It was the first semester of PA school, I was struggling and all my friends were killing it. I just didn’t get it. Why was I struggling? No matter how much I studied, I would barely meet my targets. Sure, now that I look back at it, it’s clear. I did not know how to study! That was something that I could fix easily, however what wasn’t easy was the constant comparisons I used to make in my head. “I studied 14 hours, he only studied 3 hours and he got an A?? Life is unfair”. Have you had this thought before?
This is something I struggled with in high school, undergrad and part of PA School. I always compared myself to others, even if the other person did not have the same goals as I did. Maybe this came from my upbringing, maybe from society, maybe from the social media culture? When I actually realized more than 50% of my stress was coming from what others thought of me and when I was comparing myself to others, it was truly earth shattering. Once I was able to possess that thought, I had found the (metaphorical) key to resolve most of my issues. It felt like I broke out of my shell. I was able to concentrate on what was important to me, what my weaknesses were and what was going to make me successful.
I realized that if I continued to compare myself to others, I wouldn’t ever reach my goals. Rather, I would constantly try to reach other people’s goals and likely fail! I realized that everybody’s backgrounds are different, everybody’s history is different, everybody’s aspirations are different. I have my own. I cannot compare myself to them because we are not on the same paths, we do not have the same goals, we do not have same meaning for “success” and happiness means different things to us. This was something life-changing.
When I internalized these thoughts, I changed my entire game plan on how to study, how to live life, really. I knew what I wanted in life. The next step was how to figure out how to get there.
We all compare ourselves to others. This is something that is very primitive, something we do to validate ourselves. I realized we compare for two reasons; one is to figure out how good we actually are (validation) and to make ourselves feel better (which ironically, makes us feel unhappy). Ultimately, its how you feel about yourselves internally. Thus, the underlying issue is self-esteem. You see it everyday on Instagram of people curating the perfect ‘gram to show off to strangers they don’t even know! Here is an article about an Insta model who goes into debt for the perfect ‘gram.
So what does this have to do with PA School? Medicine is tough to begin with. There’s a ton of information to digest everyday, exams and life is completely stressful. And then you add the extra pressure of constantly competing with very smart people to keep up. And then you compare yourself with them. That’s when things boil over. Medical students have had consistent increased suicide rates since 2009 (25% report being depressed and 11% have had suicidal thoughts). One of the primary reasons is the competitive culture in medicine. And for what? I thought we were studying to learn medicine. I’m sure you’ve heard this quote before by Mark Reid, “Student, you do not study to pass the test. You study to prepare for the day when you are the only thing standing between the patient and the grave”. This is the ultimate goal of medicine.
Compare yourself. Compare yourself to yourself. Are you better than yourself from a month ago, a year ago and a decade ago. If the answer is yes, then everything else is relative. Self enhancement is the goal.
Look, I am 26 and I certainly don’t know everything about life. What I do know is that after I stopped comparing myself to others, I was HAPPY! I felt gratified and successful when I compared myself to my past self. I was proud of all the obstacles I had tackled and all my accomplishments I had achieved and this become a cycle, a cycle of positivity that fuels you even more.
If you struggle with this, make this your 2019 resolution. Look back at it on Dec 31, 2019 and see if you notice a difference in yourself.
This is a post influenced by a recent DM I received from a PA student feeling depressed because no matter what she does, she cannot “beat” her friends on exams.
Leave a comment below if you’ve struggled with this before.
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