Trying to change your mind when you’re already flying through the free fall

It’s always tough to write about your current head space without sounding cheesy when you feel like you’re going through these massive life changes. But that’s what it is. Massive life decisions (can we acronym that?) that will dictate what I will do everyday for the next 60-some years. MLDs that required me to rank a select range of where I will be spending at least the next 5 years, the city in which I’ll be commuting and travelling to and from, probably the city in which I’ll get married and start a family (hopefully), the city in which I’ll attend festivals and try every cuisine and spend lovely summers in and probably resent the winters. And if things go according to plan, MLDs of who I can or can’t see myself spending those 5 years with, and many years after that. Or not–maybe this will all fall apart as soon as I find out my match and the location isn’t where we expected, and the storybook romance ends that abruptly. How do you not get cheesy while reflecting on all this?

I guess I’m also having unpleasant day to day experiences questioning if I truly want this, why I wanted this so bad, and then reminders to humbly and graciously accept the incredible opportunity I’ve been granted. Failing my first exam ever, though it certainly happens a lot in med school, can’t quite happen without making me wonder if I’m truly cut out for this. Listening to the lamenting of close friends, namely IMGs, who may never end up getting a residency and face the reality that their dream will go unfulfilled, reminds me to shut up with my complaining and remember how good I have it. But then consoling those friends and reminding them that life outside medicine still exists, that other career options exist that won’t involve sacrificing the next 7 years but could rather provide a stable 9-5 life with legally mandated lunches and bathroom breaks and the ability to come home and still have kids and a wonderful life–kinda makes me wonder if I’m subconsciously playing out my fantasy life in my consolation of someone else.

I personally think it’s good to question everything. Question everyday if this is what you truly wanted. I know there are people who don’t, my own friends and classmates who make me feel guilty because they have wanted medicine for so long that they don’t even blink at the thought of a gruelling 5 year residency working til 7pm everyday, people who make me wonder if they are as addicted to work and the glamourization of doctors’ lives, as much as they are in love with the career itself. Those people self-admittedly have nothing going for them in their life outside either. I worked with an anesthetist who described a literal inability to relax at home anymore, having picked up so many extra shifts in his short career already that nothing at home entertains him or brings him pleasure. Not his wife, not his kids. He can’t sit in front of the tv without thinking that his time would be better spent making dough.

Meanwhile the main questions I asked at all my residency interviews were about work-life balance, mat leave, home call, salary stipends, etc. I don’t know if that really means I shouldn’t be in this profession, or that I’m just realistic about it. Maybe I’m the rational one in this romantic relationship that every med student develops with this profession. Maybe I’m the one stepping back and saying, “Hey will this really work out for the next 5-6 decades? Can we really grow old together? Can I see myself in this relationship everyday despite the sacrifice and compromise it will require?” And maybe my classmates are the ones who have been swept off their feet from day one, will throw themselves headfirst passionately into the throes of the profession, but like so many marriages and divorces in the 21st century, will be burnt out within a few years. And maybe they’ll have to call it quits then, or maybe like all other relationships they’ll reassess and decide what they can compromise and what they can’t. Maybe they’ll switch to a shorter residency program or maybe they’ll go into administrative work. Maybe I’ll still be in love with the job but from a distance, live my cautious balanced life, and then I’ll go home to my actual love and go to museums or art galleries and go out for dinner and then go see a movie before doing it all the next day.

In all honesty, I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong in this scenario. I’m learning a lot about myself and some important life lessons from someone who’s keeping me at a distance, keeping me from jumping headfirst and only from the other end of it can I appreciate how mature and balanced his approach is. I have friends who are actually considering throwing their lives away for the pursuit of this job by ending a serious relationship for it, and on the other hand there’s me. I don’t think we’ll know the answer til it’s all said and done and we’re in practice for several years and juggling a million things outside of work. But I’ve been all about that balance since day one, and here’s hoping it’s the right answer.

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