While catching up with my middle daughter Kat the other day, she mentioned that her sisters often pitied her. “They can’t believe I’m still in school, that I’ve got so many more years to go.”
“They talked about that in orientation,” she went on. “They warned us that our friends and family would ask us how we could put off life for so long. They reminded us that we aren’t putting off life, we are living life. Living life in medical school.”
Life Whether You Like It or Not
I have to hand it to the school, it’s a pretty good and important thing to remind the students. Not for their sake – they’re young, what do they have to worry about? – but so they can remind their parents, people like me, who need to remember that this is life, regardless.
I can’t think of a time when my life has gone as I expected. Good or bad, the twists and turns I’ve taken have been both better and worse than I ever would have been able to predict. At some point I actually stopped trying to predict, which is a topic for another post.
There are certainly many moments when I wish that things had gone differently. Thankfully I can let go of those relatively quickly, since there’s nothing I can do to change the past. The future, on the other hand…trying to figure out what I want life to look like is a much more difficult process, not the least because, as I mentioned, the best laid plans of mice and me gang aft agley?
Meanwhile, tempus keeps on fugit-ing on, and life happens (as Lennon said, when you’re busy making other plans). You can’t put off life. It happens, whether it’s the way you expected or not.
The Great Equalizer
The nice thing about life, though, is that everyone is given the same amount: from birth to death, marked off in nice increments of minutes, hours, days, etc. Unlike food, shelter, money, and comic books, everyone in the world is given exactly the same amount of time! It’s the one thing that Bill Gates can’t buy more of, that Vladimir Putin can’t order more produced, that Martha Stewart can’t craft more of with ribbon and a glue gun.
Isn’t that amazing? There is one resource that you are just as rich in as anyone else in the world?
That begs the question, then: what are you going to do with it?
Power of choice
I don’t know the answer to that question, by the way. Not for myself, not for my progeny, and certainly not for you. I will, however, mention two things that I’m working on that might help you figure out how to use your time, your life.
Both are matters of choice, and both are difficult, but both seem to be the key to determining what the quality of your life will be like:
- The first choice is how you frame things. Life will happen to you, regardless; what you can choose is how you see the things that are occurring. Yes, it is hard to take things like “My son just had to have extreme orthopedic surgery” in a positive light as you see him sweating the pain as his meds wear off, but you can always find some silver lining – perhaps something like “This might keep him out of any draft should the country continue these wars,” or “Most kids are gone at this age – getting to spend this extra time with him, helping him through recovery, is going to make us closer than most families.” It’s not easy, and it doesn’t always work, but a lot of the happiest people I know are that way because they simply choose to look at the world that way.
- The second choice is easier because it’s action based, unless your weakness is procrastination and/or indecision. It’s expressed simply as “Well, if that’s the life you want, start making choices that lead towards that life.” Want to be a doctor? Better start moving towards med school. Want to have a significant other? Better start dating, preferably in the places that people who resemble your ideal mate hang out. It’s as simple as “I’m hungry”, so you get up and get some food, whether that’s going out to eat, heading towards the grocery store, or just picking up the phone for some sushi delivery.
The caveat to the last one, though, is procrastination and indecision. To continue the food metaphor, those two things can keep you hungry a long time: “Oh, I’ll cook that burger…as soon as this episode of Numb3rs is done. Wait, there’s another episode that looks interesting…” Or else you spend all your time trying to decide which would taste better, the sushi delivery, the gluten-free lasagna, or just going out for some prime rib? They’re all so good, and if you pick one, then you’ll miss the others…and that thought process, for some, keeps them on the couch and hungry.
Lack of Choice is a Choice
As I have said often in this book, I can’t offer you help on how to make those decisions, because I wrestle with them myself. I will point out, though, that it’s not like you can avoid life. It’s going to happen, regardless of whether you make the choices that lead where you want to go, regardless of how you choose to interpret the things that happen to you.
There is a famous story about an elderly woman who decides to enter medical school at age 70. “Are you crazy?” her son asked. “You’ll be seventy-seven by the time you get your degree!”
They say she just smiled at him. “In seven years I’ll be seventy-seven anyway,” she said. “Might as be a doctor, too.”
You’re going to have a life in seven years too, I hope. What is it going to look like? What do you want? And more to the point…what are you going to choose?