Creative Identity – Where Art Thou ?


Somehow I never feel creative enough, funny enough, sarcastic enough  artistic enough, or scientific enough! Anyone else feel the same????

Coming out of high school and throughout my university years, that’s exactly how I felt. At first, I wanted to do an arts major – English literature, philosophy, sociology.. but I was worried I wasn’t “creative” enough; my thoughts then moved towards something more solid – architecture or interior design …but again I never felt “artsy” enough; so I found solace in sciences , thinking it was the most solid thing out there, the rationale being if you studied you made it. But seven years and a medical degree later, I did not feel “sciency” enough ! And I was back to square one!

So I decided to take a year off, to search for “my creative identity” if such a thing existed! I tried out five different jobs, I took a few online courses – sociology, finance, reasoning & arguing (thank you Coursera!), I did some travelling, I started two blogs, I took up yoga, I made a dozen new friends, I’ve diversified my reading, and I finally have an idea for my first book! Oh, and I tried a hot stones massage – something that was always in the back of my head to try when I had the time. They may not seem like much, but these are my personal accomplishments and I’m proud of them.

The experiment is four months away from over so I can’t give you any conclusions yet, but here’s what I can say about the experience itself. Some days the liberty is exhilarating – to be able to go swimming three mornings a week when I would’ve otherwise been cooped up in some hospital or clinic was amazing! Other days the confusion is a sucker and it’s very easy to look at your friends and classmates who already have budding careers and worry about yourself; but on all days I know I don’t regret it. I get to consciously make each of my decisions, rather than blindly go with the flow.

This idea of a sabbatical has become something of a culture for me. I’m already thinking about how I could schedule one every four to five years, to re-connect with myself, to unwind, and find out more about what would make me happy and what I want to do next with my life.  If you let it get the upper hand, life has a tendency to get too hectic, we obsess over deadlines and milestones, small battles, and there is so much comparison of our status in this world to that of our peers that it spoils the joy in life; it’s hard not to want to click the refresh button every now and then. I don’t believe we were meant to spend whatever time we have on earth as fussing miserable creatures, and I’m gonna try my best not to turn into one.

Throughout this year, I’ve learned a lot about myself and those around me. I noticed that most people are as confused as I am sometimes; very few are so focused from the beginning and know exactly what they want and how they’re gonna get there. And that it’s very natural to be intimidated by them. I’ve also learned that there are a lot of people out there who aren’t happy with the way their lives are, but believe they can do nothing about it, and so they don’t.

On the personal level, I’ve finally separated my identity from my “profession”. From the very first day I walked into med school, family and friends have been treating me as “the doctor”. They would ask me things I hadn’t learned yet, they would wonder if I knew professor so-and-so just because he teaches at my university, and they would always assume I was the smartest one around. They surrounded me with a character I never felt was mine. And I’ve successfully rid myself of it. I no longer take confidence from the fact that I’m a med-student, and I no longer feel threatened by the disappointed looks on their faces when I say that I haven’t picked a specialty yet. They can no longer sum me up in a title  ( paediatrics resident, radiology resident, surgery resident, …etc.) !

Next, I understood why the idea of keeping one profession for life always felt so suffocating to me – I’m probably a “wide achiever” not a “high achiever” – I want to achieve in many different areas rather than achieve highly in one area (Roman Krznaric, How to Find Fulfilling Work). And I believe I’ve found a place where my passions can meet my ‘not too artsy’-‘not too sciency’ talents – I’ve recently decided that the next step in my life is to train as a psychiatrist. And even if I don’t end up doing that, these last eight months have given me more confidence, focus, strength, and a clear mind to judge with than any other time in my life, which I could probably use to get me through anything much better than my previous weak apprehensive self.

When I took that sociology course, we all anonymously corrected each other’s essays; and there’s a quote that stuck with me from one essay: “it is everyday life, to get out of the zone of personal comfort, to find new opportunity”. I pinned it to my wall, and I look at it every morning, to remind myself of what I’m going to do for the rest of the day. I’m going to head out there and grab at any opportunity I get and I won’t be scared to try something different, in fact the more different it is the more I will embrace it, because how else would I meet my creative identity if I wasn’t gonna open all the doors?

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