I started writing poetry again recently. I do this, then abandon it, then reclaim it at various intervals. I’m always better with it.
This may seem to have very little – if anything – to do with medical education. And, you’re right in one sense. Join me on a little self-indulgent meandering to get to my point.
As I write this, it’s Thanksgiving Day – a day when people traditionally reflect on their blessings and things they’re grateful for. And, I’m on the cusp of a milestone birthday, so perhaps that has made me more introspective than other weeks, when I write about course evaluations and how we value them (we do!), or team-based learning and how it contributes to long-term learning and understanding more than straight lectures (it does!), or ways service-learning contributes to both social accountability and professional development (yes!). So, I find myself thinking about poetry.
On the road to becoming any professional – and medicine is no exception – we ask people to shed a lot of things along the way.
We ask people to shed attitudes that aren’t aligned with their goals. To ditch beliefs that aren’t compatible with where they’re going. To replace erroneous information or practices with those that are proven to be more valid.
The profession of medicine itself demands other things – things I watch colleagues work through and cope with – long days, longer nights, emotional and physical demands they may never have imagined at the start of their careers.
Because, really, none of us truly ever know what we’re getting into.
All of this coalesces in a kaleidoscope of who we were and who we are and who we will be. The parts and colours shifting as the years turn.
My first career was in journalism. In the spring of Grade 12, I was accepted into the four-year Bachelor of Journalism program at the University of King’s College. They only accepted 35 students a year, out of nearly 1,000 applicants, so this was exciting! As parents are wont to do, my father, an English teacher, mentioned my acceptance to a colleague he saw at a conference. That colleague was the late Don Murray, then a professor of Journalism at the University of New Hampshire. Professor Murray later sent me a number of articles and a book on journalism (that I still have and use to this day), but he passed along advice through my father that was even more valuable.
“They’re going to teach her how to write a certain way,” he said. “And that’s important, and she needs to do that. But tell her not to give up her other stuff. She needs to keep doing that, too. It will make her a better writer.”
I haven’t always adhered to that advice, but over 32 years after first hearing it, I know its value. So I put pencil to paper to work out ideas, and thoughts, and metaphors. But, really, I’m claiming a part of myself I refuse to shed. It’s something I need to keep to be me. To be better.
Are there things you’ve accidentally shed along the way that you didn’t need to? Are there parts of you you’d like to reclaim, to give you that edge, that solace, that space to be you, preserved in the full person you want to be?
As I write this, I’m reminded of the 2004 diet Pepsi “old van” commercial… where a thirty-something dad is asked if there’s anything else youthful he’d like to experience and he says his old van. He then imagines his 1980s-era rocker painted van and what driving that in his current life (like dropping his kids off at school) would be like (not good!). Then he drinks his can of pop and is happy with that.
Some things can’t – and likely shouldn’t – be reclaimed. But if there’s something like poetry, or running, or music, or nosing around in antique shops, or reading trashy fiction (however you define that), or some other seemed-not-that-important-at-the-time thing that you miss about being you, consider ways to recapture that. And fit that “old” part amongst the newer parts.
Just maybe not that van.