I have spent the greater portion of my 20s enduring a premature quarter-life crisis. Patterns of self-doubt and debilitating anxiety became my new normal.
I was rejected from medical school — again.
After taking time to process the reality that I would have to wait another year to re-apply, I fervently journeyed through a messy jungle of introspection that led me to these six lessons. Although I learned more than I could fit into this article, my hope for you, the reader, is that you recognize that you are not alone.
1. You are not unique. For many of us, this is all we’ve ever wanted. We have pulled all-nighters, dreaming about the day when we’ll receive our white coat. We have felt the weight of this illusion that it is possible to be everything to everyone, feeling substantial guilt that is a consequence of our limitations. We have annotated our application and questioned why we weren’t accepted. You are not unique in feeling as though the world will end if you don’t score within the 90th percentile on the MCAT. You are also not unique in wanting to have a fulfilling life, one that is filled with success and love. These waves of emotions are valid. I spent far too long actively choosing to dismiss any emotion I felt towards the application cycle. What I discovered though is that allowing yourself to feel is the only way you can move forward. During these moments, it is imperative to remember that what we are willing to struggle for is typically the greatest determinant of how our lives will unfold.
2. Wasted time is an illusion. Being rejected from medical school catalyzed a series of thoughts that made me question whether or not I had used my time wisely. Why had I invested so much time into trying to make this dream of mine come true when there was no guarantee that I would be accepted? What I realized is that life is made out of a series of tries that not only lead us to the next stone in our path but also teach us a valuable lesson. The process of trying transforms you. I stumbled through the application process and came out the other end as a resilient human being who found strength in her struggles and is determined, more than ever, to try and then try again. That doesn’t sound like wasted time to me.
3. Fear is something to be thankful for. Be fearless in the pursuit of what sets your soul on fire, they say. We live in a society that has unrealistic expectations of who we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to navigate through life and being fearless is one of them. The absence of fear, an innate defense mechanism, should be a terrifying thought. Instead, I found the courage to be cognizant of the fear and allow myself to accept its presence rather than deplete my resources in an attempt to evade it. I now use it as a stimulus to take that first step, to be disciplined and to show up, finding that the fear calms down with each step that I take. We are all equally terrified, whether everyone admits to it or not is not something that I can guarantee, but there’s a shared humanity in the experience of recognizing that once again, you are not alone.
4. Suffering is an inescapable part of the human experience. In medicine, we have mastered the art of delayed gratification. On countless occasions, I have caught myself thinking, “I’ll be happy once I am accepted into medical school.” We tenaciously immerse ourselves in the suffering, having a tendency to forget that that is not the whole story. By making this suffering the focal point of our lives, we are doing a disservice to the human experience — one that is also filled with beauty that we sense through resilience, love, family, and friendship. Our job is to search for the beauty that is woven into that stubborn suffering.
5. You are not too old. Last November, I had another episode in this series of episodes that I classify as my premature quarter-life crisis. Another year had passed, and I began to obsess over my medical school rejection slips. I began to tell myself this story about how far behind I am, reflecting on how different my path to medicine has been in comparison to peers. I made an appointment to see my physician because I needed someone to change the story for me. My doctor walked in as tears submissively streamed down my face. I felt embarrassed as I expressed my concerns, but together we put everything into perspective. That day, I learned that you are never too old to pursue a career that you feel will be fulfilling and completely change the course of your life in a positive manner. You are being unkind to yourself and downplaying your journey when you punish yourself for deviating from the norm. So repeat after me, “I am not too old.”
6. Gratitude is the best medicine. What initially drew me to medicine, aside from a fascination with the human body and an eagerness to help others, was the actuality that medicine is dynamic. It’s a career that is incessantly evolving, molding into a sculpture that attempts to serve the human race and advocate for intellectual curiosity. Along the way, countless scientists and clinical physicians have transformed the direction that medicine has taken. Some of these mutations have been beneficial, while others are perceived as setbacks. When I draw parallels to my own story, one that is overflowing with detours, it forces me to reflect on all of the victories and perceived defeats I have experienced. I am undeniably grateful for each rejection slip that has been handed to me, lending opportunities for introspection. On this journey of appreciation, it’s vital to remember that you are also a human being who may have experienced deep loss, battled personal health ailments, traveled the world, felt immense joy. You have perspective and that in itself is something to be grateful for.
I have combed through multiple articles, not dissimilar from the one you just read, searching for an answer, trying to determine whether or not I should try one more time. My last piece of unsolicited advice is to stop combing. I have had the privilege of working alongside some of the most remarkable physicians. I have not once stopped to think about what their science GPA was, nor did I think about their MCAT score. What I did think about is how resilient they are. How despite whatever speed bumps they have ungracefully rolled over in both their personal and professional lives, they continue to show up and courageously look forward to a new day. These physicians that I admire have failed. Chances are, if you are a human being, you have also failed at least once or twice. But let this be a gentle reminder that you have also failed to give up and that is more powerful than any rejection letter ever will be. This I know for sure.
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