Reflecting On A Few Things: Optometry School Is Like…
At the beginning of my first year in optometry school last September, one of the upper years told me, “Optometry is like jail. You have to do your time, but you will get out.”
It wasn’t until this year that I understood firsthand what he was telling me. Optometry at Waterloo is a four year program, and I am almost finished my first term of second year. At this point in the program, I feel like I am in the middle of a gymnastics foam pit, trying to climb through and over piles of mushy foam to get out. It’s not easy. I might have landed a perfect spinning, tumbling leap to get into the pit, but getting out is another consideration altogether.
I don’t write this to complain or speak negatively of the program or my chosen field. While I was struggling through first year, everyone told me over and over again that “it gets better” with each year that passes. So far, this has been true. In second year, I have learned some invaluable clinical skills that I will be able to use to diagnose and recognize all kinds of conditions and diseases in order to help people with their vision and overall quality of life. As I said, I don’t write this to be a downer. I write this to shed light onto what it’s like to go through a professional program like optometry. It’s not meant to be easy; like most things in life, if it were easy, more people would do it.
As someone with an arts and business background, going through a program this regimented is particularly challenging. Just like when I play hockey and don’t want to be treated differently because I am a girl, I haven’t liked to use my background as an excuse as to why I’m finding some things challenging. However, when I look down and see myself trapped in a foam pit, I’m becoming increasingly accepting of the fact that this just isn’t going to be as easy for me as someone who has done nothing but science his whole life. My adult science career began at 24, when I went back to get high school chemistry and physics so that I could enrol into university-level science.
Soon, I will be able to see patients. Come third year, we get clinical exposure, and this is what I am really looking forward to, thanks to my great love of people. To be able to get there, a person like me has to persevere and remember what is waiting at the end of my sentence on the other side of the barbed wire fence.
There is freedom. On so many levels, there is freedom. There is the opportunity to give the gift of sight, to travel the world speaking the languages I love whilst helping people to see and to treat diseases when I can. I can carve out the future I want for myself and be content knowing that I deserve it; all I have to do is think back on these four years and recall how hard I worked.
People often say, “do what you love.”
But what if you have to do something really really really hard in order to do what you love and in order to live a life that you will love? I refuse to believe that I have to live a life of instant gratification in order to be happy. I refuse to believe that I have to sell all my belongings in order to find meaning in my life. I refuse to believe that the only life I can live in which I find happiness is one where happiness comes easily.
Guess what. It doesn’t. Happiness is a choice, and to be happy takes a lot of work. Sometimes, that work comes in the form of optometry school, and sometimes it can feel a whole lot like prison (…or a gymnastics foam pit).
At least in this prison, there is wine and rum, and when I am having an evening aperitif, I look down and see the cup holding my drink: the souvenir tin inmates’ cup I bought at Alcatraz in 2012. As I sip down the friendly liquid, I can’t help but smile a little and think, how fitting.