Back to step one, but let’s do it properly and in depth. What are the barriers I’m self-imposing in my quest to leave medicine?
I started from the beginning, pre-birth actually. Then I examined my life from that period until now.
How my family and ancestors impacted on who I am, how my personality is, then my environment and learnt behaviours. Mixed with education, friends, experiences. Everyone has their own unique story, it’s time to understand mine, not just blindly accept.
After multiple personality quizzes, research and self-reflection, I’ve come to a few realisations. I like to help, I’m empathetic and caring. Also, I enjoy being valuable and successful.
On the flip-side, I am a people-pleaser. I want to be loved and seen as worthy, so from a young child I would focus on improving skills that others deemed important. Ignoring my innate interests and gifts (because I was already okay at that) I focussed on my weaknesses.
Everyone valued mathematics and the sciences, so I worked super hard at being good at it. I was hopeless at maths, it didn’t make sense to me. But after five years of daily repetition I finally became decent enough to do extension maths in high school. I was okay, never brilliant, but I liked the approval I got from achieving.
Same with chemistry, I was doing poorly, but then spent my weekends in chemistry tutoring. Soon after a lot of sweat and tears I got a great mark in my final year chemistry exam.
Doing well at school, achieving at sport, other extracurriculars, becoming a doctor. It was completely linked to how I felt about myself as a person. I wanted to please my family, and they put a lot of their hopes and dreams on me.
Mixed in with my people-pleasing personality, I had a family that really saw me as their answer to everything.
I’m a descendant of immigrants. Their want for me is to study, work hard and become financially wealthy. A stable, reliable profession that for them has high status. Doing well in school meant that I could be their pride. They love telling anyone who will listen that I’m a doctor. Though it can be hard, I know they just want me to have an easier life than they did.
I remember in primary school, I never really paid much attention. I was always in my own world, inventing stories, reading, writing and doodling. In third grade, we had this nation-wide examination on English and maths. A month or two later they had an assembly for the results. They only announced from credit up, participations got a quiet certificate afterwards. Surprise, surprise I wasn’t called up for maths. Actual surprise, surprise I was called up for English. I had a High Distinction and only got one question wrong in the whole test!
The reaction of the adults in my life? That’s great, but we really need to work on your maths.
I only say this to highlight how it can be so easy to focus on our faults rather than our strengths. Imagine if the reaction was to identify that I had a natural ability for English and to invest in that?
Instead, the next decades of my life were spent obsessing over my flaws and trying to make them at least average. English fell to the way-side, because I was already fine at that.
On top of this, punishment for poor results and conditional love added to my belief that you need to do well to receive validation.
The perfect combination to create an overachiever
So my own personality mixed in with my external pressures combined into the overachiever, and people-pleaser that I am.
It’s not all bad. I love that I’m caring and empathetic. I also love my creativity and imagination. However, I recognise that I need to work on my boundaries and listening to my own needs.
After years of trying to make people see my as worthy, and pleasing, I am feeling burnt-out.
The problem with people-pleasing
Going into medicine is another extension of putting others needs before your own. You can get so used to ignoring your own feelings, needs and interests that you don’t even know who you are anymore.
How many of us work in the hospital without food, water or a break? Do you even notice in the moment?
After decades of people-pleasing, it’s no wonder I’m feeling tired. Like my therapist said, I’m 27 going on 87. My whole being is just calling out for a break!
Time to care for myself
How can you care for others when you don’t care for yourself first? That metaphor of putting your oxygen mask on first before helping others rings true.
It’s not selfish to meet your physical and emotional needs. I deserve it, we deserve it.
The world deserves it.
Because caring for ourselves will make us feel better, and when you feel good, you do better.
Whether that be as a doctor caring for the community, or in whatever we choose.
It’s time for me to put myself first. As uncomfortable as it is. Then once I heal and work through things, I can look towards what next.