Little did I know this adage was, in fact, Aristotelian in origin and not dreamed up by my mother. Nevertheless, it is one I remember first hearing recently: somewhere along the line as I progressed from high school to college and now to medical school. As I felt more intense academic pressure, as I complained more about the volume or difficulty of what I had to study, or if I was just plain exhausted—these were the times I most often heard this pearl. As was often the case, the saying was intimately related to studying and education; namely, that the rewards of what we dedicate ourselves to are worth the struggles along the way. An easily-tread path is not nearly as satisfying as a hard-earned one.
I think this holds true across many fields one chooses to pursue. I don’t pretend that medical school is the only difficult and rewarding pursuit one can undertake. Indeed, it seems to me that nearly any field is worthwhile if it involves hard work, dedication and moments of doubt. Whether they are merely brief moments of uncertainty or a more unsettling, newly shaken confidence, these crossroads of questioning and our subsequent responses to them are important moments which can define how we manage future hardships. Our ability to find renewed strength and reclaimed confidence in spite of those doubts serve as evidence of what we’re capable of when we have future doubts.
The times that remind me of just how sweet the fruit will be are often unexpected. Whether it’s finally understanding a difficult concept, correctly answering practice questions, having a practice patient encounter go well, meeting someone who expresses respect for the field you are pursuing, or even correctly diagnosing a friend with pinkeye when they are vehemently in denial, these are the little moments that accumulate into a sense of, “Maybe, just maybe, I can do this after all.”
My mother is a very simple woman. Though she may be a well-respected physician at Columbia University, you might never know it if you saw her. She dresses simply, she speaks kindly, and she cares endlessly. Her wealth lies not in her tangible possessions—she doesn’t even own a pearl necklace. Her pearls are of wisdom, and it is those pearls that I hope to share with you.