My journaling is sporadic. No one journals when they’re happy, right? It’s always when we’re confused, upset, hurt, or mad. I never find myself scribbling, “I HAD THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE TODAY.” Maybe unless I’m traveling alone, but for me these days, that’s rare.
A few days ago, I came across my journal from last summer when I was taking organic chemistry II in order to apply to medical school. In it, I found a written account of my thought process behind deciding to take a big risk, i.e. drop organic chemistry and not apply to medical school. I’m sharing it here because I think it could be useful for anyone else toiling with a “Should I quit my job? Should I go on that trip? Am I happy?” type of questioning journey. My advice? Write a pro/con list.
Some background: I’d taken almost every other pre-requisite for medical school as an undergrad at Princeton as a biology major, but I had a few more classes to knock off before I could apply. One of the classes was organic chemistry II. I enrolled in the accelerated version of the course at CU Boulder thinking I could jump right in, without any refresher of organic chemistry I. I was brash in thinking I didn’t need to prepare at all. I’d completely forgotten that organic chemistry I at Princeton was the bane of my existence, that I’d gotten a 24% on my final, that I gave up entirely, but somehow managed to scrounge a C in the course–my only C at Princeton.
Leading up to organic chemistry II at CU, I reviewed nothing. Instead, I galavanted, err ran, in the mountains every spare moment when I wasn’t scribing in emergency rooms–another medical school pre-requisite if I wanted to get into a top tier school because I had no prior clinical experience. My summer is best described as a sleepless running party with smatterings of 12-hour emergency room scribe shifts. I was far from an all-star scribe.
Organic chemistry II started. I couldn’t even remember what an aldehyde or alcohol or keytone was. My notes were disorganized, frantic, scared. I was writing everything down, soon to stop writing anything down because I couldn’t discern what was from organic I, what was new and what was from general chemistry. Taking Japanese III would’ve felt the same.
Everyone else in the class had just finished the accelerated version of organic I. Everyone else was fresh, dialed and motivated to finish organic II, to make their summer spent indoors worth it. By day three, I knew I was in over my head. I continued run, but adding in lectures and the three-hour labs three times a week compromised my health. I felt like I was back at Princeton–sleep starved, food starved, happiness starved–except this was way, way worse because I didn’t know why I was willingly doing this.
At Princeton, it was just par for the course. Everyone suffers similarly and doesn’t sleep and no one questions the “why?” But now, years removed from that, um, unhealthy lifestyle, I questioned whether I did in fact want to become a doctor. To most people, the answer is easy: suck it up, sweetheart and finish the damn course. But, I wasn’t the same person I was as a 21-year-old. Years removed from the Ivy-League mentality, I put an invaluable price-tag on my time spent outdoors and wasn’t willing to budge.
I dropped the course, less than two weeks in.I decided that I’d find another way to help people, while still being able to run in the mountains.
Leadville happened a few weeks afterwards, which seemed to justify my decision. Yet, even had I not won Leadville, I know that dropping organic and re-evaluating what I really want, care about, can how I can best contribute to the world is important. That sometimes means taking a risk that goes against the grain of society, and means if you like to run in the mountains more than anything else in the world, you probably should make time to do it…