Well, I had a pretty big goal: get into medical school by a certain age. Check. My birthday isn’t today, it’s actually on April 29th, but like many people once the Earth as revolved around the sun another time since my birth I’m reflecting on all the things I’ve learned until now. Here are some things I’ve learned from college, work, and life in general:
1. Clever people don’t always have clever ideas, so it’s okay to ignore them sometimes.
Socrates thought writing stuff down was a horrible idea, and would lead to the downfall of critical thinking.
“He who thinks, then, that he has left behind him any art in writing, and he who receives it in the belief that anything in writing will be clear and certain, would be an utterly simple person, and in truth ignorant of the prophecy of Ammon, if he thinks written words are of any use except to remind him who knows the matter about which they are written.” — Plato, Phaedrus 274
Fortunately for Socrates, it’s not like our entire world has since been interconnected through text or anything, right? Oh wait, no, it is. He was much more in favor or standing around in togas and “duking” it out through verbal reasoning alone (no relation to the infamous VR section). While he didn’t deserve the hemlock death sentence for asking individuals to “consider if religion is really for them”, but if alive today he would be stoned to death by online commentators for his lack of forethought. Luckily, he’d likely not read any of the viscous comments, as he was a curmudgeon about written arguments. As a premed, its okay to take advice from mentors, and people you look up to. However, there’s always a caveat, even the great people you may look up to may occasionally be wrong. But, don’t just seek out an opinion that is congruent with yours, just be aware that sometimes authority figures aren’t authoritative about everything under the sun.
2. What’s important to you may not be important to everyone.
It’s thought that Issac Newton likely died a virgin, so don’t feel bad for how productive you are not likely to be in comparison. Perhaps, Newton was able to re-direct his libido into tracking heavenly bodies, perhaps use terms like fluxions (derivatives) doesn’t make great pillow talk — we will never know. But, what we do know is that he likely died knowing he was going to be a legend after single handed-ly writing a treatise on calculus, infuriating his rival Hooke (ala Hooke’s Law guy), and revealing the inverse square law of gravity keeping the heavens strung up in the ether.
People often find that premeds and medstudents are asocial, as a premed I was even asked in so many words “If wasting my life learning is worth it”. But, sometimes the ends justify the means. As future doctors, the lion share of us won’t be individually remembered by history, nor acknowledged, our legacy will be swept away with the passage of time like dust in a tornado. But, what will remain will be our contribution to society, because each person we help may be the future Carl Sagan, Newton, Maxwell, or Rosalind Franklin. Maybe, that kid you’ll help in your clerkship will be inspired by you to get into medical school, or another service career. As members of the medical society, our legacy isn’t tied to our fleeting mortal success, but the success of the society that we attempt to better. Statistically, it’s not likely that I’ll save the next Feynman (post atomic bomb), but I’m optimistic with my investment.
3. Being right doesn’t necessarily translate into success — you’ll also have to make the right decisions.
The rat’s nest of wires you see in the picture above is a drawing of the old system direct current (DC) power line system invented by Thomas Edison. Nikolai Tesla, a former disgruntled employee of Edison created another form of power transmittance, called alternating current (AC). Edison tried in vain to discredit Tesla, such as electrocuting elephants and prisoners to death (Edison created the firs electric chair, just for this purpose) to show how deadly AC power could be. It was all a marketing ploy, a failed marking ploy because unless you’re using a battery right now, all the power to your house is most likely delivered through AC current. Tesla, ideas gave the once shingling-less immigrant into a man with an extremely heavy purse, but unlike Edison he decided to give his patent away to the people, as he assumed he’d make the money back later anyways from other ideas. Investors were turned off by his “mad scientist” mannerisms, and well utter lack of written work (other than patent records), he was also reportedly inarticulate about explaining his research to both investors and his lab assistance — a poorly maintained lab book may of been his downfall. He never enjoyed this repeated success, that is until post-humorously; he died alone, destitute and forgotten in a motel room.
What Tesla had in ingenuity he lacked in understanding the harshness of reality. Don’t be too idealistic, know when to run with an idea, and when to receive credit (and how to document your work). If you work in a research lab, religiously record your own data, it’s not unusual for lab students to use your data (or literature review, pilot study, SOP etc) without credit in publication and/or presentations. In fact, in academia the fatal flaw of teamwork is the tendency for some members of the team to abscond away with others ideas and claim them as their own. Do not at any time believe you’ll receive credit just because you technically did the work. In my job in the office of research, I often see cases where students are coerced into giving up credit for their own work to help the “group”. It’s great to be a team player, but always get a receipt for your contribution. If you’re in a coercive lab, or one that runs with your ideas without due credit, it may be time to pull a Tesla and leave the group and do your own thing.
A birthday doesn’t really mean all that much besides marking the passage of time, but sometimes it’s nice to stop and take stock of your life, your decisions and your mode of operation. The lessons I’ve learned so far are pretty useful for me: its okay to do your own thing even when others don’t agree (sometimes), your own values are the values that matter, and good ideas fizzle out if not done right. And of course, you have to be your own advocate. Though, I’m sure I’ll be adding a few more lessons after medical school is over, and again as resident, then continually as an attending.
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