Before entering USC as a freshman, I wanted a plan. I was crossing the country from a one-square-mile suburban town in New York, where I knew more than I wanted to about everyone who lived there. Naturally, coming to a university full of 34,000 new students was both thrilling and terrifying. Sure, I looked forward to meeting new friends and making new connections, but I was also afraid of becoming lost in a sea of undeclared majors.
Ever since I was in kindergarten myself, I believed I wanted to be an elementary school teacher. The job seemed perfect: I love kids, I love school, I love helping others. On one fateful day, I ran into my kindergarten teacher fifteen years after she taught me how to finger paint. I excitedly told her about my future career plans, waiting to see her eyes light up and tell me how proud she was.
“Don’t do it,” was her curt response instead.
“What do you mean? You were my favorite teacher, the one who inspired me to teach,” I countered.
At the time, I was a bit upset by my role model crushing my well-developed plans, and ultimately I would not let one naysayer get in the way of my own agenda, but her response made me think. It made me think that I was choosing a career based more on mere exposure rather than full consideration of all my options. Sure, I love kids, school, and helping others, but teachers are not the only people that love those things; teaching was just the only profession I knew about that fit the description.
In the midst of college applications, I searched for a bit of my own Lifestyle Redesign® (a branch of OT started right here at USC). I knew what I wanted in a career; I just didn’t know the name for it yet. But after considering other professions present in the school system, I remembered back to a room next to the gym in my old elementary school labeled ‘OT/PT.’ I knew what PT was, but OT warranted some extra research.
I don’t change my mind easily. I deliberate. So I read a description of OT online and immediately liked the sound of it, especially because it fit my requirements of loving kids, school, and helping others. But I wasn’t sold yet. I read many more articles and subsequently contacted numerous OT practices to volunteer for a more hands-on perspective. Ultimately, I presented my research to my parents, volunteered in a pediatric OT clinic during my senior year of high school, and met with the OT for my school district, all of which solidified my choice to become an occupational therapist.
I wanted to help others learn. At first, my mind understandably went straight to teacher. I still believe teaching is an incredibly powerful and respectable profession, but it was not the one for me. As an introvert, I am comforted by OT’s individual or small group treatment versus instructing a large class. As a science nerd, I relished the opportunity to take courses in anatomy, physiology, neuroscience, and kinesiology. As a health nut, I embraced the holistic wellness outlook of OT, which considers a person from all physical, psychological, and social aspects.
Jessica Kensky, the 2016 keynote speaker at the American Occupational Therapy Association conference, described occupational therapy as the place “where science, creativity, and compassion collide.” If there were ever a collision I would want to be in, it would be between those three aspects. OT has everything I want, and reciprocally, I offer knowledge, creativity, and compassion—a perfect fit. Throughout my career search, I discovered that a multitude of jobs exist, many more than people may know about. Though I had to explore a bit for my ultimate choice, I found it. Possibly more importantly, I realized the value of keeping my mind open to change. Intentions can alter, ideas can spark, people can change—and it is okay if not everything goes according to plan.