There are times when it’s 3 am and I’m waking up to study and I think, “This is not what I wanted. I did not sign up for this. I am watching my life pass me by and I will never get this time back.”
The second year of medical school is rough. I know that those who have gone before me can confirm that, but I also know they’ll tell me it only gets harder. Some even tell me to cherish this time because I’ll “never have this much free time again.”
I would argue that everyone, regardless of their career choice or whatever else, has, at some point in their adult life, had an opportunity to be refined by the fire. That a situation has presented itself to push and pull you; that you’ve had to make a choice. That you saw paths lain out and some of them seemed easier than others, but you chose the harder one, determined to take that road less traveled and believing that it would make all the difference.
But now you’re on that road. It seems endless. And you continue to put in the work. But the results seem so far away. The valleys have become deeper and the mountains get taller and taller. And you are stuck in the fog, with no way backward, pushing ever forward to a goal that seems completely unattainable now.
We have all been there. Or we will, eventually.
These are the moments when it would be so easy to run. There are days when I consider dropping out of medical school, buying a VW van, and traveling the country, playing dive bars for the rest of my life. There are days I consider going back to my first career, teaching public school, because it somehow seems easier. (Let me clarify that to date, teaching is the most difficult and yet most rewarding job I’ve had in my nearly 30 years on earth.) I have romanticized these options for myself because, really, they are not options anymore. I am here, I am stuck. I will graduate in 2.5 years.
But sometimes the alternatives are so alluring, so sexy.
I look back to the journal I kept in the year I was applying to medical school. That year, I spoke to God more than I ever had in my life. Entries full of prayers and scripture span pages and pages, representing months and years of watching and waiting. I knew what I wanted, and I trusted God to put me where I needed to be.
Yet, my current situation is not what I expected. I know; “Cry about it,” you say. “Welcome to being an adult. Welcome to the real world.”
What do you do when all that you have been working for seems a complete waste of time and energy now? How do you summon the strength to push forward, not only to just survive but to do so with a better attitude? What if you’re just tired?
I don’t have an easy answer. I do have a verse, though. One that God put in front of me just a few weeks ago; one that is changing my mindset.
“Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:4
I wrote the verse down and put it on my mirror. I took a picture and saved it as my phone’s background. I read it every day.
And I remember. I remember that God is not done with me yet. He is never done with us, as long as we are living on this earth. I remember that no one said this life would be easy, no matter what stage you’re in. God reminds me all the time that if I am not growing, painfully so sometimes, I am not really living.
In these moments, I start to see my “problems” for what they really are – mere inconveniences. At the risk of sounding cliché, I have to stop seeing the marathon as a sprint. If I quit now, God will not have finished the work He is doing in my life, and the refining process will not be completed. If I quit now, I will be turning in the towel just before what is coming next, whether it’s good or bad. If I quit now, I’m basically saying that I can somehow take hold and attempt to control my destiny.
I read once that we are all in the business of “the difficult work of staying alive.” That’s my job, in simplest form. God has the rest, and He’s going to make me work on myself. Often, my situation serves as the venue through which he’s going to get my attention. God has my attention now, and I must embrace where He has me. It’s not necessarily pretty or poetic, but maybe the process needs to be messy so that the benefit, when reaped, is sweeter.