I feel like many of us talk about our lives before medical school as if we were recalling memories from a past incarnation. It’s almost as if it wasn’t us who traveled the world and studied music and worked as an engineer.
As for myself, I had a passion for environmental science and religious studies. I traveled through southern Africa and South America working in national parks, reporting on conservation policy and enjoying the diversity of the world around us. Even at home, I indulged myself in the diversity of my home city of Memphis and took the opportunity to do interfaith service work and foster relationships between the numerous and distinct religious cultures I worked in. Life seems so different when it is now. That fact never seems more true than when I am trying to find time to spend with friends outside of school. The conversation typically goes something like this:
“What time do you finish classes today?”
“About 5 p.m.”
“Awesome! Do you want to go out? See a movie or something?”
“Sorry I can’t. I have to study.”
“Okay. When do you get done studying?”
It is sometimes difficult to explain to friends and family what you are going through when they don’t have any frame of reference for just how much work medical school requires. Occasionally my classmates will go out for drinks and dinner, and if we can muster the strength, maybe even go bowling or go to a basketball game. It’s hard. It’s always hard. I don’t think we are special. I am confident that any given medical school student would probably say the same.
The most striking difference between life before med school and now is that everything just has to be more intentional. The most important advice I received before I started school was to always keep a balance. I am sure that this is the advice that we could all take to heart. It isn’t easy, and sometimes I feel guilty for doing something I enjoy when I could be studying. Before, it was not difficult to go out and grab a drink after work or to go down the hall and see a few friends, grab dinner and just relax until the early morning. Now, as I am attempting to find the balance, I have found that it is possible to do these things — granted, with less frequency — but I have to plan, I have to want it and I have to be intentional in how I use my time.
In the course of just a few weeks, I have gained complete control of my life to about the degree that one may gain complete control over a bowl of Jello with chopsticks, but nonetheless, my quality of life has improved dramatically. To end this reflection, I would like to share three of the small things that I have changed that have helped me. Hopefully, they may help you too.
1. Save yourself an hour for dinner
Take the time to cook yourself a nice meal. Go out to a restaurant and relax with friends. Or make a light meal and watch some TV. Just taking some scheduled time off from studying everyday will make a huge difference.
I know. I didn’t want to either. But seriously, it won’t take more than 10 minutes a day to jog a mile. Even if you only do a mile a day — having the discipline to keep it up will keep you better organized and make each day feel more fulfilling.
3. Take pleasure in simple things
While my jet setting days may be on hold, that doesn’t mean I can’t take a weekend trip every once in a while. Explore your city. Try new places. Surround yourself with good people. And make a conscious effort to see the wonder of the seemingly ordinary world around you.