Your Past Life is Over

by Edidiong Udoyen, MSI (KBTGSP)


"Your past life is over."

My instructor didn't say this to me and my classmates through all of my first term in medical school. After the first few weeks, the reminders died down, but even until the final few days of lectures, those words played in my head. I heard them after my classes. I heard them while studying into the thick of the night. I heard them as I woke up to prepare for class (even before the alarm on my phone went off). But the truth of those words only sunk in after my midterm exams.

They were tough exams. I passed quite alright but I knew I needed to work hard, extremely hard, to raise my final grades. This would require sacrifice and a bit of delayed gratification. It was then that I decided to begin the process. The first part, figuring out how to modify my daily routine, was simple enough. The hard part was committing to the new plan, particularly because I am an avid procrastinator, always having a ready excuse to justify my failures.

"You need to eat out."

"You can't study in a dirty room."

"It's okay to hang out with your buddies for just two hours."

"You'll catch up with your notes over the weekend. Don't worry."

Ah, the lies I told myself! Self-deception was my worst enemy in my first term of medical school. It cost me many precious hours I should have spent mastering my notes. It lured me into ignoring some guidelines my instructors had suggested at the beginning of the term. I found myself believing that I could study less than three hours after classes and still make the grade. I thought I could sleep more than eight hours a day and still be able to keep up with my lectures. If it worked for some people, why couldn't it work for me? The most interesting thing about my excuses and rationalizations was that I knew I was deceiving myself but I still listened to the lies. I listened because I wasn't especially keen on toiling away at my books. There was comfort in laziness and I wanted to operate at the maximum level of comfort necessary to progress through medical school. Once I found that level, I would abide there.

My midterms jolted me out of this state of academic slothfulness. They reminded me that if comfort was one of reasons why I entered the medical field, then as Nigerians would say, "I have entered pepper soup." I had placed myself in a precarious position in my pursuit to be a physician. The medical profession is not known as a career steeped in luxury. It is driven by service which often requires the sacrifice of many pleasures of life. Hours of sleep may have to be shortened. Time for leisure may have to be reduced.

However, though you stand to lose some of the niceties of comfort, you gain something of much more value: fulfillment. Fulfillment is many things. It is knowing that you are of one of the wheels upon which society progresses toward the future. It is knowing that your influence has enabled someone lead a healthier and happier life. It is knowing that throughout your career, you will save lives. The quest for fulfillment is worth the sacrifice, and the sacrifice begins when you devote yourself to your studies.

"Your past life is over."

Every time she said those words, I imagined I was in the army about to be ordered to run drills. I laughed inwardly. Surely, studying medicine couldn't be as arduous as military training!

I was naive. In retrospect, I understand what my lecturer was trying to convey to us. The process of becoming a doctor means adapting to a new lifestyle. New habits must be developed. Our perspectives about life and living have to be restructured. It's a conversion of sorts. I had to lay down pieces of the old me to develop into the new me. It has been a difficult process but it is necessary and it is not impossible.

"Your past life is over," echo the words in my head.

Having completed my first term in medical school, I finally have a response:

"Bring on the new!"