Today we are writing about the road not taken, a subject I like to spring on unsuspecting people at dinner parties. “What would you do if you weren’t managing hostile corporate takeovers?” I’ll say to the man next to me, and he’ll look at me like I have four heads and then mumble something about how he also likes hedge funds. On reflection, maybe my city is not the best place for this kind of conversation, since everyone here seems to be in finance.
What I mean, of course, is not what would you do that is feasible, but what would you do if you could have your dream job. And not just any dream job, but an innovative, remarkable dream job. Nobody wants to hear how you’d work for your cousin’s accounting firm; that’s boring. I want to unleash your inner creative. Would you warble operatic arias? Grow an eccentric shock of white hair and achieve cold fusion in the garage? Don all purple and form a freestyle touring dance troupe? What?
I’ve had multiple jobs. When I was little, I toiled at my Papaw’s roadside vegetable stand. As a teenager, I worked at a shoe shop for two days, until the owner told me I was pretty and gave me a necklace, at which point my mother swooped in and made me resign from the shoe-selling business. I had normal jobs in college: I nannied the children of rich people and tutored gigantic basketball players. (I also figured out which math courses the basketball players were taking and signed up for them, thereby graduating from college with a 100% average in math, even though I’m bad at it.) None of this was exactly career-predictive, though.
I went to medical school on a whim. I’d been reading the Jack Ryan series of books by Tom Clancy and was impressed that Ryan’s wife was a kickass eye surgeon; I could totally see myself doing that. I’d also just finished a research project for my psychology major that involved spending time with patients in a hospital and to my surprise, I found the medical side of things to be more interesting than the psychological side. I hadn’t taken the MCAT or even the relevant courses, but I tripled up on science hours and shoved them all into a couple semesters. (Luckily I love science.) Then I went off to med school, followed by an internship in General Surgery and a residency in Emergency Medicine, followed by a job as an ER doctor in a largish Southern city.
Here’s the thing about being an ER doc: it gets old. Not the work itself—I enjoy being in the midst of all that energy. Some patients are horrid trolls but most are endearing; they’re injured or sick or distressed and having the chance to help them is rewarding. For the most part I love my patients and they love me back. Ditto for my colleagues: the camaraderie among the nurses and doctors and assistants I work with is unbeatable. We’re literally racing around saving people’s lives. (Sometimes. Sometimes we’re racing around tending to zits or paper cuts or all the other crazy things for which people seek emergency care. But you get the drift.)
It’s a hard lifestyle to sustain when you have a family. Most ER docs work around-the-clock, around-the-calendar: nights, weekends, holidays. You can’t close the Emergency Department because it’s Christmas, or your child’s birthday, or your family’s spring break. And don’t even get me started on all the corporate-y changes in medicine. After the birth of my third child, I was lucky enough to shift to part-time work. I was happy with that, but fate intervened in a strange and unpredictable way, veering me onto a near-invisible side road before I knew what was happening. Suddenly I found myself smack in the middle of that most elusive, most mythologized journey: the road not taken.
Except, somehow, I’d taken it.
With no definite plan in mind, I started writing. At first what I wrote was a random collection of characters and quips, but somehow, over a long time and a massive amount of effort, it coalesced into a novel. Writing a novel is the Great American Dream, y’all. Google the phrase percentage of people who want to write a book and you’ll be rewarded with a flood of articles, most of them quoting figures in the 80% range. But almost nobody actually goes through with it. The odds of finishing a novel—let alone getting it published—are dismal.
Nevertheless, that’s what I did. What started as a dusty side path, lined with ruts and littered with potholes, gradually smoothed into a paved highway. The farther I went, the harder it became to turn back. I was offered a job in a downtown office that needed an ER doc on site for people getting allergy shots, in case anyone anaphylaxed. If this doesn’t define serendipity, I don’t know what does: it meant I could finish the novel in relative peace as I got paid just to sit there. Plus, for the first time in my adult life, I could wear normal clothes to work.
These are my dream careers. I love being a doctor and I love being a writer. I love being a mother too, and I’m definitely counting that as a career. If you forced me to pick another one, I could do that: I enjoy interior design and travel photography (and lately I have fantasies of becoming an elected official just so I could unleash some kind of Wonder Woman-esque beatdown on the villains currently dragging us into the moral and intellectual sewer). But I really don’t need any more careers.
I’ve already found the perfect ones.
You can read more about Kimmery’s medically-themed debut novel, The Queen of Hearts, HERE.