My time living in Portland, OR has felt like a single blink of my eyes. I moved here in late August of 2013 and since then, I have constantly been studying for an exam or training for a martial arts competition. It’s been relentless and exhausting.
That is, until a few weeks ago. I took my first set of board exams to get my medical license and broke my stupid big toe within 24 hours. While the toe hasn’t stopped me from training or working out, it will keep me out of competition for at least one more month. And I don’t have anything school-related for the next month.
I think this means that I’m on vacation. And since I’m not very good at being on vacation, my body decided that it would be best to get an upper respiratory infection and get so introspective that I start becoming depressed.
The last two years has felt like a blink of my eyes – until right now. It’s like I suddenly snapped out of it. I’m conscious for the first time in two years. I woke up one morning after my board exam with a body I didn’t recognize and a mind that didn’t feel like my own.
I don’t know who I am anymore. What happened?
This blog has been the only thing that has really kept me connected to myself. I’ve written about a small percentage of the things that were profound or important to me so I read through a bunch of my posts to help me make sense of what’s been happening. It made me feel like a failure.
I don’t feel like I’ve accomplished anything at all during my time in Portland. I’m only halfway through medical school, I’m not a doctor. I’m on a losing streak in Muay Thai. I tapped out for the first time ever in a submission grappling competition. I took the most important exam of my life and I’m not certain I passed. I have no money. I don’t have a job. My stupid toe is broken, which is just the latest in a long string of injuries.
I’m only two weeks into my five week vacation and I’ve already watched everything worth watching on Netflix. It’s just the worst.
I’ve been reaching out to friends that I’ve been mostly neglecting during school. In almost every conversation, my injuries from martial arts come up with varying degrees of support. It’s ranged from confusion to disapproval to outright thinking I’m throwing my life away. A very close friend said, “C’mon man. What are you doing? This is ridiculous. You need to stop.”
It added immense anger on top of my already existing insecurity, self-doubt and mild depression. I’ve written about feeling misunderstood (here) and did my best to make myself understood, but I obviously didn’t do a good job. I was angry and hurt by my friend’s little speech but for the first time in a long time, I had time to allow myself to get completely lost in thought about it.
I started to think very deeply about why I’m spreading myself so thin. About why I’m risking a potentially serious and irreversible injury for a hobby. About why, in spite of all of this effort, my closest friends don’t approve of my choices and I still feel like a failure. Even I started to think that I was crazy. Maybe my friend is right. Maybe I need to stop and just focus on studying.
But then I had a little epiphany that almost immediately turned my insecurity, self-doubt and mild depression into dust. I no longer feel like a failure. I understand why I don’t feel like I have accomplished anything.
It’s because my goal is not to pass a bunch of exams. It’s not to be a great student. It’s not to wear a white coat with a stethoscope dangling around my neck. I don’t care about any of the little landmarks and accomplishments along the way. The white coat ceremony, passing this exam or that exam. Whatever. I don’t care. These things mean nothing to me and do nothing to make me feel accomplished.
My ultimate goal is not to be a doctor. Please forgive the language, but there’s no other way to put this – My goal is to change the fucking world.
Being a doctor is only a piece of what I intend to accomplish in my life. It’s a large and important piece, but it’s just a piece.
What I ultimately want requires far more than what I can get out of medical school. It requires that I build an unparalleled mental and physical toughness. It requires that I work harder than anyone else. It requires that I risk serious injury and burnout. It requires pushing myself harder than I’m actually capable of handling and then pushing harder.
I can’t make my friend understand or support me. I can’t ask him to not worry about me. I can’t ask anyone to understand what I’m trying to do. I’ll simply ask you to watch. At some point you’ll say, “I used to follow that kid when all he had was a small, unpopular blog.” At some point, the title “James Is Trying” will be hilariously ironic.
But for now, I’m going to finish getting over this cold and try to enjoy the last of my vacation with confidence and joy.