I had promised him I would call with my decision by 3:00 at the very latest. I had exactly one hour left and I felt no closer to making up my mind than when the problem was first presented a month ago. My brain was beginning to whir uselessly like my rusted out Honda Civic spinning its wheels, stuck in a snowdrift, just polishing the snow to ice under the tires. A lot of noise, a lot of vibration, a faint burning smell, but no forward motion.
To remove myself from all possible distractions I headed up to the mezzanine level of the library at the veterinary college. This was the home of obscure unread journals and a clutch of spartan study carrels. Nobody else was up there. I picked out a carrel and proceeded to stare at the bare wood partitions in the hope of clearing my mind and coming to a decision.
Nope. No decision. Just more whirring and wheel spinning and, to extend the Honda metaphor, now also regular puffs of black smoke.
Aargh! 2:20 pm! Only 40 minutes left!
The decision was at one level just about my summer job for the four months between third year and fourth year vet school. But at another level it was about my entire career and working future. This was the problem. Summer job decision? Easy. Done it many times before. Entire career and working future decision? Not so easy. Even the decision to enter vet school wasn't as hard as it offered a wide range of career options, including my original plan of going into research and teaching. But with this decision I could feel the funneling beginning in earnest, and it was freaking me out a little.
The choice was between a job offer at the Veterinary Infectious Disease Organisation (VIDO), where I would assist in cutting-edge research and make contacts with scientists and their post-graduate programs, and a job offer at the Small Animal Clinic at the vet college where I would gain practical hands-on experience in a clinic setting and get to know my instructors for fourth year. To that point I hadn't worked in a clinic yet and felt profoundly unready for fourth year, which was very clinically oriented. Almost all of my classmates had worked in vet clinics before, often for years. But VIDO was an incredible opportunity for someone who was focused on a research career. My mind began flipping back and forth, like putting the car into forwards and reverse, forwards and reverse, forwards and...
I continued to stare at the partition. My heart rate was high and my palms were damp with sweat. People, especially at that age, can sometimes attach far too much importance to decisions they need to make and get far too stressed about them, but all these years later when I look back at that moment it is even more clear now that it was in fact an absolutely key decision, easily one of the three or four decisions I have made in my life that have had the most profound long term impact. The stress was unhelpful, but understandable. I needed a couple minutes to walk to the phone (pre- cellphone days) and as I did that I still didn't know what I was going to say.
I called the director of VIDO and declined the offer. You already guessed this outcome, but I sure didn't. I don't recall a conscious decision having been made. It was as if my subconscious mind directed my mouth.
The summer at the vet college Small Animal Clinic was a fantastic experience and after fourth year I followed my future wife to Winnipeg and began to work in a private practice, temporarily I said...