Written by Michael W. Miller, DVM
None of us ended up in veterinary medicine on a whim. Somewhere along the line, we decided to pursue a dream. For some, the dream to treat sick puppies and kittens was clear since childhood. For others, like me, that dream started as a vague desire to work with animals that eventually developed into something more. I liked animals, but my earliest career dreams ranged from dolphin trainer to zookeeper. Ultimately I followed my desire to work with animals through all the twists and turns until it finally led to my current position as a suburban small animal veterinarian. It’s not exactly what I would have seen in the Mirror of Erised as a child, but not really too far off.
In the opening of the Harry Potter series, the Mirror of Erised is introduced as a magical object that shows individuals their innermost desires. Harry is mesmerized by the vision of his deceased parents alive and by his side, while Ron is thrilled by the vision of himself with awards and accolades that will allow him to stand out from his older brothers. Knowing the dangers of the mirror, Professor Dumbledore advises, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”
How many veterinary witches and wizards also fall into the trap of obsessing over their desires without appreciating their current situation?
One of my professors in undergrad who taught religious studies used to lament about all of the pre-med students he witnessed obsessing about school and forgetting to live during college. Getting wrapped up in GPA’s and volunteer hours and resume builders is very easy for students with deep dedication to achieving their dreams. I made that mistake. Suddenly years had gone by where I had the grades and resume to get into veterinary school, but I had missed out on so much that I will never get to experience now. I kept staring into that Vet Med Mirror of Erised instead of looking out my dorm room window.
Now, I will admit that I did make this realization during undergrad and really attempted to enjoy more in those final semesters, but I also saw friends and classmates who didn’t and continued obsessing over that vision in the mirror.
By the time I got to vet school, I thought I had learned my lesson. However, the beginning of vet school has a special way of making even the most self-assured and magical students question everything! I slipped back into that student obsessing over the image of his future self in the mirror.
This time, though, I remembered my lesson from undergrad and peeled myself away from the mirror much quicker than before. I focused on making the most out of the time I had and the special opportunities I was offered in vet school, even if that meant getting slightly lower grades compared to my pre-vet GPA. This was the best decision I could have made! I don’t remember what grade I got on that Toxicology exam, but I will forever have a photo with a baby elephant from the behind the scenes zoo tour that I went on instead of studying that entire weekend.
That’s not the end of the story by any means. What I saw in my Vet Med Mirror of Erised on my first day of vet school was far from the situation I have settled into now. That young vet student would probably look at my current position as a failure, but that young student would be blind to all of the aspects of my current reflection that actually were present in that initial dream. Noticing those small details that I did achieve is very comforting. Instead of falling short of my dream, I found a new version of that initial dream that is fulfilling to the person I am today. That is not failure.
Harry and Ron had similar adjustments in their desires, but still managed to achieve details from their initial reflected dreams. Harry did get to see his parents multiple times throughout the story, either through magical visions or through the stories from his parents’ friends whom he encountered. His dream to be surrounded by family was eventually fulfilled when he married and had children of his own. Ron achieved personal triumphs and eventual wizarding fame even though it wasn’t exactly as he had pictured. Harry and Ron did not really fail to attain their Mirror of Erised dreams, even though the specific details didn’t match.
For all of the students or early career veterinary professionals reading this, I want you to know that you are not a failure if your desires change. Dreams can be adjusted. Reality can re-focus our priorities. Life happens. What makes us happiest can change. Please do not let an outdated image that drove you to pursue this profession drive you to madness as you realize that dream is either out of your reach or not what you now truly want.
Instead, try to recognize even the small pieces of that first dream in your current situation. They are there if you look closely. Discover the magic in your current situation in veterinary medicine, even if it’s not the vetlife you initially desired.