How My Big, Fat Ego Learned To Let Go of Brownie Points

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I started the year 2013 by wanting more. Wanting so much more than my 2012, which had been utterly amazing and wilder than my wildest dreams (forgive me for writing like a giggly adolescent – can you blame me if I want to gush over it?)

In a matter of twelve months, I had ticked off a number of things in my bucket list:

1)      I finally got to live my Grey’s Anatomy fantasies – the blue-scrubbed, intriguing life of a surgeon-in-training at a state-of-the-art teaching hospital, with all the complicated cases (and the matching complicated personal life? Well, more on that later.) I was allowed a respite from my usual medical school routine when I got a chance to spend my summer pursuing a clinical elective abroad. I was ambitious and downright crazy enough for sending a secret application to an institution everyone in the world had most likely heard about. Of course, I had my safety bets and applied to other places, as well, but never in the world did I expect I’d get accepted for the Harvard Medical School Exchange Clerkship Program.

That was how I ended up sewing up faces of trauma patients and getting up close and personal with interviewing surgical emergency patients at Massachusetts General Hospital.  It was a crazy-beautiful and unforgettable experience, because I soaked up so much during my four weeks there than my previous years of medical school combined. It was that rich and dense with learning (kind of like how you’d describe a very, very filling chocolate cake…dense and packed).

2)      Since I was also in the area, I decided to up the ante (and crank up the craziness, for that matter) by sending in my pre-med psychology thesis for an interdisciplinary academic conference in Harvard University. As a lucky twist of fate, one of my thesis mates was also in Massachussetts herself, taking up a Masters in Autism (our thesis was about developmentally delayed children and how their parents coped). We decided to meet up and catch up, feeling the warm glow of success when our paper got accepted for presentation. It was a first for us, having our thesis go global, even more so, because I’d made it one of my goals to present at an international conference that year. Check, check, check!

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3)      When I got home to the Philippines a few months after, an account of my learning experiences was published in the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s Young Blood column. Since I was a kid, it had always been my dream to be published.  Seeing my name in print just made my day (and my weeks, after that).

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4)      I spent my 24th birthday on an adrenaline-packed racetrack, with Katy Perry (my one and only favorite artist) pumping the crowd up with energy, and with one of my favorite persons in the planet. I felt like the luckiest girl in the world because the night sky was lit with fireworks and skyscrapers, and everywhere around me were throngs of people spread out on the grass, excitedly rooting for their favorite race car driver. I will never forget the 2012 Singapore Grand Prix.

5)      I also squeezed time for more learning by doing another clinical elective, but in Singapore General Hospital this time. The strange of twist of fate? I bumped into one of my fellow international students at my Harvard elective, who was incidentally rotating at the same hospital!

6)      I ended my year by learning our pre-med thesis got published in an international journal online.

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So my 2012 had indeed been a blessing-packed year. I had so much to be thankful for! But, the hungry, ruthless spirit in me was NOT really that appreciative (are you itching to whack me in the head already?). That relentless, restless spirit in me instead responded to these gifts by WANTING EVEN MORE.

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I started my 2013 by making even more grandiose plans for 2013. I wanted to go to not one, but two, international conferences this year. Sounding like a little spoiled brat, I dared ask – no, demand from – God an opportunity to present in Europe (France, if possible, Lord, so I can practice my already-rusty French). Never mind that full sponsorships for such trips are hard to come by and my internship year after medical school was the busiest ever, with shifts scheduled every day and with week-long absences practically unheard-of, due to our tight, tight schedule (owing to 24-to-36-hour shifts every day).

I wanted this year to be EVEN BIGGER than 2012, to top 2012, and to just explode with a bang, the kind that gets featured in magazines and gets accolades everywhere (my megalomaniac tendencies are showing, oops, oops).

Unfortunately, I didn’t know life had another surprise for me. I didn’t know life was about to teach me to DARE TO STOP COLLECTING BROWNIE POINTS.

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Yes, as you may have noticed in my list above, I am AN ULTIMATE SUCKER FOR BROWNIE POINTS. I loved Brand Names, Big Names, Shiny Shimmering Things, Anything But An Ordinary Life (*Shudder*).

So, this year, I was in for a MAJOR LET-DOWN, because my 2013 was anything but.

For starters:

1)      I got into a conflict of interest with important people in my life. I will not get into details of my personal life here, but what happened forced me to choose between pleasing other people and choosing what makes me happy. It made me realize that pats in the head and endless heaps of praise for doing The Ideal and Expected Thing were all things I could do without if it meant I wasn’t being myself anymore. Brownie points from them = ZERO. Difficulty & Discomfort level = OMG YOU CANNOT IMAGINE (it was very painful to be a bit of a “rebel” amongst people who loved me).  Regrettability Factor = None. Peace of Mind with the Difficult Decision = Definitely PRESENT. Yet…Fear from Uncertainty = ALWAYS PRESENT.

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2)      Because I decided to be more independent and be more adult in my decisions, I also realized I needed to step back a bit and make my goals less grandiose, but rather, more grounded. My travelling and international conference fantasies required quite a huge sum of money (or perhaps an unlimited bank account). Let’s face it – as a medical intern (read: someone just out of medical school, with no salary yet, just a year’s worth of hospital scut work passing off as “valuable experience” before I take the medical board exams) I cannot afford those on my own dime yet.

And besides, did I really need another conference now? Preparing for the biggest exam of my life was more important. More than that, though, my concerns seem trivial now in the light of the tragedy and devastation caused by Typhoon Yolanda. This is a wake-up call for me to be more sensitive.

3)  I learned how to deal with the so-called pests in every garden: those little, sneaky voices behind your back that go by the secret names of “backstabbers” and “bashers”.  The worst kind of these pests are those who have superiority complexes and who belittle you and inflict their unsolicited judgment. The harder part is if these pests are quite abundant in your workplace. How does one go about it?

This is where I learned the difference being the Filipino trait of pakikisama (MAJOR BROWNIE POINTS EARNER, HELL YEAH) and the more unpopular route of sticking up for yourself  (LOSS OF BROWNIE POINTS).

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But honestly? I would rather lose the brownie points and have the brownies pelted and thrown at my back rather than eat them and get food poisoning.

The first time I tried to speak up for myself was one of the most uncomfortable things I had ever done in my life. I’d been bullied mercilessly as a kid, so you can imagine the kind of traumatic psychological hoops I had to go through to actually do it. In the garden where seeming harmony is prized and pests disguise themselves, choosing to be real and civil rather than being flowery is the hardest thing.

But the fact that you chose yourself over pleasing other people trumps the discomfort. (So what if BROWNIE POINTS=0? In my book, that’s worth: GANDA POINTS = a million and beyond.

4)      Instead of thinking of my career and my CV endlessly, day by day, minute by minute, as I obsessively did in 2012 (judging by my highlights that year), I decided to stop living for the future and just live in the present. It used to be a cliché for me that I never really got (I even thought it was, um, CORNY, before: “Today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present”. Puh-lease.)

But now, as much as I hate to admit it, IT MAKES SENSE. Ironically, even if I was so blessed with opportunities and achievements in 2012, I was equally unhappy at times when I wasn’t achieving anything. It was like I always had to get something or earn something or show something to prove my worth. I would get highs from the good things and when the next better thing didn’t come along, I’d crash and feel worthless.

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Now, I don’t feel as much pressure to achieve and be productive. I now appreciate the beauty of “down time” and I realize I bounce much higher once I’ve had a chance to kick off my shoes, lean back, and just do whatever I want.

5)      I’m getting into writing again. The kind that allows me to be honest with myself and that makes me connect my thoughts with people. Not the kind that is all about research papers for even more conferences abroad or the kind that sells myself so that I can get more career opportunities and beef up my CV even more (hence, accumulating even more brownie points). Just the kind that makes me feel good, that absorbs me, and makes me want to start blogging all over again.

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As you can see from the radically different list of my 2013, it’s been quite a low-key year for me in terms of brownie points. Do I consider it a fall from “grace” for my Big, Fat Ego then?

Hardly.

Because in terms of personal growth and listening to myself, I’m definitely on my way there. 🙂

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Lastly, I may not have brownie points anymore, but the taste of doing something FOR MYSELF (and not for external rewards) is so much sweeter.

Case in point:

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About the Author

Maetrix Ocon is a physician-in-training, slaving away at one of the most rigorous medical internship programs in the country. When not running around the hospital in 24-to-36-hour shifts, she can be seen in quaint little cafes, indulging her love for business books and self-help books. She likes to swim, eat healthy food, and have striking conversations with interesting people. 

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http://www.wanderrgirl.com/2013/11/i-dare-you-blog-challenge/

Photo Credits (by order of appearance in this article):

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5 thoughts on “How My Big, Fat Ego Learned To Let Go of Brownie Points

  1. Hi! Your entry is a beautiful account of how life is indeed “a balance of holding on and letting go.” I’ve been through that part of my life as well when I got so absorbed into “making it”–the way others defined it– that I didn’t realize I was doing things just to fulfill the expectations of others, instead of having a personal vision and dreams of my own. Fighting to remain true to who we really are is a powerful personal achievement in itself. 🙂

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