Conventional wisdom dictates that the meaning of life can be found in friends, family, and love. That’s right, guys: step away from the textbooks — apparently they don’t bring happiness. I know, I was shocked too, but hey, there’s always money.
Now, on the off chance you’re wondering why I’m writing a column about friendship and the meaning of life, I should probably mention that I just watched the movie from which I stole my title. Therefore, I’m in a sentimental, meaning-of-life sort of mood. A mood I think we all find ourselves in from time to time, especially when embarking on yet another module with Thanksgiving and Christmas hanging just out of our reach smelling all tryptophan-y. Sadly, by week two, all sentiment will have disappeared and been replaced by stress and quiet desperation. So take my word for it and soak this up — I’m not gonna be sentimental for long.
Back to business. As I see it, the problem with the meaning of life coming from friends, family and love is that those things seem strangely predetermined, a fact that becomes very obvious in a “closed system” like med school.
Med school presents a unique set of social circumstances that make for some interesting interactions. Cliques, if (or rather when) they form, have to form de novo. Of course, when school first starts and we’re all wide-eyed, bushy-tailed and full of naïve thoughts like “I can do this” and “I’m gonna be top of my class,” everybody is showing off their best self. There’s this idea that cliques won’t form: we think we’re immune, that our class is too inclusive for that to happen.
But by month two, although my class is both inclusive and immune to just about everything (in accordance with school vaccination policy), for better or worse people form groups. It’s inevitable. The graduates from this school or that school tend to stick together. The out-of-staters tend to stick together. The professors … well as far as I know they sleep in coffins and only emerge for lectures. But whatever the social pressures at work we can’t help but gravitate towards people that are like us, even when we’re part of a 100 to 200 person class of people that, by definition, we have quite a bit in common with.
This can be good and bad. On the one hand, if you fold neatly into a group of people, well, there’s your meaning. You’ve got the friends part down, whether or not you like it you’ve had a family all your life, and if you’re in the South and over 15 years old you’re probably already happily married. Meaning of life, check.
But what if you don’t fold into a group? What if you’re a Star Wars nerd in football country? Or an artist with a knack for medicine? Or Romanian? (Okay, maybe that last one is just me.) What if fulfillment for you doesn’t even include marriage? Are you doomed to become Dr. House or his artsy equivalent? I think not.
In that case, I suppose you just do your best. There’s always residency, and then fellowship, and then 30-some-odd years of medical practice. Odds are at some point you’ll meet a few other Star Wars nerds/cardiothoracic surgeons to crack lightsaber jokes with when using the cautery. And besides, worst case scenario, you get yourself a nice coffin and go teach. My dad was born in Transylvania … genetically speaking I’m already halfway there.