In response to another post idea I had (coming up soon) I received a response from Dr. Susan Biali. Part of her answer interested me, she briefly mentioned that she quit her “normal” job in order to pursue the “I’ve always wanted to do this” ache in the back of her mind. We exchanged some emails and now we have this post. Dr. Biali’s story is one of encouragement and challenge but most of all can be applied by you no matter what your creative idea is -even if it is not art oriented.
Dr. Biali: If you’d asked me, when I was eight years old, what I was going to be when I grew up, I would have answered instantly, and confidently: “I’m going to be dancing on TV one day- as a Solid Gold Dancer!”. I also would have told you that I’d probably have a day job as a writer or reporter. I was obsessed with dance, music, and other creative pursuits as a child and “practiced” incessantly until, from about the age of ten onwards, the adults around me (parents and teachers) made it clear that creative endeavours weren’t practical, and that I should focus the majority of my efforts on my academic/intellectual gifts, following the traditional path towards “success”. I abandoned my dreams of becoming a performing artist and writer, and eventually became a doctor, instead. A profoundly unhappy doctor.
In the second year of my Emergency Medicine residency, my depression became so profound that I couldn’t function anymore, and I considered ending my life. Nothing about my life inspired or fulfilled me, so I simply couldn’t see why I should go on. My superiors noticed how much trouble I was having, and offered me a stress leave. I went by myself to Cuba, and one night, as I watched a spectacular Cuban salsa dance team performing on stage, I suddenly remembered who I really was. While in Cuba, I also was shocked to find myself writing in my journal: “I want to be a writer”. I didn’t know where that impulse had come from, or how it would be possible, but I knew it to be true.
I was terrified by the changes that I felt coming in my life, and it took an enormous amount of courage to step down from the prestigious residency training position that I’d worked so hard to “win”. Yet, I knew that I had to either create a life that meant something to me, or lose my life entirely.
I resigned from my residency, and signed up for my first salsa dance lesson. Over the next few years, I kept amping up my commitment to my life as an artist (dancer, writer and photographer). I became a professional salsa dancer, professional flamenco dancer, and a professional freelance writer and photographer. Eventually I moved to Mexico to be able to pursue these almost full-time (while I’d been developing my artistic self, I’d been working part-time in medical clinics, as my “day job”).
People approved of me signing up for dance classes (“how fun!”), but the more serious I got about my non-medical pursuits, the more everyone around me worried and told me that I was making a major mistake. When I first moved to Mexico to dance, I would fly up every 6 weeks to Canada for a couple of weeks, staying in a suite at my parent’s house,to make some extra money in the clinics. When my parents realized that this new career in the arts wasn’t just a “phase”, they decided to cut me off, and said I couldn’t stay in their house anymore. It seemed that every time I committed more to my creative life, it required more and more courage in the face of others’ doubts, and the changes and challenges that resulted in my life. Yet the sacrifices, sweat and tears were always worth it in the end.
Note by Gary: I find interesting that Dr. Biali doesn’t mention her doubts, but other peoples doubts. As I get older I realize how much of my life is not paid for by others opinions on how I should live.
Gary: I’m also interested in your dividing medicine as not a “creative” outlet. Can you tell me more about how you see the differences.
Dr. Biali: “Creative” to me means freedom and beauty – dancing, music, freedom of expression, joy, miracles, fulfillment. As a doctor, I’m limited by standard “approved” diagnostic and treatment protocols, and having to approach problems from a rational, logical perspective. When I’m pursuing my artistic passions, anything is possible and everything goes. I’m free to be me, without risk of judgment or penalty. Medical doctors are expected to follow a strict code of conduct and practice.
There are potentially creative ways of interacting with patients (for example, I like to talk about mind-body causes of illness, and the way that the body uses symptoms and disease to tell us if we’re off our path in life). However, as a creative being I feel severely limited within the constraints of government-regulated, traditional medicine.
Also, my creative gifts are clearly within the arts – dancing, writing, singing, storytelling, photography. There are some physicians who may be creatively gifted within medicine – coming up with innovative new treatments or theories, creating new surgical techniques, performing the artistry of plastic surgery, etc. Such physicians may well feel creatively fulfilled within the practice of medicine.
When I practice traditional medicine, I literally feel like the creative soul that is my lifeblood is dying. I’m clearly meant to do other things. When I follow my creative impulses and joys, everything works. When I try to be a traditional doctor, I feel flat and frustrated, and get physically sick.
Note from Gary: I can relate to feeling sick about a job. I’m almost always willing to try things but I’ve had jobs that literally made me sick and depressed. I think the reason for many illness’ today is due to people not following their dreams. Take heed to Dr. Biali’s story, life has a whole different look when you chase that Idea Ache in the back of your head …who cares if it is not the next million dollar idea!
You can reach Dr. Biali at:
Dr. Susan Biali, B.Sc. (Dietetics), M.D.
Health & Wellness Expert, Life Coach, Speaker & Flamenco Dancer