Fear of missing out, or as the kids call it, “FOMO” is a very prevalent problem in medical school and society in general. Now more than ever, everybody’s life highlight reel is shoved in your face 24/7. Whether it’s Instagram or Facebook, you always see friends you grew up with, relatives, classmates and (seemingly) just about everyone in the world living a better life than you are. They are buying their first homes, getting married, having kids and here you are, tapping the space bar on your MacBook trying to get through endless amounts of Anki cards.
As everybody is becoming more and more competent at their job, you don’t even have one. The more you learn, you realize how little you actually know. When you’re in the thick of it, you realize how long this journey truly is. How endless it really is. There is no “arrival” point. You just keep learning, adjusting and somehow become a competent physician through it. You hear about kids on YouTube making millions of dollars playing video games and reviewing toys. You look at your loan balance and tell yourself it’s not all about the money but I mean come on.
It’s the worst when you’re learning things you don’t even care about. You won’t resonate with all blocks in medical school so when you’re clawing through path or embryology, Instagram really seems to rub it in. You start to think about how they always said to “Follow your dreams. Follow your passions.” Is this even my passion? Is this really my dream? Am I just doing this cause it’s the safe thing to do? If I’m working so hard at things I don’t even like, what if I put in this work for a business or passion project? Am I going down the wrong path? Is this what I was meant to do with my life? Am I just gonna spend the rest of my life feeling like a dumbass and continuing to cram information into my brain?
What makes things 10x more difficult is the fact that you can’t really share these feelings with anyone. You’re in an environment where perfection is the expectation. Any doubt or second guesses are seen as weakness. You are used to being the “get-shit done”, high-achieving person that isn’t phased by anything. This is the exact issue we need to fix. Even medical students on social media show their life as a perfectly well put together puzzle. The coffee cups and stethoscopes on their desks, fitted scrubs and smiles. It can make you feel isolated in having FOMO and doubt. It’s completely normal to have these feelings so lets move on to dealing with them.
1) Understand that this is normal.
-Instead of looking within and asking ourselves how far we’ve come in regards to our goals, we look to the external world for validation. We see how people are reacting to us and how we’re measuring up against the image we have for our ideal life as well as lives others are living. This comparison is normal but it gets out of hand when what you’re comparing to is unrealistic and unattainable. Nobody is smiling and laughing 24/7 and chilling on their yacht with no worries in the world. Everyone has insecurities and problems they are dealing with, which don’t make the social media highlight reel. The feelings you have arise from a dissonance between where you are and the ideal version of where you want to be. Everybody has these feelings and we need to normalize them in medical culture. Talk to your friends about them, mental health programs at your school, or reach out to us and vent if you need. You are not alone, and you shouldn’t feel that you are.
2) The grass in not always greener.
-When you only see the highlights of other people’s lives and none of the downsides, its easy to think they got it right and you didn’t. Of course there are unfair advantages/disadvantages certain people may have but that aside, we’re all more similar than we are different. It’s just that we don’t like to share our downsides and only show the world what they’d “want” to see. That Instagram model isn’t talking about her mental health issues in the caption of her latest booty pic. The millionaire CEO isn’t chatting about his failing marriage. Life is hard. High-paying, well respected careers are hard. People use social media and showing off as an escape, no one wants to show their struggles and hardships. It just doesn’t sell as well.
-Why are you truly doing medicine? If there was no external validation, if there was no powerful title behind it. For some people the answer is that it’s a good, stable job and that’s fine. If you too were taking trips and married with a house and kids, would you like going to work and being a physician? You need to remember why you are here and what your goals are. What are you working towards? What are you making these sacrifices for? That reason needs to be strong enough to keep you going. If you have lost your passion for medicine, or feel that you made the wrong choice, there are still options. If you decide that medicine is indeed for you and it is worth the sacrifices, then move on.
4) Smell The Roses
-In all honesty, there is plenty of time to enjoy yourself in medical school. If you manage your time well and study efficiently there is no reason you cannot have a memorable, fun time at least the first two years and fourth. What would you honestly be doing if you weren’t studying? Would you really be traveling all the time and having instant gratification fun 24/7? Probably not. You’d eventually get bored and lose your mind. So work hard, work smart and then use the rest of your time to enjoy yourself as much as possible. Try and say yes to all social events, go to concerts, laugh, take pictures and remember that these are the days you’ll look back at some day. Take every chance you get to make time for the things you feel like you’re missing out on.
Once again, please don’t feel like you are alone in thinking this way. It does not make you a weaker student or doctor. Just makes you a normal person. As always feel free to reach out and share your thoughts.