One of the first things you learn after graduating veterinary school is not to tell strangers on airplanes, buses, trains, waiting rooms, or non-vet-related Facebook groups that you’re a vet. It sounds crazy, I know. All those years. All that work. Finally get to put “Dr.” in front of your name. So why not tell the world?
Here’s how the conversation goes if you do.
Me: Hi, I’m Wendy. I’m a vet.
Random Stranger: Oh my god, a vet? I have a (fill in breed of) dog (or cat or ferret or reptile). He’s got this (fill in random medical issue or behavioral problem). What do you think it could be? –Cue: half an hour of trying to avoid diagnosing a pet you’ve never seen, never will see, and can’t possibly diagnose from the stranger’s description of its malady.
That’s the most common response. We also get: Oh, I wanted to be a vet when I was a kid. –Of course you did. Most kids do. Vets are the kids who never grew out of that phase.
And we get: Oh, my daughter (or rarely, son) wants to be a vet. She’s six. Can she ask you seven hundred questions about your job? –Yes, I’ll just bet she can.
And my personal favorite: Oh, I had a great dog (cat, ferret, reptile) but the stupid vet couldn’t figure out what was wrong with him and he died. –Cue: accusing stare.
To avoid the awkwardness of being stuck in these situations, most of us have an alternative answer to the “So what do you do?” question. Mine has historically been, “I sell shoes.” There really aren’t a lot of follow up questions to that particular answer. One of my friends always uses, “I sell insurance,” because nobody wants to talk to anybody about insurance, and she’s guaranteed a nice quiet flight.
Things have changed for me. My husband is Mr. Gregarious, so we always talk to people we meet on vacations, and our recent trip was no different. But this time after the requisite “Where are you from?” I didn’t feel the familiar dread.
Random Stranger: What do you do?
Me: I’m an author.
To begin with, that just sounds so nice. I’m an author. Not: I’m an aspiring writer. I’m an author. I write books and people buy them. While it’s not how I make my living (yet), it’s true enough for Random Strangers on a plane.
But it’s more than that. I’m proud to be a veterinarian, I just don’t always want to talk about work. I always want to talk about my books. Authors love to talk about their books. It’s partly the marketing mindset…maybe I can reach a new reader. Maybe they know somebody in Hollywood who wants to make a dinosaur movie. But it’s mostly the excitement of sharing a story with someone new.
There are probably authors out there who don’t share this view. J.K. Rowling probably travels incognito. If you sit next to her on a plane and ask her what she does for a living, she probably says, “I’m a vet.” It’s not because she’s so successful that she’s not trying to find new readers anymore, but I’m sure she has her own list of Random Stranger responses that she’s sick to death of answering. Maybe someday I’ll go back to selling shoes on airplanes again.
But for now…
I’m Wendy. And I’m an author.