Searching For My Place in The World
To you who walk in the fog alongside me
By: Elaine Zhou, Editor-in-Chief
They twirl around me, pushing me to decide, to settle on something,as I approach graduation. I have been thinking and thinking, and I still do not know: what is it that I want to pursue as my career?
My peers are one by one finding their career pathway, their direction, while I continue to feel lost. Is there a job out there that I would enjoy waking up to every morning? Is there a job I want to dedicate the rest of my life to? And I know they say we’ll be the generation to span multiple different careers in our lifetime. For me, at least right now, I only want one.
I run through the list of jobs I know of in my head. I can’t find it. I can’t find that one. And so I fall, I fall into an endless bottom of questions, running into the sentiments of anxiety, demotivation, and confusion as I go down. Even with the numerous career resources and advisors that UofT and my program offer, I felt that they wouldn’t be enough. Their answers won’t satisfy my heart. It has to come from me.
That was one year ago.
Today, I remain unknowing of what shape and direction my future will take, but I am proud to say that I am a happy confused—still confused about my career direction with no leads in sight as I edge another year closer to graduation (now ending third year!) but happy with where I am.
Enter you, another fellow student I have probably not encountered before, almost definitely have not shared conversation with before. You probably share in these mixed feelings. You, like me, are another happy confused, albeit you might at times—many times—question the “happy” part. Or you might flat-out reject the “happy” half and dance on with the “confused”. Regardless, this is dedicated to you:
In the midst of my confusion and my perception of a ticking deadline to choose, I reached out to my professor and good mentor, Professor Leslie Boehm, to discuss these feelings of worry. I wanted his advice so that I could break out of my low state, toss away that heavy veil surrounding me everywhere I walk. His advice has inspired me, and I share it in hopes that it will help you too, even if it is only in the form of reassurance.
First, a little about him: Professor Leslie Boehm is the Director of Independent Studies at Trinity College and Adjunct Professor at the Institute of Health Policy, Management, and Evaluation in the Dalla Lana School of Public Health. In his young age of 28, without a medical degree, he became a director of Toronto General Hospital (TGH), which ranks fourth globally among the world’s top hospitals (for the third consecutive year now) and remains the only Canadian hospital listed in the global top ten.
Despite his remarkable career achievements, he wasn’t amongst the top of his class during undergrad, and he didn’t know at all what he wanted to do back then. He felt the uncertainty and tentativeness many of us probably feel now amidst our struggles of choosing a career. Professor Boehm started only with an inkling of things he did and did not enjoy:
“What I did know is I wanted to manage, but I didn’t really know what form that was going to take. I didn’t think that I could do an MBA because I thought if I end up working for some company making toothpaste or something—maybe there’s some people that would just love to be doing toothpaste—but if I’ve got to try to figure out the next best toothpaste and the way to sell it, I think I’ll shoot myself.”
He advises that as you explore your inklings, you need a belief, a faith in yourself, that it will eventually work out. Hold fast to it.
He elaborates: “I think people need to set a general direction, but then the opportunities will start presenting themselves. Like did I know I’d be starting one of the world’s first telemedicine programs? No. Did I know I’d be doing a Master’s in history? No. Did I know I would be a good teacher? I had no clue! UofT just asked me to do teaching right after I graduated as a young 20-something, so it’s UofT who took me down that path, and I just found I loved teaching. You fall into certain things! Life presents you with a lot, so you either take that route or you don’t.”
He adds that just as good news tends to pair with bad news, with opportunities and surprises lie many tough choices that have trade-offs you do not want to make. Focus on your faith and what it is you really want. You cannot have everything. “Did I trade off maybe [becoming President of TGH] when I decided to do my second master’s degree? I would suspect I did because you’ve really got to be focused. Many other people want to be president, so what unique value will you offer so that you’re the one who gets to be president? Can you offer that if you are not focused?”
But ultimately, going full circle back to those inklings, he advises that your chosen faith and focus need to satisfy you. He explains: “I once met a reasonably famous concert pianist, and I thought, ‘oh my God, this is just so wonderful. He travels all over the world.’ But I’ll never forget one thing he said to me. He said, ‘You know, Les, when you go alone to your hotel room after playing in front of a huge audience, and they’re all adulation towards you, that’s a pretty lonely experience.’ So you’ve got to like it because there will be challenges in your job.” It will be a long road.
But what I particularly admire and wanted to share with you is his mindset. Regardless of career, regardless of journey, and regardless of goals, Professor Boehm holds fast to his belief in quality of character above all.
Once character is there, he encourages humanity and a compassion for self: “What I want people to take away is their inherent validity as a human being. It doesn’t matter where they end up. It doesn’t matter what other people may think of them—and especially if it’s in a derogatory sense—they have inherent value.”
From Professor Boehm’s advice, I summarize:
Find your inkling, what tickles you most.
Clear the clutter to your focus.
Hold fast to an integrity of being, to your humanity.
Have courage to remain true to yourself,
Even if everything around you screams the contrary.
And surprising opportunities will present.
He who can walks a dream way. He who does walks a long way.
I will continue to walk in the fog for at least some time more. Walk with me. One day, I will no longer be that happy confused. I trust I will be a happy confident.
And so will you.
I look forward to that time. The wind is picking up. It’s Catching Fire. That future grows brighter, clearer, stronger with every step through the fog.