Life rarely turns out the way you think it’s going to.
For many years I believed in the direct approach to achieving happiness. Go to college. Get into medical school. Match into a residency program. Apply to fellowship. Get married. Buy a house with a white picket fence in the suburbs. Have 2.2 kids and a dog. Live happily ever after. It was just a matter of getting on the escalator and then you were going nowhere but up.
But oh boy, was I duped.
I managed to maintain this delusion of a no-fail formulaic answer to success until about mid-way through my residency. Up until then, I felt as though I had been doing pretty well. I had gotten into medical school on the first try and then later, into a great residency program. Although the five-year relationship with my college boyfriend had ended rather badly during my last year in medical school, I was still optimistic upon starting residency that I’d be married by age 30 and well on my way to a house and two kids before I turned 35. I began dating again and sure enough, found myself happily engaged the by the winter of my second year. Perfect.
And then things started going wrong. What followed was almost a year of continuous battling between me and my fiancé, between me and my family, and between my fiancé and my mother. I lived out WWIII everyday in the middle of my living room, even though I was SUPPOSED to be planning a wedding. Eventually the big nuclear bomb dropped. We called off the wedding. The following week I went to my first fellowship interview, signed the contract a week later, and suddenly–instead of getting married, buying a house with a white picket fence, having 2.2 kids, and living happily ever after–I was completely single again and moving to New York City after graduation. (But I did get a dog before I moved, so at least there was that.)
At the time of the break-up, and for the many dark winter months following, I remember feeling like I had fallen off the escalator and landed in hostile uncharted territory. Living in a shoebox in New York City seemed so far removed from the lovely two-story colonial I had envisioned. The scary prospect of being single again at age 30 leered at me from just around the corner. I would lie on the floor at night, staring up at the ceiling, and wonder how everyone else managed to keep it together when my life was falling apart. I mean, everyone else I knew was celebrating their five-year anniversaries, getting pregnant with their second kid, buying houses, and generally being successful where I had failed.
Most of us, at some point or another, have done this. We’ve looked around at our friends and colleagues and watched them coast through the preferred access line to a successful life while we’ve been stuck struggling through the security checkpoint with our shoes off. Or at least it seems that way.
Most of us, at some point or another, have done this. We’ve looked around at our friends and colleagues and watched them coast through the preferred access line to a successful life while we’ve been stuck struggling through the security checkpoint with our shoes off. Or at least it seems that way. Maybe we get turned down for promotion, again. Or the NIH grant we’ve slaved over gets rejected, again. Or we have to struggle through the premature birth of our first child. Or our parents die. Or we get divorced. Life happens and sometime it’s just not pretty. Although we should certainly celebrate fully and often (and I 100% support this positivity), sometimes I think that we do each other a disservice when we only share the good news. It creates a false sense that everyone else has got it together all the time while we’re desperately left trying to pick up the pieces when life throws us a curveball and we have to drop everything to dodge out of the way.
So once the pain subsides, remember to share your downs as well as your ups. Add them in your lectures as an attention-grabber. Publish them even. Blog about them. Tell your medical students, your residents, your mentees, your colleagues, and your friends all of the dark places you had to travel (and may still be traveling through) to get to where you are now. Tell them that you’re not riding on any kind of escalator. Tell them that the escalator doesn’t even exist. Their path to happiness may look nothing like yours, but reassure them that they’re definitely not the only one who’s ever gotten a little lost along the way.