I got turned on to a great new Web-based magazine today, via Seth Godin’s blog. Fear.less is about fear. Or, rather, it is interviews with individuals who have passed through the fire of their worst fears and emerged transformed. In a culture that is pervaded and driven by fear–of terrorism, of fat, of the flu, of foreclosure and economic doom–Fear.less is a welcome antidote. And it’s free. So check it out.
And funny that I should sing the praises of a new magazine about overcoming fear–because it fits in so perfectly with the subject I’d already decided to write about.
A couple of entries back, I wrote about Nate’s dying, after defying all odds and living for nearly a year with end-stage Chronic Renal Failure. Taking care of him forced me to confront a host of my own fears, which I wrote about last October. But when I said that “…one sickly little orange cat changed me and changed my life in ways I’m still only beginning to comprehend. I am not the same person I was, I no longer view the world in the same way I once did, and I have plans for the future that I never would have considered before,” I wasn’t kidding. And I’m not just some crazy cat lady wallowing in maudlin sentiment, either.
Because of Nate, I’m headed back to school again, at age 42. It’s going to take me a while–I will probably be about 50 by the time I’m done–but I’m going to be a veterinarian.
In order to get into vet school, I have to take every single math and science prerequisite, from the ground up. I barely passed the required Algebra course to get a BA (in History), and I have never set foot in a Chemistry class, but that’s not going to stop me. I’m not going to scare myself out of it this time around.
Like a lot of kids, I had an affinity for animals, and wanted to be a vet when I grew up. “Veterinarian” is such a common career ambition for kids and teenagers, however, I’m not sure it’s even worth noting. But there it is.
I could go into all the boring details of why I didn’t pursue it, but they boil down to two reasons: I just didn’t get math at all, which shut me out of the sciences by the time I was a Sophomore in high school; and I was afraid of doing surgery, putting animals down, and all the other “hard parts” of vetmed. Even if I could have handled the math, I scared myself out of being a vet. Since I had enough artistic talent to make going to art school and pursuing a creative career seem like a reasonable thing to do, I chose that. It was much less frightening. And over the years, I’ve always wished I could do science, or that I could have been a vet; those desires have never faded. But the required math always scared me away.
Almost thirty years later, I know I’ve got what it takes, mentally and emotionally, to be a damned fine vet. Taking care of Nate finally made me realize that. But the math–that’s a big one.
To prepare myself for the math placement test at a local community college, I bought a couple of old college Algebra textbooks at Goodwill and started reviewing the material on my own. I felt stupid, and a bit delusional–I’d barely understood enough to pass the class even when I showed up five mornings a week and paid attention every day; what made me think I could figure this shit out on my own? The books sat untouched for days before I got up the nerve to crack them open.
I don’t know what happened–maybe I repeated Algebra enough times that it stuck, or maybe I’ve finally grown new neural networks in the right part of my brain–but as I sat down with those books and studied, it wasn’t that difficult. I haven’t taken a math class in almost a decade, but all of a sudden I understand it. I’ve never understood it before, but I do now. Not always perfectly, but pretty damned well. Well enough that I think I can pull a decent grade in a class, and maybe even go on to do well in pre-calculus (where I’ve never ventured).
It’s still scary. I still have a lot of doubts about whether I can actually do this. I mean, a veterinarian! Me! Which means getting through not only math, but other things I’ve never studied–such as Chemistry. Will Chemistry be hard? Will I get it? I’ve heard Organic Chemistry’s even harder. And then there’s Biochem, which just seems like…dude. I might as well try flying to the moon.
I could scare myself out of this all over again.
But I’m determined not to. Because one thing I have learned is that any large goal worth pursuing should scare me, just as much as it excites me. I’m not afraid of failure; there is no failure. That fear comes from knowing that I’ll be pushed to my limits (and beyond) as I change, grow, learn, and transform myself in order to get what I want. It means that I won’t be the same person when I get there that I am now; that just as I’ve had to kill past versions of myself to be this person, I’m going to have to kill my present version of myself to become that person. Will I even recognize myself in two years?
That’s one hell of a question to go to bed with, so I think I’ll go read another story in Fear.less before turning in. But there you have it–when I grow up, I’m going to be a vet after all.