I’m completely convinced that some people leave the womb knowing exactly who they were destined to be. They’ve planned their entire lives to make the grades and the decisions that align them perfectly with the career for which they’ve always dreamed.
I am not one of those people.
Only four years ago, I was working full time as a server without the slightest clue of what I was meant to do with my life. School hadn’t really been my thing growing up. I had the utmost respect for my teachers and peers, but my parents still claim that I spent more time in the clinic trying to skip class than I did actually learning.
I was the student who could typically pull As in classes that interested me, like art and world cultures, but by high school I found myself barely scraping by with Ds in courses like freshman biology and algebra, which is something very few people know about me. I worked hard enough my junior and senior years to graduate above a 3.0 by the skin of my teeth.
So why did I decide to subject myself to eight grueling years of college, and how did I manage to graduate magna cum laude with my BS in biology?
Well, regardless of how much the idea of higher education internally made me cringe, I recognized that the opportunity to even go to school and pursue a career of my choice was an amazing privilege. Quite frankly, I feel guilty for taking such advantage of that in my youth. I was the product of parents who didn’t have the luxury of earning college degrees and who were determined to give their kids better lives.
For an exact quote from my father: “I don’t care if you go to college for basket weaving… you are going to college.”
So, I amped myself up and enrolled in an interior design program at my local state college. Unfortunately, despite my excitement for art and design, I quickly realized it wasn’t a career I could see myself pursuing. I was completely intimidated in a room full of women who had been practicing interior design and architecture for 20+ years and who were only returning to college to get the degree. Mostly out of fear, I called it quits and I stumbled through a handful of other electives before finally settling on general studies.
As I approached the end of my A.A. degree, the reality of still not knowing what I would do after graduation became an overwhelming reality. In my fit of panic, a friend at UF convinced me to research careers, so I started where anyone would—Google.
Within a few hours of researching, a small blue and white drop box on the University of Florida website literally changed my entire world four years ago–the College of Dentistry.
As my tongue pressed against the rough metal of my own braces, it struck me that I’d always loved my own visits to the dentist (I even came across this old 2012 Facebook post I made before a dental career was even a glimmer in my eye). I’ll be honest: to this day, I have no idea what compelled me to keep researching a job that was going to take six more years of school, but I soon visited my orthodontist to see if he thought “basically a lifetime of school” was worth it. That meeting persuaded me that he was utterly passionate about his job. I began shadowing in his office and found myself developing an irresistible passion for dentistry, too! He then referred me to a general dentist who would eventually become the single biggest influence on my decision to pursue dentistry—Dr. Lilly Marshall.
After meeting Dr. Marshall, I felt for the first time in my life that I knew exactly what I wanted to do and who I wanted to be. She answered all my questions candidly and she was genuinely willing to teach me. She helped me believe that even though I hadn’t prepared years ahead, that I had a real power to help patients. It was pretty quickly, with her encouragement, that I decided to enroll in my first pre-requisite classes.
I would be flat-out lying if I said making the change to dentistry was easy; I didn’t become magically smarter or instantly disciplined. My start was rough and full of teary eyes and textbooks, but I did slowly become a better student. I think passion is truly what outweighed my fear of failure this time. The more I paid attention to what was being taught, the more I became captivated by the courses I once despised. I eventually found myself excelling in chemical and life sciences, at least… survived… my calculus and physics courses, and somehow worked enough to land myself a seat among some incredibly bright and brilliant students at UFCD!
My journey from pre-dental to dental student has shaped me in a million ways, and I know these next four years will shape me in a million more. So, I guess the moral of my story is that you [clearly] don’t need to be perfect– or even good– to start.
Maybe you’ve had a dream since the day you were born. Maybe you’ll find it with a Google search. Maybe you’ll be like Dr. Marshall and happen upon it at a pizza party (which is a story I’ll save for another time).
You just start, and eventually things fall into place.