Inspiration / Life / Refined by Fire

Refined by Fire: A Different Dream | Nicole Ziza Bauer


Photos c/o Victoria Clemmons

Are you sure you’d like to do this? You cannot change your mind; the admissions officer politely wrote. I’m sure she thought I misunderstood or my brain had stopped working. Anything but the words I had written.

No! I’m not sure! I had wanted to scream. I have no idea what I’m doing or what comes next. Do you know?! Shouldn’t I know myself by now?

Instead, I just wrote: Yes, I’m sure. I understand; thank you very much for understanding


Let me back up.

After college, I took the non-traditional pre-med path and decided to work before attending medical school. My plan was to beef up my resume by taking a stint in the real world to better relate to patients and make connections in my field. I had been hired at my dream university’s medical school to work in cardiology and I was on track. The chief of cardiology was my boss, I could sit in all the medical lectures I wanted and my life was happening.

But then, something else happened. Something I hadn’t planned on changing, started to change.


I had moved to Los Angeles after college to become a doctor. Not to do what everyone else did—become an actor or a creative. I wasn’t going to waste time chasing silly passions. I was going to choose the classically successful path and stick with it. Or so I thought

Two years in to my life in LA, after the MCAT and grad school interviews, I starting falling in love. Not just with my eventual husband, but also with the idea that maybe I didn’t need to have my life perfectly metered out.

I began having flashbacks of childhood: dancing on the bed, performing songs for stuffed animals, furiously typing scripts and forcing friends to act them out, spending hours in the yard creating worlds out of sidewalk chalk.

While some of this was due to being a first-born ‘90s kid, there was another part that proved unshakable. It was a feeling I had stuffed in my quest for perfection, a deeper realization of how I was wired and what brought me joy.

While medicine was a great and noble profession, I eventually had to face the truth I had spent years avoiding: it just wasn’t the profession for me.

The problem was, I wasn’t sure what the right profession was, and I floundered. I loved writing stories as a child, but had no idea how to translate that into the working world.

I felt inadequate. I felt like a hypocrite. I felt like a failure. And a few years in to a job as a paper buyer for a printing company, I felt regret. Deep, jarring pangs of regret. I had let a brilliant career go in the whim of an email.

And for what?

It takes guts to pursue a dream. But it also takes guts to let a dream go.

What no one tells you, and what college doesn’t prepare you for, is what it looks like to fail.

What does it look like to tread the waters of a career when you don’t even know what one should look like? Are you treading in a direction? Or are you simply spending precious time and energy trying not to drown?

These were questions I repeatedly asked myself, wondering what was next and feeling embarrassed at how much my situation was affecting me.

It’s been ten years since I said no to medical school. And while I did, eventually, quit working at the printing company, I’m still treading water. There’s just been a crucial difference in how I view the current.

Treading water is necessary. Without working at life, we’ll drown. But the unknowns and the regrets don’t have to take us under. Floundering is still movement — as long as we keep reaching—and reaching out.

At one point I was really depressed because I didn’t know what to do with my life or even what it all should mean. I wish someone had told me, this is all part of it — it’s not about getting there. It’s about being here.

Because when we’re here, we can’t hide in someday. When we’re here, we see ourselves in real time; that helps us better sense the direction in which we want to head.

When I let medical school go, I didn’t know what to embrace in its place. So I started trying things based on my interests and connections. There was no master plan, no tangible picture of success – and I’m probably the better for it.

While it’s important to have goals, it’s also ok to let those goals evolve, to try on different things and to see what keeps coming up over time.

I never set out to become a writer, or an editor, for that matter. But as I tried on different careers—researcher, paper purchaser, nanny, wedding planner—my strengths filtered to the top. My passions did, too.

Rather than setting my career on a hill and making a beeline toward it, (which may very well work for some people), I’ve found a different sort of success in studying where I am and foraging from what’s around me. Who do I know? What are they doing? What are the small tests I can try to see what’s right for me?

In time, I’ve reached my hill anyway only to discover there’s so many others to climb. We all have our own, and isn’t that better? It certainly makes for a more interesting, beautiful landscape.



2 comments on “Refined by Fire: A Different Dream | Nicole Ziza Bauer”

  1. Thank you for writing this and saying all of the things I seem to think on a daily basis! Whenever I got out of college, I thought law school was the answer for me and set myself on that path, only to discover I didn’t actually enjoy it as much as I thought. I always remind myself that a career does not define you as a person or how enriched your life is.

    1. Great article! Thank you for being so revealing and honest about your experience. Following and knowing your heart and listening to that voice inside does take courage. Once you have it and know it, you have gained everything you need for your future aside from any profession or job, so congratulations on the start of an inspiring journey and thank you for translating it!

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