Living for Today
It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
This is my twenty-second year as a full-time student. I went to grade school for six years, high school for four years, college for four years, and now I am in my fifth year of my MD-PhD. I have three or four years left of my degree, then three years of a pediatrics residency, two years as a genetics fellow, and two or three years of research fellowship before I can start my own lab as a physician scientist. This is my twenty-second year of school, and I have at least ten left to go before my first “real job.” People at church often look at me like I’m crazy as they see my stomach growing and ask how many years of school I have left. People are expecting two maybe, not ten. I see that moment of shock they try quickly to hide.
On Friday I ran a qPCR that I hoped would show one thing, and it showed another, possibly setting me back by months. I am expecting a baby and was hoping to write a paper somehow during maternity leave, but now that’s looking unlikely unless I go for a review paper. Sometimes it seems like I’m playing a never ending RPG video game (I’m an MD-PhD; I’m allowed to be nerdy), and I didn’t bother levelling up enough initially so now I’m too weak to face the final boss without a lot of level grinding in unexciting fights. Every day is another low-level enemy, trying to build up my strength running PCRs and giving lab presentations to someday surmount that final evil: the thesis and thesis defense, the last two years of medical school, the residency, the fellowships, life beyond school…
And yet, I am not discouraged in the least. All right, Friday was a little discouraging, but I’ve recovered. At some point in the daily grind I learned a very important lesson. You may be in school forever, you may be judged by everyone at work for having a baby and everyone at church for having a job, but this is the only thing that really matters: do you love what you do? Will you look forward to every day, whether it’s taking care of homework, a child, a patient, or an experiment? I learned a long time ago that education as well as life should be a means, not an end. You cannot live for tomorrow, because tomorrow may be ten years away. You cannot live for other people because they will never totally approve of you. You can only live for today.
I love the beautiful fall in New England. The trees are all kinds of crazy pinks and oranges and reds. I may know that these are the signs of a dying season, another difficult winter coming. But spring will come eventually, and then another summer. I’m not too worried about it. Life and earth have seasons.
Take time to look around at the scenery, to appreciate your many blessings. I love what I do every day, and thus ten more years seems like an adventure of winters and summers and fiery autumns, not a chore. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.
“Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself” (Matthew 6:34).