Carolyn Hax: She feels like a failure compared to her doctor cousin

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My cousin “Marie” had her second baby last month. Marie is a successful pediatrician, the job I always dreamed about and planned on having. I was pre-med in college, but then I married young, had two kids within two years, ended up getting a research job that paid the bills.

I have gone through several phases of regret about not becoming a doctor, including one very intense one when Marie started her residency. This will sound terrible, but one of my small comforts at the time was assuming Marie would have to sacrifice something, probably a traditional family life, to be a doctor. Now it looks like that isn’t true, and I’m back to feeling crappy.

I love my husband, love my kids, am lukewarm about my career, and wish I had found a way to find satisfaction in both.

This feeling will pass, right? How do I get back to a healthy perspective on my own choices?

Feel Like a Failure: First, get Mary out of your life story. She has no part in it besides proximity. Whether she’s happy or unfulfilled or a parent or not a parent or whatever else has zero (0) (nada) (zip) (erf-all) to do with you and your life and your purpose and your capabilities and your decision-making. (Bupkis.)

Therefore, in all her staggering irrelevance, she serves no purpose except to distract you from stuff you need to think about.

Which is, first step: Can you make peace with your choices?

You seem(ed) pretty certain medical training and having a family are mutually exclusive. You know what? They are. For some people — maybe those who lack focus and mental stamina (like me, for example). For others, it’s possible. And since you’re looking only through the lens of your own self-knowledge, maybe it’s time for you to recognize it wasn’t a viable path for you — then release yourself of second-guessing once and for all.

Can you do that? Accept your decision as having been right for you at the time, then move on?

If not, why not? The proof is there. You did exactly what you wanted and were ready for. By definition.

If you can, then, next step: What decision makes the most sense for you now, given your changed circumstances? Going to med school, maybe?

Research your options. If it’s possible but you find you just don’t want to anymore, then, well, congrats? Sounds liberating.

Or would a different health-care credential suit your life better now? PAs, nurse practitioners, nurses, and a whole army of therapists (occupational, speech and language, physical, psychological, etc.) provide essential care. Why torture yourself with, essentially, a childhood vision (patient care = doctor) when the adult-you has access to so much more nuanced information.

If it’s just the cachet of “doctor,” then beat it back with the cachet of an open mind.

Short answer, see the jail you’ve built around yourself, then see how much of it is imagined, then let yourself out of it.

School is harder while you’re responsible for kids, yes. No unicorns and rainbows here. But finding a way to manage a self-redefinition and letting them see that up close could be really good for them. And it would be really, really great for you to take concrete steps to reverse the self-loathing, so there’s nothing left to splash onto Marie.

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