Fate or Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

In 1986, when I was ten years old, I had a Saturday job washing the dishes at a small coffee shop located in my beautiful hometown of Melrose, in the Scottish Borders. Even though the work was monotonous, essentially tying me to a kitchen sink for 8 hours each week when all my friends were out playing, I loved it. From an even younger age, I had been desperate to have a Saturday job, appreciating that work was essential to a purposeful life.

But at age ten, I had no idea what a purposeful life really meant. As I stood, washing, drying and putting away the crockery and cutlery in an endless loop (it was a hugely popular coffee shop, which for me meant there was rarely a moment in the day when I didn’t have a stack of dishes to deal with), I would hear the older girls and women talk about their lives – the who, the what, the how and the why. I loved to listen, imagining how my life might unfold in relation to theirs.

One summer’s day, a knock came at the backdoor. People visiting via the back of the coffee shop was common, as friends and relatives would often pop by to chat with the team, and I grew accustomed to the steady flow of visitors. However, as the door opened, I saw an unfamiliar face. Standing in the hall vestibule area was an older woman wearing a brightly coloured headscarf, big golden hoop earrings, and a floral floor-length skirt. In her hand, she held a basket filled with linen items. I looked at my boss for some assurance that the visitor was a friend; she smiled and said the lady was the fortune teller who came to the coffee shop each year when she was in the area for the St Boswells summer fair.

One by one, the older girls and women left the coffee shop by the backdoor, standing in the courtyard outside as the fortune teller looked intently at the palms of their right hand, tracing the lines with her finger, pausing now and then to look at those who were attentively listening to each word she said.

As she finished her rounds, my boss looked at me, clearly noticing my awe of the process. The excitement of everyone fuelled my intrigue as they bounced back to work after their session, giggling at their interpretation of what she said, picking the best-case scenario to give meaning to their hopes and dreams.

My boss asked if I’d like my palm read, too.

“YES!” I could hardly contain my excitement at the prospect of hearing what could come.

“How old is she?” asked the Fortune Teller

“Ten.” said my boss.

“Too young.” said the fortune teller. “I will sell you a good luck charm for her instead.”

“That’s a pity, perhaps next year.” said my boss.

My disappointment was almost tangible to everyone. I again dropped my gaze to the full sink as the backdoor closed. Next year is an awfully long time to wait when you’re ten.

Then, less than five minutes later, a knock at the door. “Okay, I will read for her…send her out.”

I looked at my boss; she shrugged her shoulders, smiled and nodded towards the door, indicating for me to go out to the courtyard.

I was nervous. What was the fortune teller going to say? What would it mean?

She took my prune-textured right hand in hers and traced my lines with her finger.

As I write this blog, I am 47 years old, so I’m not able to recall the exact conversation, but here’s what I do remember…

“You will live a long life, 103 years,” she said.

“You will marry a man who is tall, dark and handsome, and he will be just less than one year older than you.”

“You will have two children, a girl and a boy. One will be like looking in the mirror, and one will like animals.”

“You will become a doctor, but not of medicine.”

For the first one, I’ve still got a fair bit of time before I can say if she was correct.

She was spot on with the second and third (well, I think he’s handsome, anyway).

But here it is, the reason I am telling you this story. I acknowledge that what was said to me that day in 1986 was so general and generic that it could have been foretold to anyone (and most likely was), but the last part? At that age, I didn’t even know there was such a thing as a doctor who wasn’t a ‘doctor of medicine’.

As time went on, I learned about a PhD, and I remembered her words – so this was a “doctor but not of medicine”. The Fortune Teller’s foretelling had stayed with me, but surely this wasn’t part of my future, my purposeful life.

School, for me, was a standard affair in terms of my academic career. I attended two primary schools, moving from Jedburgh to Melrose in primary five. I was assessed for learning support in both (for English, which I find ironic as I am now writing this blog), but teachers in each school decided against it. At High School, ‘average’ was my safe space. Unlike some students, I wasn’t academic, arty, musical or sporty – I just got by.

In the early 90s, going to university seemed to become more accessible for middle-of-the-road performers, so off I went, again never achieving more than average during my time there.

But at some point, something in me changed; I discovered that I enjoyed the process of learning, even if I didn’t excel in my ability to demonstrate what I’d learned (which is essentially what exams aim to do), and I had the desire to continue on this path – it gave me a real sense of purpose.

As an unexpected turn of events, my academic career continued. I completed a Professional Postgraduate Diploma when I was pregnant with my second child; then, in the second year of running my own business, I completed a Master’s in Business Administration (upped the game here, achieving a distinction) and for a while, I thought I was done.  But no, there was something else, something more, something that would mean I could become a doctor, but not of medicine!

So, this is the first blog from me as I spend the next few years as a doctoral programme candidate, having recently embarked on a part-time PhD programme and, if I am successful in my endeavour, be it fate or a self-fulfilling prophecy, I will become a doctor, but not of medicine.

Is it possible she knew?

And my song of choice for this one? Doctor Pressure by Mylo Vs. Miami Sound Machine

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