Cake or pie?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Self-Discovery is Overrated

My birthday is looming on the horizon. I'll be 30 in May. What I'd like to do for my birthday is go to Volt in Frederick and eat some of Bryan Voltaggio's delicious food. Table 21 would be even better but I'm pretty sure they are booked solid through like 2016. Thanks, Top Chef!

The entire process of being a non-traditional pre-med causes you to be more introspective than usual. I'm sure it helps you get into personal statement and essay writing mode when you can examine yourself, what your strengths and weaknesses are and what your motivation is for pursuing medicine. You have to figure out what motivates you, why are you doing what you're doing, and if it's worth it to you.

However, I think self-discovery is a little overrated by the time you're close to 30. By this time, you're pretty set in your ways. You can change small details here or there, but it's exceedingly difficult to make wholesale changes in your life, attitude, and lifestyle, if they are necessary. I don't think I'm being cynical - far from it. I just think I had a strong sense of self from early on. If you have to make changes, which will help you be more successful in your path, nontraditional premed, runner, or any other path, it's better to and easier to make small changes at first instead of trying to deliver a shock of changes that completely changes you or the way you live.

I'll give an example. I think I've previously mentioned I was never much of a runner. I guess you could argue I'm still not much of a runner depending on your perspective since I've run four marathons but none under four hours yet, or three and a half hours, or BQ'd (qualified for the Boston Marathon, which for my age group is a 3:10 marathon with :59 seconds of grace period added in). I played a lot of sports growing up: basketball, football, wrestling, baseball... never ran track. Running was either conditioning or punishment. I was a casual runner at times around the neighborhood, with the longest distance I had run prior to 2007 being probably three to three and a half miles. Prior to 2007, I guess I had lost the joy of running that you have when you're a child. When you're a child, running is exhilarating. You don't think about your own perceived flaws in your technique, your inefficient arm swing, your non-relaxed shoulders, the jarring oscillation of your bounding stride, whatever the case may be, you just let it rip, enjoy the wind through your hair and the grass beneath your feet and smile. Then, my mom passed from cancer.

I wanted to run a marathon before I was 30. I was 26 when my mom died. I figured four years is plenty of time, but I didn't try to shock my body and system into being a runner. When you try to make those wholesale changes, your body will protest vehemently, most likely by getting injured. I started out slowly, and gradually built up my stamina by increasing my mileage no more than 10% a week. But... I've also been the type of person who doesn't dip their toe in the pool to test the water; I get a good two or three step start and bust out the cannonball.

Pop Quiz: Knowing what you now know, before that first marathon in 2007 did I race:
A) a 3K
B) a 5K
C) a 10K
D) a half marathon
E) none of the above.

If you answered E), you are correct. I cannonballed the marathon. By the way, I wouldn't recommend that approach. The next logical progression as a runner was to start eating better. I'm still working on that one, but doing much better now than I was even a year ago, and a big reason is because I have the joy of running back, and I do a fair bit more cooking than I did in the past, when I tended to stick to things I could just toss together in a skillet or saucepan.

Bottom line: take small steps before you take bigger ones, get acclimated to the small changes that you need to make before you try to make the bigger ones. While I gave the example about my running, it's probably applicable to more than one area, even say study habits for the MCAT or your post-bacc classes. If things aren't going the way you had hoped, figure out why you're doing it, figure out how you're going to do it, and make it work.

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