As a pre-med, I was similar to most others in the sense that the holy grail was getting into medical school. Once I did that, the clouds would part, everything would be clear and life’s problems would be solved. Needless to say, medical school was a rude awakening to all that. Through the craziness and disappointments, you learn some things along the way that you wish you knew earlier and things that apply to life outside of school as well. Here are some:
1) Your Life Does Not Pause For You
As pre-med and medical students, it’s natural that career and the things that go with it take up a lot of our time and mental energy. In pre-med, I had tunnel vision towards med school and nothing mattered which didn’t relate to getting me there. This focus was nice because it allowed me to avoid distractions and got me in to medical school on my first time applying so I can’t say I entirely regret it. With that said, one of my biggest regrets in life is not enjoying college more. Even if I had completed my work, I would force myself to do something productive instead of just having fun and enjoying the process. I wouldn’t allow myself to be happy because “I hadn’t made it yet”. One thing you learn once you get in is that you will never feel like “you made it”. This is a long process and there is always more to do. It sounds cliché but you have to find a way to “enjoy the process” otherwise life will pass you by without you ever being happy. Medical school and being a doctor is just one part of your life. Relationships, hobbies, experiences; none of that pauses for you. None of those other facets will move forward unless you take time and energy for them. Allow yourself to have fun and make memories. You only get one life and medicine simply isn’t worth sacrificing everything for (specially when it’s not even necessary).
2) No One Knows What The F*** They’re Doing
When I was a teenager, I used to believe that people in their 20s and 30s had it all figured out. They were “adults”, they were the people that had all the answers for everything. Now in my 20s, I see that as laughable. The reality is that we are all trying to figure it out one step at a time and roll with the punches. Event the most put-together people you meet have this existential dread and anxiety about what they are doing. Feeling like you don’t know anything, medicine or not, is completely normal too. You go from extreme structure from 0-18 years old (even up to 26 for med students) but life is not structure. It is a bunch of randomness and potential and you are tasked with the role of filtering out what is important and what’s not. You. You with all your imperfections and past mistakes are expected to make sense of all this and figure it out. The only thing to do is take action in the direction of what you think you want and reflect on what is working and what isn’t. Adjust and keep it moving, there will be times where you feel more stable, and a lot more where you don’t; it’s normal.
3) You Will Always Wonder “What If”
When you are in the thick of a tough block or studying some irrelevant details for an upcoming exam, you will wonder if the grass is greener on the other side. What if I just became an engineer or a computer science guy? Kept a normal job out of college and just invested properly. Could’ve been buying a house right now like the rest of my friends. Starting a family, travelling. I’m gonna have to work like 80hrs a week for residency, what if I put that time into making an app or starting a business. The reality is that life is full of infinite potential things that you “could” do. There is not guarantee that you will succeed at any of them or that you’d even be good at them. No matter what you do, there are parts of it you will like and parts you won’t. With social media and constant comparison, you will always feel like the grass is greener on the other side and that other people’s lives are better than yours. I haven’t quite figured out how to tackle this one fully. I just leave it to trying my hardest in my current pursuit and trust in god or the universe that I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be.
4) No One Is Coming To Save You
We all have things in our lives that happen which we feel are unfair and that we have been victimized. And although that may be true, the fact of the matter is that no one cares. That’s not to say there isn’t help available; therapists, psychologists etc and you should certainly take that help if you need it. The point is though no one will hold your hand and take you to what you need to do. Everybody has different advantages and disadvantages, problems and lucky draws but at the end of the day if all goes well, you have 80-100 years on this planet. The first 18 or so are largely out of your control. The last 20 or so, you won’t have the same energy and ability. So that leaves around 60 solid, productive years. What you do with that will be a result of your own decisions and actions. Everyone has their own problems and are their own priority. Protect your time and energy and do whatever you need to do to heal yourself and push towards whatever a happy life looks like for you. STOP wasting time and energy waiting for some hero to show up and give you a hand.
5) They Were Right
Growing up we all have those “old people” talking in our ear. Telling us things like “time goes fast”, “enjoy the journey”, “money isn’t everything”, “be grateful”. And we all brush it off like “ugh, old people don’t know me”. That is until you see yourself become “old people”. You begin to realize that everything they said is true. It’s almost like they’d done it before. You realize that the best memories are just the simple things. Snowball fights, hanging by the bonfire, live music, a laugh from the soul. These are the real memories and experiences where fulfilment comes from. Money can’t buy them, status and prestige can’t make up for a lack of them. Stay competitive, stay hardworking but make sure you are enjoying the simple things and having experiences in your life. Ultimately, you’ll look back at the memories and photos, not your bank account balance or your MCAT score. Give those old chaps a listen, they might be onto something.