How my part time job helped me find wellness

Dawson_featured“Little boys know everything about dinosaurs and cars until they discover girls, and then they forget it all.” I heard this quote once, and I can tell you that the former half of that statement isn’t far off. However, after working at a natural history museum for the past two years, I would say that I’ve met almost as many girls fascinated by dinosaurs as boys. Let’s face it: dinosaurs are cool! Whether it’s “The Land Before Time,” “We’re Back” or for younger generations “The Good Dinosaur,” the prehistoric beasts simply captivate children. So why does it stop when we get older?

I would argue that we don’t forget our love for dinos as much as it is overshadowed by things we’re told we must learn and like in school and in life. Our society pushes us to be experts at our jobs. That doesn’t leave much time for our scaly friends. I believe that deep down many of us yearn to regain that connection with them. After all, “Jurassic World” didn’t crush the box office last year for no reason!

I have rediscovered this love through my part-time job at the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. It was like reuniting with a long-lost friend. Since then, I have been rejuvenated through feeding my desire to learn about dinosaurs, the “terrible lizards.”

What I find most striking is that this desire to learn about them doesn’t feel forced. Instead, it feels organic—a “natural wellness,” if you will. For this reason, I feel it is imperative to narrate my journey to discovering this natural wellness and help guide you towards finding it for yourself.

As a kid growing up in Pittsburgh, my parents had a membership to the Pittsburgh Zoo and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. My parents were very busy back then. My mom had a job that had long hours and my dad was in dental school with two part-time jobs. Each weekend, though, my parents tried to take my sister and me to one of these two institutions. This was the golden age of my passion for the natural world. I frequently told my parents that I wanted to be either a vet or a paleontologist.

When we moved away from Pittsburgh, my primary outlet for feeding my dinosaur fascination was gone. Instead, I had to turn to books, shows on Discovery Channel and the internet. That became increasingly difficult as I progressed into middle school and later high school. Studying, sports practice, boy scouts and spending time with friends and family all cut into the time I could have otherwise spent learning about dinosaurs.

Once I got to college, I found myself in a fantastic biology program. I had entered undergrad with a strong desire to attend dental school. I was surrounded by amazing faculty who encouraged me to pursue this, but they made it very clear it was not enough. They were eager to help me pursue a career in dentistry. But they were also adamant that I study other fields of biology in order to graduate. For this reason, I took courses in botany, ecology, herpetology (reptile and amphibian study), evolution and comparative vertebrate morphology.

These courses gradually pushed me toward rekindling my passion for the natural world, but I started to feel an internal conflict. My father was a dentist. I knew that was what I wanted to do for a career as well. Where then did dinos and the natural world fit in? One of the most influential professors in the department was a physiologist by trade and an avid (and published) ornithologist after hours. He counseled me to pursue both. “If all you do with your life is dentistry,” he said, “you’ll surely go mad.” How right he was.

By the end of the first year of dental school, I very much felt like a candle burning at both ends. I loved dentistry, but I didn’t know how I could make it through another three years. An answer presented itself when I realized that I hadn’t saved up enough money for my honeymoon. I desperately needed a job, but I was already so busy with school. I told myself I would only apply at places I would enjoy working. Luckily, a job opportunity down the street at my old stomping grounds, the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, opened the doors of the natural world to me once again. I leaped at the opportunity.

I constantly get asked, “How can you handle a job and school?” The answer is I don’t look at my museum position as a job. Instead I look at it as an escape—a portal away from the world of dentistry. On Thursday nights during my D2 year, I would always have three hours guaranteed where I didn’t have to think about FPD at all. Instead I thought about dinosaurs and got to work with energetic children in a different environment. For this reason, I started a program at our ASDA chapter called the Natural Wellness Series. At each event, I offer a free, guided tour to dental students through several sections of the museum, including some behind-the-scenes fun. We concluded Part I of our series a few weeks ago, and it appeared as if everyone thoroughly enjoyed this chance to find their natural wellness away from dentistry.

Maybe dinosaurs don’t do it for you and you think I’m some sort of nature nut. I believe natural wellness can go far beyond dinosaurs. Your natural wellness might be escaping on a kayak up the Allegheny River, diving headlong into a novel about an enchanted land long ago or using a palette of oils to paint your soul onto a canvas. Whatever it is, it should feel so organic, so raw and pure that your heart instantly longs for it once you stop. Whatever it may be, find it and never let go.

~ Fritz Dawson, Pittsburgh ’17

Fritz Dawson

Fritz is a D4 at the University of Pittsburgh School of Dental Medicine. He attended undergrad at the Virginia Military Institute and is attending dental school on an Army scholarship. He is the immediate-past president at Pitt's ASDA Chapter and is currently the Social Media Chair for the District 3 Cabinet. Fritz loves all things related to natural history and Pittsburgh sports.

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