Understanding Yourself

You’re guilty of comparing yourself to others.

Admit it.

We all are.

Those who pursue a career in medicine are compared to one another constantly. Who had the best grades? Who had the most extracurricular hours? It is a fact of life, right? It is no wonder people (myself included, y’all) struggle with self-esteem issues and feelings of inadequacy. There will always be someone smarter, quicker, better than you. Life should not be about comparing yourself to others. Rather, it is about comparing yourself to who you were yesterday. Pushing yourself to your own limits. It is about being the best you.

I know, I know. That sounds entirely too cliche. It probably is, but let me tell you… this summer reminded me how true it is.

This summer I participated in the Physician Healer Track preceptorship. We did a variety of exercises and classes to help us expand our knowledge and comfort zones. From motivational interviewing techniques to mindfulness to laughter yoga, we challenged ourselves.

The mindfulness course included daily meditation, body scans (literally trying to feel sensations in different parts of your body such as your big toe…), and a meditation retreat. I value the daily thirty-minute sessions of mindfulness, but they were hard at first. It took a while before I could stay awake through a body scan. I felt like a failure when I could not experience the sensation I was supposed to feel. I struggled with accepting that I may never have the experiences others were having.

Over time, I realized the only thing stopping me from being in the moment and just living the experience was myself. I was so concerned with what other people were doing, feeling, seeing. Eventually, I could stay awake during a body scan. I could (somewhat) feel sensations that I could not before. I also learned to ignore an itch for a long time during a sitting meditation, which is a feat in and of itself…

For the most part, this past summer allowed me to learn and to grow. I became more connected with myself. I learned to let go and just be. I also learned that I need to remain true to myself and what I already know.

What do I mean by this?

The weekend meditation retreat. We were silent for 10.5 hours on a Saturday in June. When I told those close to me I was doing the retreat they laughed and questioned whether I could do it. Those who know me know how much I like to talk… Alas! We were told it would be a wonderful opportunity to face our fears, our past, our issues while still being present in the room. For someone with a little more of a “dark and twisty” path (you like that Grey’s Anatomy reference?!) I became more and more anxious as the weekend approached. I was terrified of messing up the experience for others and for myself. I was terrified of dealing with my inner demons on my own. You see, I have known for a long time that I deal with my struggles by talking them out, writing them out, or channeling energy into completing 1000 piece puzzles in 2 days.  I am not one to hold things in or ponder on them for a long period of time, thus sitting in a room in the quiet scared me.

Not to go into too much detail, but the retreat was hard. It was emotional. It was exhausting. It was an opportunity to reaffirm what I already knew about myself. That weekend reminded me how important it is to know yourself and how you deal with difficult situations.

Medicine is hard. A physician is faced with many difficult situations. From losing your first (and any) patient to delivering bad news to finding a work-life balance. Knowing how you deal with emotional, physical, mental difficulties early on in your career will help you tremendously throughout your life. Not only as a doctor, but as a human being in general.

As future physicians, we have experienced tough times; the college prerequisites are not easy classes, and the application process is a grueling one. Yet they do not compare to medical school. You are going to be pushed to new limits. You are going to encounter things you could not have imagined. That is part of the intrigue and fun, but it can also be terrifying. Some advice I have for future medical students is to learn to understand yourself. If you are not the best test taker like me, figure out more efficient ways to study and test yourself before the real deal. If you clam up in stressful situations, work on ways to not let that affect your work. If you make jokes to ease your discomfort, learn when that is appropriate and filter it when it is not. Know how to deal with your past, your insecurities, your questions. Sometimes that means an internal dialogue. Sometimes that means finding faculty and friends you can trust and lean on. Use medical school to understand how you handle certain situations and figure out healthy ways to work through any frustrations, anger, sadness. It will be an emotional rollercoaster, but it is better to figure it out while in school and there is a safety net of superiors to help you. It is better to work through your own dilemmas before attempting to help someone else. It is hard to be there for others (colleagues, patients, etc) when you cannot be present in the moment due to your mind wandering to your own life circumstances.

That is one reason why I know in my heart the Physician Healer Track was meant for me. The summer preceptorship was challenging and invigorating and renewing. It was also reaffirming. My peers and mentors have been so understanding and comforting. I understand myself enough to know when I need to reach out to others for advice, for wisdom, for comfort.

This summer I learned to not compare myself to others. Some days that is hard, but I am happier because of it. When I push myself it is because I want to. I want to be better for my future patients, my future colleagues, my family. I push myself because I choose to be better than I have been before not because someone else earned a point higher on an exam than I did.

So to the future physicians out there: learn to understand yourself. After all, how can you help others if you cannot help yourself first?

-Alyssa

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