Would You Do It Again?

Yesterday, at the end of my shift while I was waiting for patients to wake up, I was idly clicking through blog posts when I noticed a new comment on Nick's blog about Community Style Acupuncture. I was hoping that whatever it was, it wasn't going to resurrect the argument that preceded it — and I was happy to find that it didn't. I'm so happy, in fact, that I'm writing an entire post about it. No, seriously, this comment deserves its own post because it's asking a good question. wiblyo writes:

I’ve just started acupuncture school over in Berkeley, CA.  Now a month in, I’m overwhelmed by not only the idea of 4 years of school, but by the reality of beyond school: of patients, of practice, of delivering health care during the dark reign of Capitalism.  I just want to say that as I decide whether to stay in school or get out while I still can, the reason I’ll stay, if I stay, is because of POCA and Community Acupuncture and the very real possibility here of both affordable, accessible, effective health care for patients and a livelihood for practitioners.

But I have to ask the question I’m struggling with: I’m 26, with minimal loans now but set to take on $60,000ish debt for the 4 years of acu-school.  Which is more work than fun, I’m finding.  If you were where I am now, would you put yourself through school for the goal of becoming a punk, or would you get out now and find another way to contribute to the world?  Maybe it’s silly to ask because no one else can answer this for me, but still I’d welcome any help with making this decision from ya’ll further on up the road.

Comrades, I think as many of us as possible should pitch in here. There are a lot of us, and also a lot of wiblyos out there. People become acupuncturists — and stay acupuncturists — for a number of different reasons. Your reason might be the reason that somebody else really needs to hear in order to decide to do it — or not do it. So: would you do it again?

I'll go first.

I think if you can do anything else and be happy, anything else that is easier than this, you should. Because this is really hard. Of course, a lot of other vocations are hard too: being an artist, being a farmer, being an activist, being a parent — being anything that our society doesn't value much.

You should anticipate that society will not value you for taking care of unimportant people, and for using acupuncture to do it. Your life will not be made easy; your choices will not get much external validation. You will not be an important person — except, probably, in the eyes of many of the people that you take care of; to them you will be valuable. Possibly beloved. But in the eyes of the world, those people and their love don't count. If that bothers you — and it bothers a lot of acupuncturists — you should find something else to do. There are ways to contribute to the world that do get validation and respect and you should choose one of them.

You should anticipate that even after you graduate, it will take you awhile to feel confident in being an acupuncturist. The less support you have, the longer it will take. If you have to be both an acupuncturist and a business owner from the very beginning, expect a steep growth curve in both those areas. Expect to feel like you'll never understand anything about anything. Expect to make mistakes. Expect to learn a lot by trial and error, and even to teach yourself a lot of things you need to know. Expect to have to ask for help.

Being a punk means being out on the ragged edge in all kinds of different ways. What a lot of people are looking for, when they choose a career, is a sense of security, a defined place in the world. A lot of acupuncturists spend large portions of their all-too-short career trying to get a piece of the pie and a place at the table; when there's no pie to be had and nowhere to sit, they stop being acupuncturists. We punks bake our own pie and build our own table, thank you very much.  Ask yourself, how far are you willing to take the DIY approach?

When I was 26 and graduating from acupuncture school, I had no idea how hard I was going to have to work or how many things I wasn't going to be able to take for granted. If I had known, I might well have gotten out and tried to find something easier.

I'm glad I didn't know and I'm glad I didn't get that choice at that time. Because knowing what I know now, would I do it again? Oh God, yes. Yes, yes, yes.

That is, in part, because what I didn't know about myself when I was 26 was that I desperately needed to bake my own pie and build my own table, even if the pie AND the table were going to be lopsided, lumpy, and made out of scraps. If I had gotten a piece of the pie that everybody else seems to want and a seat at the official table, I would have starved to death. I needed to be out on the ragged edge, and something kept pushing me there. Here. I'm so glad I'm here. And of course, the company's fantastic. Even if they do eat their lumpy pies with their fingers and tell dirty jokes. Even if they sometimes throw the pies instead of eating them.

So if you have to be an acupunk, if nothing else will satisfy you, be an acupunk. Just make sure you know what it's really like. Get treatments at as many different community clinics as you can, watch the staff, and ask yourself — do I want to do that for years and years? Make sure you see the reality, don't just fall for the romance. If you know what it's like and you still want to do it, do it. Life is really short, and as Kierkegaard said, it can only be understood backwards, but it has to be lived forwards. Maybe this is a mistake you need to make for some reason, in which case, you can join the rest of us who've made it.

Author: lisafer

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