How Much Time Do You Have?
September 2, 2021
The most interesting thing I’ve experienced this past year is that the more I learn about occupational therapy, the more difficult it is for me to explain it to others. At least not in a minute-long elevator spiel. Rereading my admissions essays when applying to OT school, my definition of “occupation” is packed into a box, tied neatly with a bow on top. However, if presented today with the question of, “Why did you choose to pursue occupational therapy?”, I would return with another question, “How much time do you have?” How do you even begin to explain why and how much you love, what you believe to be, the most incredible profession to ever exist? Well, here’s my attempt.
My parents arrived in America without two pennies to rub together but have always emphasized to me and my older siblings how our existence on Earth means nothing without generosity, a sense of genuine responsibility in the well-being of others, and dedication to helping people. From these values, I witnessed my oldest brother pursue a career in public service and marry my sister-in-law, who became a (USC-bred!) Doctor of Pharmacy in oncology. My older brother became a physician assistant (now, associate) specializing in urgent care and cardiology after five long years of coming home in the middle of the night while he worked as an EMT. My older sister (also USC-bred!) now organizes various clinical research trials to get FDA approval for experimental interventions. As proud as I was of their achievements, I was concurrently experiencing inner turmoil — what is going to be my contribution to the world? How am I going to help people?
When I was eight years old, my grandpa suffered his first stroke. For the next sixteen years until his passing this past summer, he would experience several more and became more medically complex with each one. My interactions with him didn’t resemble the nuclear grandpa character I saw in books and movies as a child. Instead, they occurred within the walls of nursing facilities, in the gym we constructed in his garage for his exercises, in the supermarket when I learned to read nutrition labels at an early age so I could hold him accountable for his diet.
In high school, I always spent too much time on arts and crafts. If a class project required a poster presentation or I was campaigning for a student council position, you could find me surrounded by markers and covered in glitter and paint all weekend. Then my brother would barge into my room and say, “Why are you wasting your time on this? Go do some math or something.” (For reference, math has always stressed me out. I blame times tables.) But I didn’t care. This was my happy place. I felt in control, the possibilities were limitless, and my mind was at peace.
In college, I worked at the UCLA Lab School as a teaching assistant for second-graders. My supervisor often assigned me to provide specialized attention to students with learning disorders and developmental disabilities, noting that I had a great deal of patience and a keen sense of empathy which allowed me to match students’ needs. On a fateful day in 2017 where time and circumstance met, a parent suggested the magic words “occupational therapy” onto my wanting ears and changed the trajectory of my life forever. I never believed that a profession like this existed — one that challenges areas of myself which require growth yet puts all the best parts of me to use. The part of me that my parents taught to help others, that practices compassion toward grandfathers and second-graders alike, and all while embedding creativity into the therapeutic process.