The Grass is Always Greener

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I’m currently sitting in a plane on my way to Cape Town. It’s almost mandatory for graduating medical students to take vacation time before starting residency. We generally save free time from clinical responsibilities for the end of the year, after Match Day, and celebrate the fruits of our labor with several weeks of traveling and fun. I cannot complain, life is pretty good right now, but I know in three short months it will be very challenging. Surgical intern year is no walk in the park.

After buying a Paperwhite last year, I have been hooked on reading. I am currently on the 4 Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. It introduces interesting concepts about how to live one’s life. We are all accustomed to going to school, getting a job, and working 9-5 until we hit retirement. Medicine is a slightly different version of that, but the underlying principles remain the same. Tim argues that we shouldn’t be slaving away in our younger years only to have retirement when most of life has passed us by. Rather, take mini retirements throughout life. By redefining the traditional expectations of work, Tim argues the best way to live life is to prioritize our time and automate tasks, thereby allowing us great flexibility to travel the world, grow as individuals, and maximize the opportunities in front of us.

While on the plane I met a man named Nick and we started talking about work-life balance and his thoughts on the book. Nick is a consultant and spent his twenties traveling internationally for work. And he loved it. He is glad spent his twenties in that way, but at the same time he has this nagging feeling that maybe he should have pursued medicine (at this point he had no idea I am in the medical field and am about to start plastic surgery residency). His friends, both ED physicians, work 7 shifts a month and have a lifestyle of travel that he wished he had. “But Nick, isn’t that what you do or at least did?” It came down to the flexibility, money, and satisfaction from work. “They’re able to travel in a style that I never could or will be able to. Their twenties weren’t as fun as mine, but now they’re having a blast both in their job and in their free time.”

In medical school I surrounded myself with fellow medical students – no surprise there. One sentiment that was surprisingly common is the idea that we are not enjoying our twenties like the rest of the world, and that maybe our friends who are working more traditional jobs made the wiser choice. I never quite bought that idea because at the end of the day doing surgery is much more exciting than any desk job, but I also consider myself fortunate in finding a specialty I love.

It’s human nature to compare ourselves to others, to want what we don’t have. It’s easy for us to wish we weren’t in medical school when FOMO (fear of missing out) hits us after viewing our friends’ Facebook pictures from their latest adventure. At the same, time practicing medicine is a privilege, an incredibly rewarding profession and FOMO works in the other direction as well. Whether or not to pursue medicine is a deeply personal decision requiring a great deal of introspection – check this if you’re still deciding. Once you do decide, if you find yourself second guessing, remember that the grass is always greener on the other side.

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