All of us have thought at one point or another about what we would have done professionally if we had the opportunity to start over and take a path totally different from the one we actually pursued. For many years when asked this question, I answered that I would have enjoyed being an architect. Designing buildings would have allowed me to use both the scientific and the creative aspects of my brain. I also like the tangible and long-lasting aspects of building something – attributes that also apply to my current career in academic medicine.
Yet, such a career would not have provided me with the privilege of working with patients, or interacting on a daily basis with the broad variety of outstanding clinical, research and administrative collaborators that make my current job so interesting and fulfilling.
There is obviously no way to know whether I would have succeeded as an architect, but it is fun to think about.
More recently, given my involvement in policy and governmental affairs, I have been asked whether I ever considered getting more directly involved in politics, such as by running for office. I would find it very rewarding to be able to impact directly on policy issues about which I feel so passionately. I would also enjoy learning about new fields, spending time with “my constituents,” and learning about what is important in their lives – activities that have parallels with my current job.
Yet, there are aspects of a career in politics that just don’t fit with my world view. I don’t like adversarial relationships. I think more about working together to succeed, than I do about “winning,” the goal of a political campaign. If there is a winner, there must be a loser, and there also must be time when the winner and loser are declared. Succeeding is a more collaborative word, and reflects an ongoing struggle for something worthwhile as opposed to a one time contest.
We will never know whether I have what it takes to win a political campaign, but it is fun to think about.
In the end, I prefer to work closely with people and strive collaboratively toward success. There are times when I still dabble in alternative interests – last month I was stuck at the airport on a trip home from Washington after advocating for cancer research, and I found myself doodling a fancy (and totally impractical) building.
Nevertheless, I guess I made the right choice for me based on my preference for succeeding together over winning. So … I think I will keep my day job.