Optimists think that things will get better. As a realist with mood swings, I usually think that things will get worse, and yet that things have gotten better over the years.
Although these two outlooks sound positively oxymoronic, I don’t find them to conflict at all. For example, I think that my life will only get more stressful come second year with the boards, third year on the wards, and then residency. However, looking in the past, I think that I have becoming a resoundingly more efficient person with the fortitude to handle increasingly difficult obstacles without collapsing into a big ball of stress.
On one hand, it will sound to many like I have a terrible case of selective memory (specifically a “fading affect bias“), remembering only the better parts of the past that I’ve forced into some bildungsroman of my personal character. Yet I can specifically pinpoint some events/obstacles that have really shaped my personality:
1. Directing a college prep program in sophomore year of college (i.e. college students tutoring high schoolers)
Even now, I think that this was one of the most stressful things I had ever done simply because I allowed it to get me so worked up. In my first semester directing, I was a pitiful ball of anxiety – I would feel my heart sink into my bowels every Tuesday and Thursday as I checked my email to discover yet another last minute teacher absence, or another student who was emailing to quit, or another problem with the ongoing construction on our rundown location in an inner city community center that would leave us without classrooms. The program was dirt broke and every week I wondered what kind of snack food I could get for 60 high school seniors for less than $10 from the nearby drugstore (the answer was never anything healthy).
But eventually, I learned to steel myself to the disappointments and start to understand that I couldn’t be expected to control or predict everything. It was not that my perfectionist tendencies were dulled, but more that I stopped scoring every little thing that happened as a “negative.” It became easier for me to look at the bigger picture and still feel positively about the work we were doing .
2. Studying for the MCAT
This experience was important for me because I have a love hate relationship with standardized testing that involves my father. When I was in high school, I did well on the SAT through self-studying but my dad always maintained that I’d done well because he’d been behind me every step of the way (borrowing books from the library, nagging me to do an hour of questions/studying every day, etc.). My dad admitted after I had taken the MCAT that he thought that I might do poorly because god knows how much studying I’d gotten done in a summer with C. Honestly, studying was awful especially because C and I tried to do it during a particularly beautiful summer. We would take Sundays off to ride bikes along the river or go to museums. Despite my dad’s doubts, I was so proud to see that I’d done really well! It made me so relieved because we all know that a career in medicine is filled with life-long personally motivated learning, not to mention a host of standardized tests.
3. Being a long distance away from C
If anyone asked me my greatest weakness, right there behind my impatience and bluntness is the feeling I used to have that it would absolutely kill me to be lonely. As the only child in my family, you’d think that this would mean that I am more independent (read: better able at making imaginary friends and playing alone), but that’s not the way it turned out for me because I became very close with my parents since my tweens. My mother would get calls from other moms asking what was happening at school for us, because no one else would tell their parents, especially not with the detail and volume that I would share every night at the dinner table. When I went to college, the freshman culture of my undergrad was a bit terrifying to me. Everyone networked so intensely that after a few weeks, I felt like I was the only one who didn’t know everyone. Or at least, know enough people and be outgoing enough to just stroll into our cafeteria and find a friend to eat with. Nobody ate alone as freshmen and so come every meal I would have extreme anxiety about finding some friends to dine with. This complex of fearing loneliness has sort of been exacerbated by the fact that I have not been single for a substantial period of time since I started dating, and so in college, the idea of spending a whole day alone was very troubling for me. But luckily I found C.
Now that we are apart, it is entirely unlike the loneliness I had come to fear. I just spent the whole day today with almost no contact with others (eating, studying, doing laundry, cleaning my room), and I spend most days during the week after class and outside of extracurriculars in this manner. The same is probably true for most of my classmates, and yet I am still surprised that I can find this normal and not a even a little bit scary. That makes me feel like I’m really growing up.
And that is how a pessimist like me can still think that the best year is the always the one I’m living.