In a Caribbean household, you are always expected to, for lack of a better phrase, “do the most”. You have to know how to cook a full five-course meal AND clean up all on your own from age five. You are expected to make straight A’s every quarter (and you better not try to convince my dad that an A minus is not a B), you must be involved in every available extracurricular activity, and go to every church service during the week all while trying to grow up (which is already a lot in it self). But somehow, growing up under this pressure, I began taking pride in being so well rounded, and able to handle multiple tasks and activities K-12, and even as a pre-med during undergrad.
I wanted to be that person who could do it all, and believe me, I tried. In undergrad I was part of the dance team, sang in a choir, was involved in church, reigned a campus queen, went on mission trips, was part of an honor society… you get the point. But in the midst of me continuously piling on activities and accomplishments, I never learned how to survive the pressure put on me by myself and others when I literally couldn’t handle it all. I never knew how to take a break, or even take a nap, when I felt a little overwhelmed. I always thought that powering through all of the assignments and making every engagement, and never saying “no I can’t make it” or “I have to leave early” proved that I was built enough to handle being a doctor. I never considered the pressure I felt as unhealthy and excused it all by saying that I was “type A”.
So I started medical school a little over two months ago with that same mindset. I was going to start my doctoral program on the complete opposite side of the country with a set window of two weeks to get used to my new environment, plow through the lectures week by week with no problems, master my study skills, make straight A’s, increase my study time three-fold, enhance my exercise routine, manage my own apartment and finances for the first time, volunteer as a mentor, start a YouTube channel, and start this blog all in the first month. Even as I’m writing this I’m laughing at myself for thinking I could actually be able to juggle all of those things and be in my right mind.
The secret ingredient I was missing was grace. I wasn’t giving it to myself. I was missing the basic but key understanding that it was okay to not be involved with X, Y, and Z; and that naps okay, and having fun or taking breaks for a bit doesn’t mean that I am wasting time.
When you make it past undergrad, the knowledge and wisdom you gain become your life’s work, and that is enough. Before med school, I had to prove and state, over and over again, why I should be here. But once I arrived at the place I’ve worked so hard to get to, I have learned to accept that it is enough to just be—minus all of the pressure to be involved and pressed to your limit with extracurriculars—which in itself is an accomplishment.
Physician burnout is real. Student physician burnout is real. I’ll just go ahead and validate the fact that pre-med burnout is real too. At each level, it’s less about quantity and more about quality. Understanding this as it relates to how you prepare for your career matters more and more as you get closer to reaching your goals.
So if no one comes outright to say this to you, let me say that you DON’T have to take on four new activities just to make your resume look good. You DON’T have to do research EVERY summer to get a spot in med school. You DON’T have to keep putting so much pressure on yourself if you’re already doing the best you can. Because when it comes down to the interview at your top choice for [insert type of professional school], ad comms don’t care about what you’ve done, but they want to know who you are. If all they see is a person who only took time to build their resume and neglected their passions and their own humanity, you can expect them to see right through you and send that rejection letter with a swiftness.
On the other hand, pressure from professional school is inevitable. You’re going to be faced with many things you can’t postpone or take a break from. Your brain is going to be stretched to its limit. You will have less time to spend time with friends, less time to go out to have fun, and less time for self-care, but you will still need those things in small doses to stay sane. It’s going to be hard to handle everything more times than not.
Above all else, the key is to focus more on the core of your goals and less on the trials, lessons, and obstacles you will have to overcome to achieve them. Yes, balance should be a goal, but there will always be things that you WILL drop the ball on, and that’s okay. To that I say, “the ball is rubber”. At this point it’s my motto, and I wish I coined it first. I saw this post on Twitter a while back and it encapsulates the point I’m trying to get across. So if you don’t get ANYTHING from this entry, I hope this post I found will encourage you.
credit: @ItsBreDanielle (Twitter)
So yes, I am still trying to do many of those things I set out to do during my first month, but I do my best, and I refuse to put pressure on myself for not doing more than that. In this season, less is more. No, I’m not going to settle for being mediocre, and I will be involved in some clubs (because I can’t help it) BUT what I’m not gunna do is run myself into the ground for any man but God (and I know He would never ask that of me). But seriously, no one wants a tired, burnt out doctor operating on them or giving them medical advice, so, I’m going to give myself grace from now. You should too.
Jack of all trades and master of none.
Ja’Neil Humphrey is a first year medical student at Loma Linda University School of Medicine, and is the Blog Content Director for Greater Influence. You can connect with her on Instagram @_jgmh