Early Life Crisis

Rahoul Gonsalves 

The uncertainty of life annoys me. I mean, wouldn’t it be awesome to have all your life’s trajectory set, before coming of age? You could make a conscientious decision of what you want to do in life and then just do it. Imagine the comfort of just taking one direction, without “opportunities” popping up and derailing you from the path you’ve painstakingly taken.

When I was in primary school, I wanted to be a priest. I honestly don’t remember why, but constant jestful probes by my aunts on robbing my parents of their chances of having grandchildren probably steered me away from that path. In middle school it was environmentalist, but it didn’t take me long to realise that I wouldn’t be able to singlehandedly fight global warming and repair ozone holes. In high school it was doctor. The initial ‘yes definitely’, transitioned to ‘maybe’ and finally ‘another 10 years of study, aww hell no!’.  “Biotechnology, and that’s final”, I thought to myself. Little would I know that fate or luck or whatever you call it, had other plans for me, and here I am writing a reflective narrative from the perspective of a medical student. Mistake? No, I couldn’t be happier learning about the human body in health and disease and the sheer feeling of heroism that’s part of the package. It’s quite the deal actually, 10 years of your life, for freedom from corporate slavery, a respectful profession and the ability to engage your humanity on a daily basis.

But, (there’s always a but) as you progress through the course, you begin to ask yourself, “Am I really cut out for this? Can I meet the standards that I’ve set for myself as a future physician?” More often than not the answer is no. Now that I’m in my final year, that resounding thought becomes even louder.  Right from the beginning of my journey as a medical student, I have found myself falling short of achieving that balance that I crave.

 In first year, we were welcomed by our seniors, who inspired us to believe in ourselves, to go the extra mile, to practice every day, so that we may become the best singers, dancers, manual labourers and decorators that our institution has ever produced. Choir practices for the annual Christmas performance would go on for two months, towards the end of which, we were having practices till 11 PM.   It’s at this stage I began to question my preconceived notions of the academic rigors of medical school.

 In second year you just go with the flow, with senior ‘advice’, and a lax peer group, all steering you  towards  things that are seemingly important. You are expected to organise the afore mentioned Christmas program, which arguably is even more time consuming ,what with us seeking  the perfect theme , giving choir lessons and  handmade decorations  to outdo the previous batches and claim ‘glory’ for ourselves. In these situations, it often a few proactive and enthusiastic idiots like myself, who end up burning themselves out. Lesson learnt- Don’t do stupid things by allowing the facade of proactivity to cloud your judgement.               

So in my third year, I vowed to pursue more ‘serious’ interests like research and gaining exposure to healthcare in a rural setting- an experience I received in  Ganiyari, Chattisgarh . I was only student from my batch to attend, losing 10 days of attendance, but it was well worth it. Interacting with people like Yogesh Jain and his exceedingly dedicated team of healthcare personnel, made me ask myself, “ What makes these people tick?” , “Despite being brought up and accustomed  in cities, how do they sustain their motivation to work in these remote areas?”.  Being exposed to the harsh realities of life there, the neglect experienced by those people and being away from the cushions and blind screens of Bangalore city, showed me a new perspective .

The next thing I took up was medical research. Of course, I had to challenge myself by picking a hardcore research topic. I had hoped that this would give me exposure to most elements of research. This is a decision I continue to regret to date, regardless of the  praise I’ve received for being persistent and not quitting.  I can’t even count the tens of hours wasted, waiting to collect the samples of patients, anthropometry and nutritional data, only to find one fine day that the nursing staff had discarded the stored samples from the fridge as it was “cleaning day”. It was devastating.  I wanted to quit there and then. Unfortunately, I let myself be coaxed into continuing and ended up being miserable for another year. Even though I’m done with the study now, with positive results, I still believe I should’ve quit, it still wasn’t worth it. There is no cowardice in quitting, quitting does not equate to failure. It’s only worth enduring the pain, if the benefits outweigh the cost . Otherwise you’re just a martyr to success obsessed social expectations.  

Now I’m in my Final year of study. There is a sense of gravity about the subjects, since they are the considered the core competencies by which a doctor is judged. One could say that this is the year to eliminate all other distractions and focus. I wholeheartedly agreed with that notion.... well atleast in the beginning. But being as impulsive as I am, I joined the Medical Students Association of India, at a stage that got me a lot of looks which say,  “Are you crazy?” or “This guy has messed up his priorities”. But here’s the short version of the thought process in my head:

Voice1: Dude, its final year, everyone else is bucking up and becoming knowledge seeking zombies, don’t you think you should be doing the same?

Voice2: “Yeah, but this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Are you really going to pass on this?”

Voice1: “You’re going to mess with your grades, you know you can’t multitask effectively.”

Voice 2: “Hey, we’ll compensate okay, create a timetable for completing the portions in time”

Voice 1: “You always say that, it never happens!”

Voice 2“This time will be different!”  (mentally shoots down the first voice)

Having arguments with myself, maybe I should reconsider the crazy hypothesis.

The underlying issue is that I’m was being torn apart by the prospect of learning / experiencing something novel and potentially useful, and my duties as a medical student. It continues to be mentally draining and riddles my self-esteem with bullets of indecisiveness. “Analysis paralysis” as they call it, and the inefficiency it entails, creates this general hum of anxiety that impairs my relationship with myself and with others.

End result, I joined the organisation and that snowballed into meeting medical students from around the world, which opened my mind to new avenues and a world view, a bigger picture, which I rationalise was an education in itself.      

It all boils down to the fact that life is uncertain. Yes, it would be convenient to have your ideal path set out for you, but that’s not how it works. The world is chaotic, dynamic and nothing is set in stone . These unconventional experiences did derail me from that beautiful, single-minded focus that I pine for, but there’s a part of me believes it was worth it. Time and the multifaceted experiences I’ve had have given me the satisfaction of eliminating many avenues and embracing others. In time, this should enable me to find a suitable area to work in, so hopefully this early life crisis will circumvent an otherwise inevitable midlife crisis.

 Life is but a series of experiences.  You can let societal structures dictate who you should be or you could make the decision to explore as many avenues as practical, sacrificing efficiency and security for an expanded mind which could enable your individuality to serve society in a way you deem is best. This is not for everyone though, there’s an inherent risk associated with it and in fact society would probably collapse if everyone decided to ‘explore’ all their options. You need to be willing to take complete ownership for the decisions you ultimately make and their outcomes. But if there’s an inner critic in you, poking and prodding at you to take the path less taken, consider taking his advice once in a while. You’ll never know where it could take you.      


About the Author: Rahoul Gonsalves is a final year medic at St John’s who stands out with his brooding, stoic nature and tendency to run at will. He is currently attempting to memorise and learn vast amounts of knowledge, while tormenting himself with questions of whether he’s a good fit.