May 5, 2020
A letter to my first-year self
Today, your graduating medical school class officially received your Doctor of Medicine degrees, via the ‘uOttawa unofficial transcript.’ It may be hard to imagine yourself here 4 years later, and even more finding the world in a state of crisis and emergency due to a novel virus and disease causing significant, to put it lightly, disruptions to public health and safety.
You will grow and learn so much over the next 4 years.
There will be many highs and many lows as well – some of which will take you to a point of breaking under significant pressure and grief, under no fault your own. Remember to maintain your passions, interests, and who you are – why you embarked on this journey – as there will be moments you will question it all. I don’t think the feeling of the infamous imposter syndrome gets much better – but you may come to realize it is somewhat universal among those that look like they have it together – if that may be of comfort in any way. Imposter syndrome or this feeling like you don’t belong or don’t fit in or aren’t worthy – all these feelings – they are valid and are a product of not having the generational wealth to simply own it all with unbreakable confidence and determination – that isn’t you. Remember that it’s a privilege to be who you are in your entirety – the sole uniqueness of your background, experiences, and identity – makes you who you are – vulnerable to a lack of privilege in certain spaces due to the intersectional identities you hold. Embrace who you are and remember to also step aside to give space to others, as an ally, when the time comes.
I’m not going to tell you if the hard work or sacrifice will be worth it – that is for you to decide and figure out for yourself. Cherish the moments that make you feel great. But value, even more, the gritty experiences that challenge you, anger you, disappoint you, frustrate you. Do something about them, because you are likely not alone. These are the experiences that will make you grow and be stronger. Vulnerability is strength and humility is confidence – it’s ironic, and I get that.
Always take the time to reflect, collect your thoughts, and take stock of what is happening around you. Continue to do the things that bring you joy. This is the beginning of a terrific journey. They will call it a marathon and not a sprint – they are not wrong, but not entirely correct either. How does anyone expect the marathon runners to run for the 40 or 50 years… or however long one’s professional life lasts? It will feel like bursts of sprints, some longer than others – some terrain more difficult to navigate and with more obstacles than others. Take the time to get off the trail for a pit stop from time to time – it is not going anywhere. Heck, feel free to make your own trail and walk/run/bike at your own pace and intention if you so please. You will have to look back on the trails you’ve taken and be comfortable with what you did – so take your time, make mistakes, and have some fun.
Also coming at you during a global pandemic of ‘unprecedented’ proportions, you will remember to always have a deep respect for the land and the peoples that came before you, and the histories of those that have allowed you to be where you are doing what you are doing. There is a profound sense of opportunity and perspective right now to slow down and think about what really matters (e.g., necessities of life, food shelter, family, community, sense of belonging and purpose), and to move away from consumerism and really meaningfully slow down. Your actions no matter how big or small has an impact on Mother Earth, ensuring and keeping our world sustainable, and humanity itself.
Take stock of what matters most. There is so much that is unfair and inequitable in this world – don’t lose sight of why you decided to go on this journey.
And if you forget anything and everything I’ve told you – at least member in the toughest and most difficult of times – just keep swimming….