There are things you wish you could go back and tell your 18 year-old self.
When I left home for college at 18 I proudly told my parents, I will never live heeeerrre again. I was so ready to be independent and live according to my own terms. However in hindsight, sheltered from the ‘real world,’ college only provided a false sense of independence. No, I don’t regret any of my experiences in college. On the contrary, I believe they molded me into the person I am today. Each experience played a vital role or taught me a valuable lesson. Drink too much, don’t do that again (well…that one took me several times to learn). Freeze your butt off at a football game, learn to layer next time. Pull an all nighter for a paper, maybe not the best idea. You get the point.
No, the advice I would give my 18 year old self: be more forgiving and patient, more humble, and less prideful.
It’s easy as you enter college to be enthusiastic and prideful, ready to take on the world. You can only see your future successes and never imagine your future struggles. That is one of the beautiful things about being a teen. I wouldn’t have considered myself that full of pride or cocky at the time. I was simply confident in my academic abilities and naive to many of the problems in the ‘real world.’
ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR LIMITS
We live in a world of “I’m fine” and “No, I got it” when others ask how we are of if we need help. When will we acknowledge that we are a society, a community, and not just a group of individuals that happen to be coexisting? We are so concerned with not burdening others, often those that care about us, with our problems. This is actually the main reason that I did not quit my job sooner than I did. I wrestled with my decision for months because of the consequences I knew it would have on the people around me, namely my co-workers. The human mind also likes to play tricks on us, employing tactics such as denial or suppressing feelings as methods of self preservation and soldiering on.
“We generally change ourselves for one of two reasons: inspiration or desperation.”
I would love to say I was the former, but unfortunately I became the latter. When you are driving home from work crying everyday for weeks because you feel desperate and trapped in the life you’ve created for yourself, its time to get out. In ‘acknowledging my limits’ here, I will honestly admit I’ve been depressed in my life, and I absolutely was depressed throughout parts of medical school and residency. Depression is extremely common in the medical field and something that I will discuss more extensively in future blog posts. Another reason that I delayed leaving my position for many months, after I suspected that residency and a career as a physician was not for me, was to allow myself appropriate time to reflect and be in a better ‘headspace.’
Honestly, IT SUCKS to be this honest with yourself and reflect on areas in which you are failing and address your feelings head-on. This is particularly true if you are a perfectionist and your coping mechanism has been to somehow justify or paint a better picture of reality to yourself. I’m not sleeping 8 hours. “Well you’ve always been a night owl and you didn’t sleep that much in college and survived just fine” (hmm define fine). You didn’t do that well on this task/test/etc. “But everyone’s told you how smart you are, this must not be an accurate reflection. Maybe true…but maybe you also didn’t prepare or study adequately.
The process of leaving was definitely painful. Medicine is not a career that you decide on a whim to take up, and therefore people take it very seriously when you decide to leave. You have committed a serious amount of time, debt, brain power, and tears to the field, so leaving is not an easy decision. I tried to be as objective and reasonable as possible while leaving, although every fiber of my being just wanted to jump in my car, cry, and drive away.
When I hit the peak of emotional exhaustion and depression, I sought the advice of a counselor who helped me through the process. I spoke with mentors, my boss, colleagues, family, and friends both in and outside the field. The general consensus was that I should “stick it out” and complete residency in order to give myself more ‘options.’ Everyone wanted the best for me of course, but I’m not sure that I truly expressed to anyone how miserable I felt and how determined I was to quit. I determined basically for my current and future mental well being more than anything else, that I had to leave and that was a valid enough justification for me.
Moving back to my parents house after quitting my job was the most dreaded outcome I could think of. It signified failure to me, a lack of independence, and everything I had worked toward for the past 9 years. I couldn’t help but feel ashamed of the point I was at. I had always prided myself on being self-sufficient. Not only did I fear a loss of independence, but I knew I would experience some emotional distress and physical discomfort living in my parents’ house. I predicted that I could last about 4-6 weeks and I lasted 20, much to my surprise. There were definitely moments that I needed to leave and I did take several “trips” during this several month period to escape.
I love my family; I want to make that perfectly clear. My family was very close-knit growing up with very few personal boundaries, lots of joking, and many family bonding activities (family walks, bike rides, dinners, etc). Therefore, I don’t want to vilify them in any way. Now this may be me psychoanalyzing myself, but perhaps I am conflicted between this intense family closeness and my innate characteristic of being an introvert and seeking boundaries and personal space.
REFLECT AND GROW
Like many millennials out there, I moved home for a short period because I was unemployed, to save money on rent. Initially I planned to make a quick pit-stop and then move out on my own in Austin. The longer it took me to find a job, the more entrenched in my parents house I became, and the harder to dig out so to speak.
My parents would likely hate to read that living at home depresses me, but I have consistently found it to be true. After home for a week, I get into a weird funk and become a version of myself that I despise. For years this is the reason that I often stayed away, more content creating a home for myself in other cities. I love visiting my family, but a longer stay always erodes my sense of self and independence.
Ultimately, moving home was a lesson in humility for this once prideful millennial. There is nothing wrong with being proud of your accomplishments. However, there is value in being humble and graceful in admitting defeat and asking for help when needed. Particularly in today’s society, where social media paints everyone’s lives to be picture perfect, I find it refreshing to be honest about personal shortcomings and use them as examples to help others grow. I can’t go back and speak to my 18 year old self, but someone else may appreciate this honesty and insight.