Of all of the people who ask me questions as a company founder, I get questions from physicians and med students the most. Medicine is a hard thing to leave. There’s a ton of shame whenever you do leave, if you decide to do so. Most people are well-meaning — I truly believe that — but there is a severe and harsh judgment that befalls you from others in medicine, as well as from people you know in similarly-rigorous fields, like lawyers. And I get that. There’s something to be said for working 80-hour weeks when you’re young, toiling away and sacrificing, and ultimately getting a six-figure paycheck, but having to keep your eye on the prize and your foot to the gas pedal. It’s hard, and it’s rigorous. Some are probably jealous you got away from it. But others genuinely do not understand how you could put in x number of years and then leave into the abyss outside of medicine. And I get that.
The first few years are the worst. If you care what others think, as I did, you would be advised to turn that tendency off. When you say you’re a medical student, it doesn’t matter if you’re living at the poverty level or barely scraping by. People think you’re doing something courageous and inspiring and prestigious, and you feel the benefits of that. When you say you’re starting a company, people don’t know if you’re running a “company” or starting the next Google, and most assume it’s the former. I was told everything from “You’re throwing away your potential” to “That’s stupid” to “Don’t you want to help people anymore?” The dean of the medical school stared at me incredulously, mouth agape, asking half-concerned, half-stupefied, what I was going to do with my life.
I’ve been gone from medicine for seven years now. The weirdest part was re-learning how to think and talk and work. In medicine, you’re supposed to be studious and listen to your superiors. In entrepreneurship, you tell your investors what you’re going to do and how you’re going to do it — not the other way around. I often tell people half-jokingly it’s almost the opposite of “Measure twice, cut once” — especially in digital marketing, where we’re rolling out dozens of campaigns and are like, “Oh, OK, the analytics says this one worked.”
The hardest part has been controlling this dark monster inside that feels like I have to prove myself to everybody, and especially to the people I knew from medical school, that I’m doing well. In reality, I get that it’s a narcissistic and pointless thing I feel compelled to do, but the beast inside unleashes on social media and makes me want to get out there sometimes and be like, “You got fellowship at an Ivy League? I just sold another six-figure client!” And, yes, a higher, better, smarter piece of myself realizes there is more than enough success to go around, and yes, in reality, there is no competition, especially not between my marketing agency and beauty blog and someone else’s medical career. How would you even compare?
I will say, though, I have had a few dark moments where someone smirked and said I left medicine to become a beauty blogger, and that just made me feel really bad about myself. I mean, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with being a blogger — Chiari Ferragni is a blogger, after all — but I protect myself with titles, and “founder and CEO” just makes me feel a lot better waking up in the morning than “blogger,” as vapid as that sounds. Also, for the record, I do run a marketing agency with a team of 30 people — check out FutureDermMedia.com — but, alas, I can’t let myself get down from other people’s perceptions.
Aside from dealing with occasional feelings of inadequacy, even seven years out from medicine, I would say that it does get easier. Much easier. Especially after I had a child. I love the flexibility and freedom that comes with being my own boss. Also, some days I’ll just have these moments where things just come together and I feel alive and wonderful, like I’m exactly where I’m meant to be. I absolutely love those moments. I live for them. (The last one, I was eating linguini and clams, in a little Italian cafe, watching the sunset, and I’m like yessss).
So, that’s my story. If you’re thinking about leaving medicine — which I guess was why I started this post to begin with — I would advise learning how to sell, having a few clients and sales distribution channels before you venture out, and reading a few books on how to have confidence and not care as much about what other people think. And then, I would say, go for it, if that’s truly what you want to do.