I watched a guy play some improvisational piano today. While he was playing, someone from the audience asked him, “How did you become so good?”
For him, listening to a track, figuring it out, and improvising along with it is actually very simple. The difficult part was becoming skilled enough so that listening to a track, figuring it out, and improvising along with it became simple. There was no shortcut to getting better. In order to play piano at the level he was playing, he had to put in over 15 years of study and practice. “You can become good at anything,” he said, “but you need to put in the time to become good at it.”
This made me think about my life–at 27 years–and what I’ve been sinking my time into. Am I becoming skilled at something worthwhile, or am I sinking my time into still and stagnant ponds? I near the end of my second year in medical school, and, as weeks only separate me from my first board examination, I have pangs of regret from the past year and a half.
One and a half years is one and a half years more of becoming a master at something. Right now, I don’t feel like a master at all. I don’t even feel like an apprentice, and sometimes I don’t even feel like a medical student. At some point in the past year and a half, somehow I adopted the idea that I just have to pass. That’s a corrupt idea, and, like a toxin, it diffused and poisoned all the other aspects of my life.
Two years ago, I stood in the middle of the Sussex Family Practice clinic closing up some notes from earlier in the day. In the middle of a chart, a thought came over me that I hoped I would be able to recall in the future: “I would give anything to be studying something in medical school right now instead of typing notes.” In school, I knew there would be days where I didn’t want to study, but, in those times, I hoped to remember how badly I wanted to be in medical school.
Unfortunately, there have been too many days when I didn’t want to study. When I tried to recall what I felt two years ago at the clinic, I felt nothing except for what I imagine an addict feels when they are desensitized to that elusive high. I tried to remember what it was like when the Dean of Students called my cell phone and told me I was accepted. I tried to remember what it was like texting Dr. Davis and getting a text back that read like I was going to be his partner in a few years and how proud he was of me. I tried to remember what it was like when I drove to my dad’s house after class and saw the smile on his face when I told him I was going to medical school. I tried to remember what it was like hoping my shift in the ER would go by faster so that I could go home and tell my sister, mom, and stepdad what they surely already knew but wanted to hear from their brother and son. I tried to remember what it felt like hugging my mom that night and telling her, “I got in, mom! I got in!”
But that poison for settling for passing was too potent. It’s disgusting to see the disparity in my motivation between year 1 and year 2 in medical school. In the beginning I was diligent with my time and studying, but now I’m complacent and wasteful. Somehow I missed the forest for the trees. You can’t reduce medical school into just passing your exams. It’s two more precious years you can add toward becoming skilled at something difficult.
I watched a guy play piano today. He said that you can become good at anything, but you need to put in the time to become good at it.
I wrote this post in mid-April 2017 when I was finishing up the 4th semester of my medical training. At that time, I had little confidence in my knowledge and preparation for my board examination that was originally scheduled at the end of June. Ill preparation forced me to defer my scheduled exam date into mid-July which, subsequently, forced me to miss two weddings that I earnestly wished I could have attended. If there was ever a time in my life where I felt like I was falling for rock bottom, it was in the months leading up to, during, and a little bit after my dedicated board preparation. This post is a reflection of that mentally draining season of my life, and about my regrets over how I approached my medical training.