“LJ, what do you want to be when you grow up?”
This is a question that I’ve been asked since I was 5 years old, and since then, I’ve always given
the same, routine, memorized answer: I want to be a doctor. Looking back, this definitely
stemmed from my family background. Both my parents are doctors, with my dad being a
general surgeon and my mom a family medicine doctor, and although we lived a great life
because of it, the pressures to live up to their accomplishments and expectations seemed like
they were placed on me from birth.
It wasn’t just my parents either; most of my extended family—my lolos, lolas, titos, titas, all my
kapamilya (these are lyrics from “Be Alright,” the song I wrote for FilNight btw, so shameless
plug!!)—encouraged me to follow in my parents’ footsteps all my life. With no conceit
whatsoever, I can say that I am smart. But as a kid, people viewed me as a genius. And how
wouldn’t they? Before I turned 2, I could speak two languages, I could read, I could do math far
beyond the reach of most my age. I even had a party trick: I could identify the capitals, flags,
and presidents of any country in the United Nations. This weird, freak-ish nature even caused
my parents to get me evaluated by a psychologist, who determined that at the age of 5, I had
the intellectual capability of a high-schooler (and that evaluation is published; I still have a
copy). Needless to say, this only added to their expectations of my future success.
And it continued. When we permanently moved to the US (it’s complex, as I’d been living here
on and off for the first few years of my life), I was enrolled in the Accelerated Progress Program,
a program designed for “gifted” kids in Seattle, where we were learning material 2 years in
advance of our grade. This continued through middle school, and then when I moved to New
York City, it was a different system, where a set of public “Specialized High Schools” were the
top schools in the city. I tested among 30,000 other middle-schoolers and, along with only 800
other students, made it into Stuyvesant High School, the school ranked number 1 in the city,
and by many publications, top 10 in the country. Again, expectations.
Doing well in school and in STEM courses only compelled me to believe that that’s what I
wanted to do. I was successful in STEM, so that means I liked it.
That all changed with UW.
I struggled through gen chem, bio, ochem and biochem; all courses necessary for pre-med
students. I wasn’t having a fun time in college either, I hadn’t made many friends because living
off campus was so tough, and I didn’t feel like myself at all. Now, I know that I felt stifled. But I
kept going because I somehow convinced myself that that’s what I wanted. But if I only thought
that it was for me because I was good at it, what happened when I was no longer good at it?
What happens next?
I have to admit I was scared. By this point, when people had asked me “LJ, what do you want to
be when you grow up?” I had a modified version of my answer from when I was 5: I wanted to
be a pediatrician because I was interested in primary care for patients at a young age. But, deep
down, I knew that wasn’t true. Deep down, I knew what I was passionate in, and it was not
medicine. But how could I tell my parents? How would my family react? I had been playing
along with the plan of medicine for so long, but what would happen?
I eventually told my parents, and through tears and some yelling, they understood. The only
thing they told me they were upset about was that I didn’t feel like I could tell them. And they
And there are many reasons. I was never really passionate in medicine. I really felt like I was just
acting like it to please my parents and to please my family. Another reason is Public Health.
Even after taking my first class in Public Health, I realized that there are so many other options
out there to explore that can make an impact on the world. There are so many factors that
determine a person’s health, and being a doctor isn’t the only way to improve health outcomes.
Another really important reason is FAHC. Just being part of such a dynamic group of friends and
kapamilya has opened my eyes to so many different possibilities and inspired me to fulfill my
true potential. There were so many reasons I made this decision, but the most important was
that I had finally come to terms with the fact that forcing myself into something to please other
people would only make me unhappy.
Now, I’m in my second term of my junior year, taking classes that I enjoy, fully immersed in my
major and just feeling better about where I am academically and socially. And with FAHC and
FASA, I feel like I’ve found my niche and a group of people that I can truly be myself around.
And now, I feel like I don’t have to know what I want to have a career in yet; there are so many
options. I don’t have to follow a plan set out for me.
And no matter how cheesy it sounds, I feel like I can answer the question that has haunted us
all of our lives. “What do you want to be when you grow up?” I want to be happy, and I will not
allow anything to derail me from achieving what I know I can.