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You Are Not A Disgrace: The Journey To A Non-Traditional Profession

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For starters, this blog post is not about which career/profession is better than the other, but to share my personal experience on the challenges I faced while pursuing a nontraditional career path. Also, this is not to say that our parents/guardians do not know what is best for us but best believe that every parent/guardian wants their child to be successful and we should be open to listening to what they have to say and where they are coming from. Success means different things for different people but always remember that education; be it formal or informal, is the one thing that no one can ever take away from you.

“Lawyer, Doctor, Engineer, or Disgrace to the family. Four choices, that’s all you get as a child of immigrant parents in the diaspora.”  A quote from the Stuck In The Middle Podcast... Permit me to throw pharmacist into that! From a very young age, I had this urge/dream/desire to be a healthcare provider. When we engaged in make-belief play (a term used in psychology) or “play-play” (a colloquial term), I generally played the role of a doctor/healthcare provider or parent.

I started off with a major in pre-pharmacy at a community college. All was smooth during the first year until my re-encounter with chemistry. My experience with the sciences in high-school back in Cameroon was not pleasant so I embarked on a journey to find a major that I could avoid chemistry, physics, and math. Need I say how unsuccessful that quest was?! In retrospect, I sometimes think to myself; how on earth did I think I will pursue a career in the health field without taking science courses. Fast forward to Fall 2009, after two years in a community college, I transferred to a four-year university to major in Occupational Therapy. When the change of major was official, most reactions were; Occupational what??? What is that? What do they do? How much do they make? Why not pharmacy? How about med school? I still do get similar reactions to this day.

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How did I end up here? Occupational Therapist Registered and Licensed (OTR/L)? During the Summer of 2008, I came across my youngest brother's school report which had an occupational therapy school report. He had been diagnosed with a learning disability which I call “different learning ability or learns differently” a story for another blog! I read the report and wondered what occupational therapy was all about. I googled it and as I reflected on his life before and after receiving occupational therapy services, I immediately had an AH HA moment.

I did research on the profession. I didn't know any African let alone Cameroonian at that time who worked in that field and could mentor me, but now I know of three Cameroonians in different states and a couple of Nigerians (aka Niaja/9ja Pipo!). The urge to pursue this career path was stronger than the urge not to. So, I went on a soul-searching journey and by the Fall of 2008, I began searching for a four-year university that had a program in occupational therapy. When I finally agreed with the inner voice to follow this path, the peace within was greater than the storm without and so was the first year of the 3yr journey to complete the program. In a nutshell, the storm without was so challenging coming from multiple angles that I had to seek help.

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How I ended up here could be summarized with the quotes below. I enjoy reading/listening to books, articles, inspirational stories ...etc. because I believe there’s always something new I can learn or relearn. I have a journal given by Oprah W’s life class where I jot down a collection of quotes to review for inspiration.

“Life must be lived forward but can only be understood backward.” ~ Soren Kierkegaard

There are some experiences in life that we do not understand why they happened or what we are supposed to learn from it at the moment that it happened but later on we understand why. One of such experiences for me was pursuing this career path. I did not understand the reason why I had this strong urge in the beginning but later on down the road, I had and continue to have challenging life-changing experiences which I probably would not have been able to handle or help others had I pursued another career path.

“Find what excites you then pursue it for therein lies your purpose.” ~ Rick Warren

“If you can’t figure out your purpose, figure out your passion. For your passion will lead you to your purpose.” ~ Bishop T.D. Jakes

Right around the time I went hunting for a different major, I sometimes wondered what was my purpose on earth; leading me to read the book The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren. As a kid, even though I played the role of a doctor, I dreaded hospitals, needles, and medication. So would I be right to say being a doctor = hospitals/needles or pharmacist = medication was not a passion?! I could write a book describing how being an occupational therapist excites me every single day despite the challenges which are expected. It continues to give me new perspectives and reminds me of the many things I take for granted but I’ll save that for another blog.

“Passion is what gets you through the hardest times that might otherwise make strong men weak, or make you give up.” ~ Neil deGrasse Tyson

When I experienced hard times with chemistry as a pre-pharmacy major, I easily gave up because I was not passionate about it. However, I weathered the storms/challenges of grad school pursuing my masters in Occupational Therapy. Yes, I did multiple levels of math, physics, kinesiology, neuroscience, and biology. A higher level of education irrespective of the career path is challenging, so we won’t have the debate of which is more challenging than the other.

Don't ask yourself what the world needs; ask yourself what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”  ~ Howard Thurman

Everybody’s journey/purpose in life is different; some desire to get rich, others have a personal connection to the field and while others have a deep passion which makes them come alive. For some, it could be all three and more. True bills must be paid; maybe your passion or what excites you does not generate enough to sustain you. There is a high chance more than one thing excites you and among them, you can make a living out of. It may require getting a formal education or higher level of education. Do research about the things that excite you. Network with others in that area. Irrespective of how many people are already doing what you want to embark on, best believe there is a specific role you have to play or difference you will make that the others haven’t yet and may not and that is where you will come into play.

Whatever excites you, make success and happiness your goal. You are not a disgrace to the family if you chose to do something unconventional. You are simply going in a different direction and carving out a legacy for yourself and those to come after you. Whatever it is that you choose to do, be great at it, be open-minded, give it your full potential and lend a helping hand to others when you can. Do not let the burning desires within you go to sleep. There is ALWAYS a still voice with us but we have to be quiet enough to hear it.  Your purpose in life is not solely for you but to help others achieve theirs. ~unknown
                     Walking in your purpose will help someone who is “Stuck In The Middle!”

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