“Use the space provided to explain why you want to go to medical school.” This was the most recent personal statement prompt from the American Medical College Application Service, or AMCAS. Years ago, when I applied to medical school, it was a similar prompt that, in my mind, essentially boiled down to a key question, “Why Medicine… or any other career for that matter?” In today’s competitive and often judgmental world, when choosing a career, it’s all too easy to get swept up in the hustle and bustle of achievement and forget to focus on your personal passions. As I have challenged myself, I now challenge you to prioritize your passions by asking the questions that matter most before committing to a career. They say the average person spends over 90,000 hours at work over the course of their lifetime, so I wholeheartedly believe that its worth investing this time upfront to at least ensure that the majority of that time is well spent doing something you love.
“I like science.” said the young kid. “You should be a doctor!” exclaimed everyone around the young kid. That is a common story that I hear from many of my medical colleagues. Some aspect of academics related to medicine came more naturally to them, so they were pushed further and further in that direction by everyone around them. I learned how to be good at processing science, but the more I reflected on it, I could not say that science was the main reason I was choosing a career in medicine. I found human biology ABSOLUTELY FASCINATING (***NERD ALERT***), but I honestly could not say that about science as a whole. In fact, at one point in my life, I had convinced myself that the world would be a better place entirely without chemistry and physics (and calculus, for that matter)! I decided not to run with the “I’m good with science so it must be” mentality. Instead, I asked myself what ended up being some of the most important questions I have ever been asked in my life:
“What makes me happy or most intrigued?”
“What lifestyle suits me?”
“What do I want to give back to the world and leave behind as my legacy?”
“What else matters most to me, and where can I find opportunities to explore these things?”
What makes me happy or most intrigued?
This is a more nuanced question than it appears to be on the surface, because it is common to confuse what makes you happy or most intrigues you with what comes most easily or what most naturally fits your personality. In other words, an easier path is not always the best one. In some cases, people may be fortunate to find that what comes most easily or naturally also makes them most happy or intrigued. Many popular career planning assessments support a similar notion by directing people to careers that most closely match their current skill set or natural tendencies. Such correlation can be valid, but it runs the risk of possibly being discouraging to those of us who may not fit the typical mold for a certain career yet still ultimately grow into our happiest and most successful selves through that career. In career decisions and with all things, intentional introspection is needed to complement the feedback we receive from the external world.
The path toward Medicine has not been the least bit easy or natural for me. Although there are some aspects of the process that felt smoother, much of my trajectory has been wrought with obstacles and challenges. Furthermore, although some might consider me to be an accomplished individual, I have never considered myself to be the fastest-learning or “everything comes easily to me” kind of student. In fact, over time, I have learned to take pride in the fact that every accomplishment of mine has been through immense blood, sweat, and tears. I realized that it is more the challenge of the process and less the destination that most intrigued me. The path to and through Medicine simultaneously challenges me to develop my mind, heart, soul, and even my body in intriguing and unparalleled ways, and it makes me happy to rise to the challenge then be able to transform that growth into meaningful impact for others.
I realized that it is more the challenge of the process and less the destination that most intrigued me…and it makes me happy to rise to the challenge then be able to transform that growth into meaningful impact for others.
What Lifestyle Suits Me?
As a counterbalance to the first question, you must take care to find an equilibrium between what makes you happy and what suits you. In doing so, it’s important to neither lie to nor limit yourself. We all have hopes and dreams, but a lifestyle that suits you not only provides dream-worthy pleasures but embodies who you are at your core and what’s most important to you.
For as long as I can remember, when I dream about the lifestyle that I want to lead, three aspects have always stood out to me: autonomy, time with loved ones, and wealth-building. Autonomy is important to me, because I want to be the “captain of my own soul”, to have the flexibility to follow my passions, and to never be forced to compromise my personal ethics or values. The most precious privilege we have on earth is time, and I am committed to engineering my life in a way that maximizes time with those I love and serve. Wealth-building is important to me for three main reasons: it increases my autonomy, blesses me to be able to give blessings to others, and allows me to build a stronger foundation for the generations that follow me. I knew that the path to and through Medicine would be a long haul, but I was comfortable with delayed gratification for the sake of the associated lifestyle that I truly felt suited me best. Furthermore, I discovered entrepreneurship as means to make such lifestyle sustainable even after I retire from Medicine.
What do I want to give back to the world and leave behind as my legacy?
To answer this question, people will often say to imagine hearing the eulogy at your own funeral, but I have a less morbid approach. I imagine that I am waiting to give a public speech at the height of my career and listening to the biography that the person introducing me says. I am ignoring academic degrees or professional awards and honing in on the actual impact that I have had on people’s lives.
One of my most clarifying moments in life was answering this question. The very loud thought in my head was, “I WANT TO HAVE MEANINGFUL IMPACT.” However, it took some time for me to determine exactly how I would like to have SUCH impact. I thought through the roles that I want to play and the lives or causes I want to touch, and I promised myself that any career that I have would either contribute to such impact or allow me the flexibility to have such impact in other aspects of my life. Ding, ding, ding! Medicine was again the winner, and entrepreneurship was my key to scaling!
What else matters most to me, and where can I find opportunities to explore these things?
This is the most simple and possibly most fulfilling question of all. Whatever isn’t addressed in the above three questions gets addressed here.
I thought to myself, “As cliche as it sounds, I really do love and want to help people.” THIS was my most important reason. However, I could have done many other careers that also incorporated helping people and ultimately have much less time investment and stress than medicine. At that point, I circled back to my natural fascination with the human body and sought hands-on experience in my areas of interest. The real-life experience of meeting, engaging with, and later being mentored by people engaged in healthcare and entrepreneurship confirmed that they were indeed the best way to incorporate all of my biggest passions. Medicine and entrepreneurship are not without their imperfections, but together, they serve as the perfect canvas for me to create meaning for myself and others.
Okay, now it’s your turn! Ask yourself these important questions, give careful thought to providing yourself with answers, and witness the magic unfold! I say magic, because once you have an honest conversation with yourself about these questions, you will likely find it easier to identify the best opportunities for you and waste less time in areas that do not match your passions. It is important to never allow yourself to get stuck for too long in a job that has no meaning for you but rather to push the limits to continue asking these questions and allowing the answers to evolve your focus over time. If you find yourself in need of staying power to push through to your dreams, as I have more times than I can count, just envision yourself being successful in a career that is the perfect answer to your questions and unapologetically living your HAPPIest life!
With Love and HAPPIness,
The HAPPIest MD