The Unconventional Life

crispydoc Uncategorized Leave a Comment

A recent New Yorker article summarized the three stages of the American immigrant experience:

  1. First Generation: work hardscrabble jobs, sacrifice for children’s education
  2. Second Generation: academic achievers pursue professional careers in medicine, law, finance
  3. Third Generation: take Improv classes

I found this a concise way of capturing the internal tensions we all struggle with to some degree:  on the one hand, we seek financial security, and making our parents proud is for many a personal or cultural imperative.  

Yet the idea of a life spent in the passionate pursuit of ideas, forging new relationships, expanding different skill sets and creating new art is also inherently appealing. 

I’ve never wanted to be a doctor to the exclusion of all other identities.  I envisioned a life that had room for a multi-faceted individual who was able to pursue different interests while raising a family.  I love emergency medicine, but I always knew there would come a day where I’d want to pursue a second act.  Leading an unconventional life is guaranteed to invite criticism from traditionalists.  

What if the Renaissance thinkers dealt with similar pressures?  Da Vinci was an artist and a scientist, and his pursuits in the one enhanced his accomplishments in the other.  But did his mother see it that way?  I can imagine Da Vinci’s mom preparing her son a nice pasta dish as he relates his latest enthusiasm to his parents:

Mom: My boychik the painter, come sit and tell me all about meeting the Pope!

Leo: Ma, I’m not painting right now.  I’ve designed a flying machine!

Mom:  That’s nice, dear.  Maybe later we can stop by and visit the widow Scolari’s cottage.  She’s about to put it on the market, and while it’s a fixer upper, it’s in a neighborhood with a very good school district.  Your last commission is probably just enough to afford the down payment, and you can never think about these things too early!

Leo: The machine will have a rotor that spins, lifting the person inside it up into the air!

Dad: (Lifting an eyebrow skeptically) Leo, there will never be a market for flying machines.  Take your head out of the clouds and go back to painting, son.  Painting offers job security that I never in the marble quarry!

If this sounds eerily like your own family conversation, perhaps you can take solace in the company of the nonconformists who came before you.

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