Is it too late for a career change?

I’ve decided I want to be a dentist.

This humble dream began when I took my daughter to her pediatric dentist for a cleaning last week. We were there for two hours, about half of which was spent waiting, and I dropped $400.

I was furious.

Not at the dentist. She’s a skilled and gentle woman who we need. Without her soothing mouthside manner, there’s no way I’d be able to get my daughter within 20 feet of a dentist’s chair.

I was actually furious with myself.

Why the hell hadn’t I become a dentist??!? Or something else that pays well, like an accountant or a lawyer?

Why did I choose to become a writer?

And believe me, it was a choice.

I got good grades in every subject in high school. My high school grades in math and science were every bit as good as my English grades. And I like math. One of the things I enjoy most about taking charge of my personal finance is all the adding and subtracting. Math is fun. For reals.

Rather than cultivating these skills to become a CGA or an MBA or an MD, I decided to “follow my heart” and become a writer.

As a writer, I’m often asked to work for free. Or for a sum that’s less than minimum wage. It’s insulting. Ask a lawyer to work for free, see what response you get. A dentist would palm a free toothbrush into your hand, and then shove you out the door.

How is it possible that I chose a profession so devalued that everyone thinks they can do it, and no one thinks you should be paid for it?

It’s not like I think these other professions are easy. I definitely don’t think that any ol’ shmuck can walk off the street and start tinkering with other people’s pearlies. (In the same way that most people think anyone can be a writer.) I know it takes years of study, practice, perserverance and dedication to become a dentist or an accountant. But that’s exactly what I’ve done to become the writer I am today. What makes me a decent writer is my stamina. I could’ve applied my most redeeming quality – tenacity – to just about anything, and I would be as successful at whatever other (much more lucrative) career that I could have chosen as I am at writing.

And I would make what I’m worth.

Soon after I discovered my desire to become a dentist, I started declaring this intention to anyone who would listen. Most people laughed, but one writerly friend began poking holes in my argument. “You wouldn’t have had the same stamina with something else,” she said.

“Don’t you dare,” I implored, pointing my finger at her. “Don’t you dare take this dream away from me.”

I want to cling to my long-held belief that it’s never too late for a career change. Even if that career change means I’ll have to stare into people’s diseased mouths crammed with bleeding gums and rotting teeth.

At least I’ll be fairly compensated for it.


Photo: Heather Setka

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