By Brandon Hadi
Special to the Northwest Asian Weekly
“So, when will you be finished with medical school?” asked my grandfather.
“Grandpa, I probably won’t be applying to medical school for a few more years, if I still decide to go. I’m thinking that it may not be the best route for me to address mental health the way I want to,” I replied.
“That is okay, as long as you’re happy,” he said.
This was a conversation I had recently with my grandfather, a radiologist who retired from a 40-year career because of a stroke.
“So, when are you applying to medical school?”
I answered my grandmother essentially the way as I did my grandfather.
“You don’t want to become a doctor anymore? Why do you want to go into mental health? It will be very tough to hear those situations every day. How will you make enough money to support a family? When did you change your mind? Why don’t you want to become a doctor?”
As a second-generation Asian American, I got mixed messages about how to decide the course of my life. While one general source was already outlining a career for me in medicine, others were encouraging autonomy. “Do what you love! Find your passion! Focus on your happiness!”
The latter wasn’t so easy. Not when you’re raised in a tight-knit family, and pleasing everyone becomes the priority (and expectation). So once that path was laid out for me, it was the one I took.
Dr. Brandon Hadi.
The title soon transitioned from goal to identity. Who are you? An aspiring doctor.
My passion came from embodying an identity that was placed upon me, and one I eagerly picked up, believing that “doing what I love” was easy — all I had to do was follow the path set before me by my family. After all, they want to see me succeed. They have the best of intentions.
I began to equate success with becoming a physician.
This identity shaped every decision I made as a teenager, and continues even today.
Why hang out with friends when I can get a head start on my essay? After all, I’ll be honing my writing skills, which will come in handy for med school applications.
Why go to a football game when I can prepare for a physiology exam? A good doctor comes from having a foundation of good habits, studying, hard work, and time management, to name a few.
I was living my life always connected to the future me — the idea of what I wanted the future me to be. My identity was inextricably linked to an occupation, eventually trickling down into the type of lifestyle I would live, the type of house I’d have, the car I’d drive, and the family I’d raise. And this was because I wanted to make my family proud, knowing that their definition of “pride” and “success” was clearly outlined — I had to become a physician.
Out of all the important knowledge, skills, and experiences I’ve gained while pursuing medicine, the one skill I’ve developed particularly well is the ability to say no. “No, I can’t. I’ve got to study. We’ll meet up another time though!” or “I’m going to shadow at the pediatrics hospital that morning, so no, I won’t be able to drive you guys” or “Dance? No, that was a high school thing. I’ve really got to prioritize academics now.”
Every decision had to have some connection to my identity as a physician. It was the reason I joined my fraternity, the reason I picked the specific floor of the dorm I lived in, the reason why I looked for an internship during my first year of college. It was the reason why I turned down many nights with friends, stopped pursuing my passion for dance, and why I didn’t join social organizations on campus.
Strip the identity of physician from me and what would I be left with?
I finally woke up from this identity crisis when I lost a close friend to depression and suicide. I realized that my reasons for saying “no” to so many people, passions, and experiences was misconstrued.
I was saying “no” because ultimately, I wanted to make my family proud of me. I wanted to be proud of myself. But I was becoming a person that no one should be proud of. I was becoming self-centered, worrying only about making time for career advancement — not for friends, family, or the very things that made me immensely happy. It took losing a friend for me to realize this. And all this time, I had it completely backwards.
I realized that my career path should originate internally, not the other way around.
I also realized that perhaps becoming a physician was so important to my family because of the environment that my grandparents and parents worked so hard to protect me from. Perhaps becoming a physician was their only option, and therefore, their only definition of success. Their expectations of me, therefore, came from a very different context and time. Because of their sacrifices, because of their hard work and determination, I now have the luxury to choose my career path. But with freedom comes uncertainty, and my family wanted to avoid that uncertainty by laying out a familiar and well-known path: medicine.
It’s taken a year of conversations with my family for us all to begin realizing that I can make them proud without becoming a physician, that success is about making a difference in others’ lives, not merely possessing one title in particular. But I am lucky because I have their support. Despite the uncertainty I currently face as a new grad, having my family’s support gives me confidence.
Finally, I feel comfortable enough doing what I’m truly passionate about, addressing the stigma around mental health, knowing that when they see the importance of this invisible issue and the impact this will have on so many people, that they’ll be proud.
I know that when they see me happy — able to make time for the people I love, the hobbies I’ve neglected, and the places I’ve wanted to see — they will be happy, too.
That’s family. That’s what we do.