When Your Dreams Are False

I loved my job working as a veterinary technician. I was able to learn many new skills that would provide a solid foundation for a veterinary career. I worked for a solo doctor practice and my boss was a wonderful mentor. Somewhat introverted himself, he understood my quiet proclivities and provided a nurturing learning environment. Since it was a fairly small practice, I got to know several of the regular clients well over the few years I worked there, and I formed bonds with them as well as with my coworkers. I saw firsthand what it was like to be a vet, and I knew that was what I wanted to do.

After two and a half years of working as a vet tech, I got accepted to veterinary school. I was so excited to take the next step towards my dream career. Finally, all of my hard work in school and in the workplace had paid off by being accepted to vet school.

Later that year I went off to begin my veterinary education. I struggled in the beginning, because I had been out of school for three years and the curriculum that first term was extremely intense. Somehow, I passed. I continued to feel challenged as the year progressed, as there was constant information overload and seemingly not enough time to absorb it all.

As an INFJ I take longer than other types to process information and this posed a particular challenge to my education. Vet school is so fast-paced and one cannot afford to fall behind because there is no time to catch up. Also, as an INFJ I prefer to concentrate on the big picture and overall concepts, rather than memorizing minute details.

Unfortunately a lot of the veterinary curriculum involved memorizing vast amounts of extremely detailed facts—think drug names, mode of action, side effects, drug class, drug interactions, etc. I think pharmacology was the bane of my existence! I admit I didn’t study pharmacology as thoroughly as I should have because I just had no interest in all the particular facts and it bored me to death. I ignored a lot of these details against my better judgment and I knew it was important for a vet to know everything about the medications they prescribe. But I could just not be bothered! I was miserable.

As the terms went by, I continually struggled with not wanting to study the incessant details but knowing that they were really important to know. Instead I focused on understanding broad concepts. Somehow I managed to remember enough theory to pass exams, although my marks were never that great due to not being able to back up my answers with specific facts. Usually I managed to barely scrape a passing mark by explaining general concepts. I knew I had the capacity to get better grades if I studied harder and made myself memorize more details, but I really had no interest in doing that!

As time progressed, I had growing doubts about continuing in vet school and about becoming a veterinarian. However since I am extremely introverted and private, I did not share these concerns with anyone. I buried them at the back of my mind and would not allow myself to explore those thoughts. I kept telling myself that since I had gotten so far, it would be impractical to back out at this point. Getting in to vet school is no easy feat, is quite an honor, and I thought it would make me look like a failure or an ungrateful person if I dropped out. So, I carried on.

Then everything changed in the fall semester of 2014.

The courses offered that semester were farm animal medicine and veterinary public health. I knew before the term started that I would not be very interested in those topics (I’m more of a small animal lover), but they were required classes so I figured I’d have to get through them.

As it turned out, attending those lectures was like pulling teeth to me. I hated them. I found most of them to be boring as heck, and the many to be downright gross. I am a vegan, lover of all animals, and sensitive person. I had to sit through a whole series of lectures about slaughterhouse design, the slaughter process, how to inspect carcasses, and how meat is processed. Suffice to say, I was not happy about this. I would get so affected by these lectures that I would just shut down for the rest of the day and not be able to get any work done. I was just in a negative state of mind.

Even worse were the practical classes where we would have to inspect carcasses and practice stunning techniques on them. My classmate would laugh, joke around and poke the carcasses. I would stand back and observe them in horror. These were once beautiful living animals that only hours earlier were slaughtered for research purposes. I couldn’t concentrate during these classes and never engaged in them.

When it came time for midterms that semester, I barely studied. I hated all of the lectures, the material did not interest me, and it quite frankly horrified me. I tried reading some of the notes to study but after a while I realized it was fruitless. There was no way I was going to pass. I had missed too many lectures, neglected studying too often, and had emotionally and mentally shut down for most of the term. I tried to motivate myself but just couldn’t.

Finally, on my last day of attempting to study before the midterm, I had an epiphany. “Why am I doing this?” I thought. “Why am I torturing myself? I don’t have to be here. No one is forcing me. I’m doing this to myself. This is my life, I have control over it. If I don’t want to do this, then I won’t.” Once I made that realization, it was like a switch had been flipped. I realized I could leave if I wanted to. And I wanted to very badly!

Now before you think it was just me not being able to cope with the demands of vet school, that is not the only reason why I wanted out. I knew vet school would be no walk in the park before I started, and I was prepared to deal with how rigorous it was. I thought about what if I pulled myself through this term, finished vet school and imagined my future life as a vet. And that future was not a pretty one.

After starting vet school I worked in more clinics and shadowed more vets. I got an even wider understanding of what a working vet’s life is like. The hours are long, the demands are great, stress levels are high, and there can be days with no breaks at all. As an extremely introverted individual, I knew there was no way I would be able to cope with this lifestyle and be happy.

I saw extremely extroverted people who excelled at being vets because they gained energy from working with all their colleagues, bossing their techs around, and meeting dozens of clients throughout the day. They got a buzz from the chaotic energy of the veterinary clinic. I, on the other hand, reacted quite the opposite. I would get drained after a long shift, and would try to separate myself from my coworkers as often as I could to get a moment of peace. This meant I spent a lot of time in back doing the laundry. When I was forced to interact with the clients, I would get nervous, often jumble my words and appear flustered. I envied my fellow techs who could talk to people so smoothly and look so professional. I just looked like a bumbling fool.

After weeks of introspection and thinking about every aspect of the future, I made the definite decision to drop out of vet school. I told my friends one by one, and it was not easy to do at all. I had made a group of great friends and I was sad to have to tell them goodbye, but I knew it was the right choice for me. At first some people could not understand why I would want to quit after so many years. They were shocked—they thought I was happy in school. However once I fully explained my reasoning, everyone eventually understood where I was coming from and supported me.

I’m trying to see my time in vet school as a learning experience rather than a failure. At times I still get frustrated and wish I had never pursued that path in the first place. But then I tell myself that I can take what I learned from my past experience to help others, and perhaps some of the skills I learned will be useful in a new career.

Currently I am interested in pursuing a career in the counseling field. I’m still researching grad schools, but from what I’ve read I think I would really enjoy it. I’ve also been talking with lots of people in the field and they all have been really enthusiastic. Now that I know myself better and I know what I want out of a career and lifestyle, I can make a more informed choice about what grad program to enroll in. I know I want to help people, and feel more comfortable working one-on-one with people rather than large groups.

I love the idea of becoming an educational counselor because I would help students reach their educational and career goals while taking in to consideration their personal preferences and unique personalities. Because I have recently gone on my own intense journey of self-discovery, I would like to help others in that process as well.  I would love to be able to share with students my own educational and career path, so maybe they can learn to be true to themselves as they pursue a career.

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9 thoughts on “When Your Dreams Are False

  1. Thank you for sharing your journey. I have experienced so many of the feelings you’ve described, spending much of my life frustrated by things about myself that I couldn’t seem to change. Giving yourself permission to follow your heart was a brave and inspirng act. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

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  2. What would you recommend for me, an INFJ HSP, who has three or four possible careers in mind? I’m not going to college yet, so I have five million options in front of me, and I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to choose one!

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    • Hi there! All I can really tell you is to follow your passion. You can excel in any career if you truly love your work, so don’t limit yourself due to your personality type (although it is really important to know what kind of work environment you work best in). When you get to college, take a variety of classes that interest you, and hopefully you will discover the path you want to go down. My mistake is that I was studying for what I thought would be a respectable and fitting career, but I never had a passion for it and often found the subject boring. I now know I should have followed my heart and majored in something that I was more interested in. I also recommend when you get to college, to visit your school’s career center and talk to the counselors there who can give you more guidance!

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  3. Thank you for your post! You write the same way I think and I resonated with so many things you said. I’ve been pushing myself to finish prereqs for either med school or vet school and I’ve hated every minute of it. This has given me the self-awareness that I should have had a long time ago. So, Thank you!!

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    • Hi Heather! I just re-read my post from a year ago! Thank you for commenting, and I am so happy my experience has resonated with you. I realize now that you only have one life to live and you should follow the path that brings you most joy. Don’t pursue something just because you or someone else thinks you should. Do what you *want* to do. When I compare my quality of life and happiness now to where I was a year and a half ago, I feel like completely different person. Now I finally feel free. ❤

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  4. Hello, zappy05. I am an INFJ personality type, as well, however, I am only a junior in high school. I am set on becomnig a veterinarian, but since you didn’t end up in that career path, do you think I will hate it, too, and I will not be happy with that veterinarian as a career? Thank you for writing this wonderful article.

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    • Hi there Jessica! I’m glad you read the article and I hope it was helpful to you. I can’t say for certain that you would hate being a veterinarian, but I can say that if you choose to go down this path, it will probably be very challenging for you as an INFJ. I am sure you are highly intelligent so the book knowledge part won’t hold you back. Of course the material is rigorous but if you put in the work, you’ll get through. I think the more challenging aspect will be the social component. Working as a vet is a very stressful and demanding career, and you will be required to interact with many people through the long days which is very draining for an introvert. Some specialized vets might not have to deal with this such as vets who work in labs and mostly get on with their work on their own. But if you plan to work in a clinic, it will be very draining for you.

      However if you are dead set on it, you can find ways to cope! The most important advice I can give you is to get a lot of experience in the field before you decide on vet school. You can start with volunteering with animals like in a shelter, then when you’re older try to get a job in a vet clinic and work alongside vets. A lot of pre-vet college students get jobs as vet techs which is great experience for your application plus gives you an inside look into what the job is like.

      Also, speak to as many vets as you can and ask tons of questions about vet school and the job. It’s super important to have a really good understanding of the career and of your own personality before you decide on it. My issue was that I didn’t understand myself well enough when I thought I wanted to be a vet. I had a very clear understanding of the job, I just had unrealistic expectations on myself that I could handle the demands.

      Another funny thing is that a close friend I met in vet school, who is also INFJ, dropped out for similar reasons as I did! But never say never. Although being a vet isn’t the easiest job, let alone for an INFJ, it would be possible if you truly desire it and have good coping mechanisms for dealing with the stress and demands of working with many people in a fast paced work environment.

      But first start with your research and try to get some experience working with animals and eventually in a vet clinic! See how you feel after getting some firsthand experience. I hope this helped!

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