Today we bring you a guest blog from Stage 32 member Pete Stone. Pete is a screenwriter living in North Carolina who also teaches English at a critical needs school.
In this entry, Pete discusses his pilgrimage from film school to med school and back again. Like many, Pete went down the road in life he thought he should be taking, only to do a complete 180 once he realized he was pursuing his goals for the wrong reasons. By sharing his story, Pete hopes to save others time and money by encouraging them not to force themselves into a career path that isn't true to their heart.
I thank Pete for his contribution to the Stage 32 Blog.
During my high school years, I created a broadcasting show for the community and went on to be production manager of the Clemson cable network in college. After graduation, I was accepted to Florida State’s Master of Fine Arts program in Screenwriting. However, I am from a long line of small town family physicians, and the societal expectation that I should take over that role intensified when my grandfather passed away during my first year of film school.
Science was always the subject I cared about least as how stuff happens is not nearly as exciting to me as the artistic expression of why it happens. However, I knew first hand how desperate people are in an impoverished small town for good healthcare, and I also thought it would be rewarding to donate my medical services to areas of even greater need in third world countries. In short, I forcefully convinced myself that the best way I could give back to humanity must be through medicine.
I could not afford the financial strain of finishing film school only to start medical school, so I regretfully left FSU after one year of study. I prepared to apply to medical school, got in, and got started, sort of.
Things went well for the first two years. The academics were challenging and boring as could be, but I got through it because I could still arrange my schedule to make time for creative projects on the side. I even passed the USMLE board exam. During this time, I finished two screenplays, made a movie that got picked up by ETV/PBS about impoverished kids sailing down the rivers on a raft to see the ocean for the first time, and organized a small film festival in my hometown with dancer/actress Debbie Allen.
However, after passing the USMLE board exam, I started my third year of medical school: the clinical rotations. These rotations were normally seven days a week for fifteen plus hours a day on top of studying! I was miserable and hated it once I lost my freedom to still do creative projects.
Looking ahead down this tunnel of darkness, I saw six more years of that lifestyle with school, interning, and residency before I could even practice as a board certified physician, which interested me as much as the idea of watching C-Span for a living. I realized on rotations that while I loved connecting with patients and learning about their dogs, or how their marriages did or didn’t work out, and even the favorite dish their Aunt Louise makes at Christmas, I could not care less about their creatinine or triglyceride levels.
I’m not afraid of working hard; in fact, I work that much now when I combine my main job with my other side jobs and creative projects. I just hated that I was dedicating so much time and money to something I didn’t innately care about and thought how successful, or at least happy, I could possibly be if I applied that same tenacious dedication in time and money to something I was also naturally passionate about.
A poet from my hometown, Vivian Ayers, who I became friends with over the years through sharing my writing, incidentally gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received. She said, “We help the world most when we do what we do best.” Her mantra is “Be True, Be Beautiful, Be Free!”
I reflected on this and decided that rather than waste six more years of my life and lots of money to get licensed to do what I hated, I could help the world much more being “true, beautiful, and free.” So I left medical school much to the shock of everyone and found a job that I could actively give back to help others doing something I enjoyed while also having time to additionally pursue my creative endeavors.
I turned to teaching English at a critical needs school in South Carolina. As a teacher, I don’t worry so much about grammar as I do helping teach students to express themselves and follow their bliss in a way that gives back. I LOVE my job, and I also love that I have time to work on writing and producing things creatively which I believe can in turn help others just as much as a physician does.
After all, I must credit Walt Whitman and Vivian Ayers as much as any doctor for the inspiration they provide me with to stay mentally healthy and free. As Robin Williams put it, scientists and physicians are “noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life, but beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for.”
And as an additional bonus, teaching has associated debt forgiveness incentives that help pay off my school debt too! I’m also able to make additional income from my small production company that does work for business clients in the Charlotte, NC area. Of course, if I ever sell enough screenplays, I would use that money to pay my debt off so I could give my creative productions full attention for a while. However, I think I would still want to teach again one day and certainly use any funds I had available to help the school I am currently at to develop more creative expression opportunities or even contribute to a scholarship for a student who truly wants to attend medical school.
Let me offer some practical advice I wish someone would have given to me years ago. Often in life when we have decisions to make, we over think it and ignore the simple truth trumpeting in our ears. It’s really very simple in terms of deciding what to do when big decisions arise in life, big being defined as costly in time or money. In short, if your answer is not a resounding “yes” then that means it is a resounding “no.”
If you are unsure about taking or pursuing an opportunity that will cost you a lot of time, money, or both then save your energy and your resources for what you care about and can without hesitation give yourself to with a resounding “yes” at every moment, because whatever path you take will require that type of dedication and passion to sustainably keep getting up when you get knocked down to get past just being good enough and joyfully become great. In practical terms, avoiding debt in time and money for stuff you don’t fully care about helps tremendously with staying “true, beautiful, and free” to passionately pursue and live for the things in life you do care about! So I’ve learned if I am unsure, then the answer is “no” and then I am free to say “yes” to what my whole soul sings for.
I was just recently accepted to the University of Georgia’s Master of Fine Arts program in Screenwriting! Of course, film school is obviously not necessary to be successful in show business. The webinars and educational courses available at Stage 32 are huge as are the many helpful books out there by pros like William Martell if one is disciplined enough to take advantage of them along with busting it writing. Likewise, this MFA opportunity does ensure I will concentrate my time and apply the same rigor needed to be a doctor to learning to become a screenwriter.
Needless to say, I am certainly far from being great at what I do, but thankfully now I am dedicated to working to become great at what I love doing. In fact, my undergraduate school, Clemson University, has also enlisted my talents to help produce a series of videos geared at uniting tiger mascot schools in the effort to save tigers from going extinct in the wild since fewer than 3,000 remain alive.
I find now that I am following my bliss that these types of opportunities and the right people to encourage and inspire me keep entering my life. In conclusion, now that I am focusing my energy on what I love, life is good, and this go around, I will not theoretically force my will to do something beyond my natural passions. All professions provide poetic beauty to life, even doctors. However, simply put, Vivian was right, “we help the world most when we do what we do best!”
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As always, Pete is available for remarks in the Comments section below...