not have been able to answer it. I was already overwhelmed from juggling calculus homework and studying for anatomy tests while going to honor society meetings and volunteering for my school's service club. To throw my future in the balance as well was a whole beast I was not yet ready to face.

Now I’m a freshman who’s only been in college for about a month but soon enough, I will need to make a decision about my entire future. 

So many things have changed and fluctuated over the course of my life, from friend groups to various interests, but there has always been one thing that has remained constant: my love for art.

Now a cheap hot pink notebook would not seem like much of a catalyst to others, but to me, this little notebook led to the discovery of my greatest passions, dreams, and fears. I’ve been an artist for as long as I can remember, but it was my mother who gave me this gift that led me to discover my artistic talents for the first time.

One day, she handed me a simple notebook and at first glance, it didn’t seem really special—a little pink spiral that she most likely picked up at the dollar store on the way home from grocery shopping. Regardless of how much it was worth, her words as she gave me the notebook was beyond any monetary measure: “I can’t give you all your dreams, but you can draw them.”

From there on out, I drew. I drew and painted and sculpted, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood. Everyone in my middle school and high school knew me as “the artist,” and over the years, I even entered into a few art competitions and had my work hung up from airports to libraries.

I spent many years cultivating my skills, and I was proud of the strides I was making with my art. But for some reason, figuring out what my dreams were and how to make them reality was a difficult process. I knew what my talents were. I knew what I loved to do. Shouldn’t it be obvious that I should want to be an artist?

Well, yes... and no.

"What? Why Christine? You're so good at art; why don't you pursue your passions?"

Deep down inside, I feared that being an artist, no matter how much I would've loved doing it, would not financially sustain me as much as, let's say, an engineer or a lawyer. I grew up in a low-income family and throughout my life, I've watched my parents work hard at the nail salon ten hours a day, six days a week to get us by.

They've spent a little extra money here and there for my brother and I, whether it's for a new iPad or Chick-Fil-A when we were not really feeling home-cooked meal for dinner. But more often than not, they use their day off to earn back the extra money they spent on us.

I was incredibly terrified of "the starving artist" stereotype that was attached to the dream of becoming a full-time artist.

I didn't want to struggle financially as my parents did; I wanted to be financially stable enough to live comfortably and, if possible, retire my parents early as a thank you for all the hard work they've put into making sure I was exposed to the opportunities that they didn't have themselves when they were younger. I was fortunate to have parents that encouraged me to pursue what makes me happy rather than what was the most lucrative, but I still couldn’t help worrying.

Fortunately, there was something else that I loved doing other than art and that was helping people in need.

During high school when I was exploring my interests, I discovered that I really enjoyed working in a hospital setting. I volunteered every day at my local hospital in the emergency department and PACU where I made worthwhile experiences with the doctors, nurses, and patients; I even made a few friends with some of the volunteers that worked with me.

I started considering a career as a doctor the more time I spent working in the hospital but I knew going into the medical field was no easy feat and it entailed many things: a high GPA, a great MCAT score, hundreds of clinical volunteer hours, internships, extracurriculars, a staggering amount of money to pay for medical school, and then afterwards several years of residency, and so on and so forth. Would I be able to handle all this work and afford the schooling? Is the medical field really worth the costs?

As college came closer and closer, I knew I needed to pick a major that I would be willing to stick to for four years and start thinking about what I wanted to do as a career....and thus a new question was raised: doctor or artist?

And the answer is… both.

Picking a college major was possibly one of the hardest things I had to do. People advised me again and again that I should major in something that I loved doing, something that I was exceptionally skilled in.

"Don't major for your career," my UF adviser said while I was at orientation. "Major for your passions and interests."

And that’s what I did: I started making plans of going into the medical field (I’m still unsure as to which path of medicine I want to take) because I knew I wanted to work in a hospital. But did that mean I had to sacrifice my passion for art? No, not at all! As I pursue a degree in health science, I am planning to minor in art at the same time and I’m still holding onto my dreams of opening my own little art gallery on the side.

I know there are thousands of college students that are going through the same difficult situation I’m in: having to pick between passion and financial stability.

No one should have to choose one over the other, but if you’re still struggling to make a decision, my advice for you is this: continue pursuing your interests, go outside your comfort zone, talk to loved ones that can guide you to your decision—but not make the decision for you—and you might end up getting the best of both worlds.

Don’t worry if you don’t have everything in your life all figured out right now; that’s very difficult to do anyways because so many things could change throughout your life. What you plan today for the future might change five or ten years from now—or even tomorrow. I too am not 100% sure of what to do with my life but one thing I am definitely certain of is that I am going down the right path—and only I get to decide what that path looks like, no one else.

Let that be a reminder for you, too. Never let the potential of money and wealth overshadow the promise of lifelong happiness that comes with doing the things you love. After all, material things bring temporary happiness, but the joys that come with your passions are forever.