Good career hunting

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My favorite movie moment is when Dr. Sean Maguire finally helps Will Hunting come to terms with his inner turmoils and accept that none of it is his fault. I never knew someone’s profession could bring about such drastic changes in a person’s life. So instead of doing actual career research before going to college, I decided to base my career decision on a movie and become a therapist.

Before watching “Good Will Hunting,” I was a lazy high school senior who had no idea what to do with his life. After watching “Good Will Hunting,” I was a lazy high school senior with a half-assed, romantic idea of being a wise therapist and a false sense of career security. When I got to UC Berkeley, I busied myself with classes, research and office hours so I that I would be able to go to graduate school in clinical psychology and finally get that “Dr.” in front of my name. In the back of my mind, I held onto the idea that one day, years into my career when I had gotten wrinkles and grown an unkempt beard, some troubled genius like Will Hunting would walk into my office and I’d be the one to save him.

Fast forward a few semesters to my first summer internship after sophomore year. I had landed a research position in a lab at UCSF studying Alzheimer’s and dementia. In addition to working on our assigned tasks, the other interns and I were all encouraged to carry out independent projects. We worked closely with mentors and received individual attention from them regarding our projects and career ambitions. Every Friday, the lab brought in speakers, including psychiatrists, researchers, doctors and professors, to talk to us about their field and help us better understand our own career paths. I couldn’t think of a better way to spend the summer.

A week into the internship, a few of the other interns and I decided to have lunch together. During the meal we started talking about our career ambitions and a question came up:

“So what are you passionate about?” asked one of the interns.

“I’m really passionate about aphasic disorders! I just started a project looking at possible correlations between neurodegeneration in language areas and onset of certain disorders,” replied another intern.

“Oh shit, that’s great! I remember learning about that. I’m actually researching degeneration and memory. It’s what I research back at my university.”

“That’s so cool! I’m super passionate about blah blah blah … ”

And so on.

When it came to my turn to talk, I just regurgitated some things I remembered from my classes at UC Berkeley. I didn’t tell them that I was actually there because I had watched a moving Robin Williams movie back in high school. I was afraid of looking silly compared to the others.

As the summer progressed, I was more and more amazed at what a driven group of students I was working with. We continued to get lunch at least once a week together. I was blown away by their genuine curiosity and work ethics, and the more I got to know them, the more I doubted myself for the simple reason that my level of interest and passion didn’t seem to match theirs. I felt I was simply going through the motions and that I was there for all the wrong reasons. Why am I not as passionate as my peers? Why don’t I find this interesting? I’ve been working towards a research internship for almost two years — did I make a mistake?

Instead of addressing these questions, I simply buried myself in more work, hoping that soon, I, too, would find my passion within the field of psychological research. I stayed as many extra hours as I could working on my project, praying that once I got the results I was looking for, I would be able to reaffirm my interest the career I was pursuing.

The internship ended in early August. Although I found no conclusive results from my project, I learned so much from my mentors and peers. But I was still no closer to knowing what I should do with my life. In fact, I was more confused than ever because I had spent the entire summer questioning whether I was genuinely interested in the field. I rewatched “Good Will Hunting,” which made me realize I needed some help. Instead of reaching out to the mentors who helped me so much over the summer, I once again made an important decision based on a movie. I decided to go to therapy.

Career counseling, to be more specific. So I guess it doesn’t count as actual therapy. But I still went into it with the “Good Will Hunting” mindset, thinking the counselor would tell me all the answers I needed while I reclined on a couch talking about my feelings. The appointment was supposed to last 15 minutes, but I was out in seven or eight. The first thing my counselor told me was to not lie down on the couch.

I told her all about how I decided my future career based on a movie and about my summer internship. The second thing she told me was that I probably shouldn’t have made a major career decision based on a movie, no matter how compelling it was. The third thing she told me was that most people don’t end up doing work they are genuinely passionate about — and that’s OK. Although this remark took me by surprise, because I always thought that people end up doing what they are passionate about, it helped me come to terms with the fact that it was OK to not be passionate about the work I had done up to this point. She said not to worry about whether something makes you passionate or not, but to simply do things that seem worthwhile and continue experimenting with trying different, silly things. I think I knew in my gut I was never passionate about therapy. I told her I was afraid that I wouldn’t figure out what to do with my life. She said that was OK, too. Even though she wasn’t a real therapist, she managed to fill that role when I most needed it.

I still have no idea what to do with my life. I’m watching more movies to try to figure it out. I recently watched “Sully.” Maybe I’ll become a pilot.

Contact Jihoon Park at [email protected].

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