The value of a Pro/Con list

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…

 

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This is day three or four of the course. I was still taking notes, pretending to care.
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I have absolutely no clue what this means.
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This is ten days into the course. When I begin to write down how I feel. I knew then I wouldn’t finish the course, but I went through the motions of deciding whether the risk was worth it.
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This is just me trying to write a note to my college track coach for his retirement. 
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This is me sitting in the back of organic chemistry, incapable of taking notes. I left the room during the break and never returned. The next few pages I wrote while sitting on the lawn outside the Registrar’s office, deciding whether to officially quit or not. I have to write a petition to see if I could get the $3k back for the course, money I’d borrowed from my parents. 
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I hate orgo so fucking much. Everything should go away. 
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Outside the Registrar’s office, I worked on my sci-fi story of the summer. WAY more exciting than chemistry or med school or being inside. 
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The ultimate pro/con list doesn’t have to be that fancy or articulate. It just has to exist. In writing this, I knew my answer. 
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I quit the course after writing this. I have not finished my Stavia sci-fi story yet. I have not figured out how I am going to help people more. But I have figured out that I have the power to be happy, and right now, that means spending a lot of my time running in the mountains. Call it selfish, but at least I’m not another unhappy person on this earth with the power to change my life, but afraid to do so because society tells you that you can’t. 

 

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2 thoughts on “The value of a Pro/Con list

  1. You are wise beyond your years, Clare. I won’t presume to know what’s best for you, but FWIW, I can offer some advice I wish I’d had when I was in the midst of my mid-twenties-I-need-to-figure-out-what-to-do-with-my-life-right-this-second crisis: BE PATIENT! Relish your gift and get the most out of your body while you’re young. You have the rest of your life to be a doctor, lawyer, whatever, but you will only be the best runner in the world for a few years. They will go by way too fast. Make the most out of every second of this carefree, adventure-filled phase of your life (you seem to be good at this). This sport can be selfish and unfulfilling. Use your fame and power to give back by advancing causes you believe in (you are also really good at this). If you need money, take a fun, easy job with no responsibilities. Or, even better, take an entry-level job in every field that interests you. This is socially acceptable when you’re 25. Not so much when you’re 45. Plus, it’s good to test the waters before you jump in (and spend a quarter million dollars on grad school). Fate has a way of steering us in the right direction. Sometimes it’s hard to see the signs. Sometimes the signs are obvious and they hurt like hell. Keep your heart and mind open and be grateful that a world of possibility awaits you.

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