A Dream Realized

This is the beginning of a new adventure.

I was the kid who was excited to get home and check the mailbox to see if the latest issue of National Geographic had arrived.

The best week of the summer, for me, was Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.

I spent my summers chasing butterflies in the field behind our house, completely covered in chiggers, to put them in a bug box for observation while I looked up their Latin genus and species names.

I was the girl forever lost in a book.

Being the “smart kid” in a small town school is an occupational hazard. Classmates hate you when you are singled out as the “smart kid.” Teachers don’t seem to realize the damage they are doing when they praise some but not all. It makes me cringe when I see or hear it, because I know what the backlash is like as a kid.

Junior high and high school were no better. I’d say the fear of what my classmates would say or do to me was a major factor in my introverted personality that I still struggle with. Because, when an acquaintance in your class tells you to your face that he has always hated you because the teachers like you…. Well, I remember the smile that fell off my face, and I remember asking for independent study immediately after class, and spanned all four years. I withdrew within myself because I felt threatened. My senior year was the loneliest; I had one class, out of eight, with classmates.

High school was no place for me.

The teachers were wonderful, but they had to spend too much of their time babysitting certain kids to be any benefit to me. Independent study was a dream come true. I could work at my own pace to focus on my own goals. In my spare time, I edited copy for the yearbook and newsletter, as well as took on editorial positions with the literary magazine because writing was an escape for me. I would walk the hallways looking at the floor and making eye contact while talking to anyone was difficult if not painful. This is why I turned to writing; I can do it entirely on my own. I had been offered the opportunity to advance a year or two, but I declined for personal reasons. At the time, I thought that was the best decision.

Maybe I was wrong.

If I learned anything from these experiences, it was humility.

I am a very goal-oriented person. Once I made a goal chart out of colored construction paper– I would write out individual goals on paper squares and stick them to the board. Every time I achieved one, I’d take down the square and replace it with a new goal. Some were small (“understand calculus”), others a bit bigger (“graduate valedictorian”)… And some fairly lofty (“full ride to college”). Most if not all of these were achieved. I never told anyone about my goals, or my chart. I even hid the chart from my parents.

So what does that have to do with humility? When others–usually the adults, the teachers, at the time–would be happy and congratulate me, it made my life harder to live. (Of course, they never meant it that way.) When classmates and peers looked at me with glares intending for me to burst into flames, it’s impossible to be happy about my achievements. So instead, I’d keep my mouth shut. Silence seemed to be the better answer. I was known for being “quiet”, to a fault. To avoid the glares, I’d keep my nose in books.

College was such a huge relief.

Intelligence and achievement were celebrated. Talents were showcased. I was no longer an anomaly, an outlier. I could be happy in public. I could talk about the good things in my life.

But it is still hard to share my joys, even after all these years.

I know, for a fact, that there were people who giggled with joy when I didn’t get into med school the first time. I know that there are people who think I always have things “handed to me.” Because, of course, I haven’t earned anything through hard work or perseverance, right?

I am tired of hiding my joys because some people are either jealous or pessimistic, or whatever else.

Not much has changed, really. While I am not as introverted as I used to be, the people I connect with best at school are still the professors, even now. I have no idea how to explain that.

And, I am still keeping track of my goals.

For instance, today, a longtime dream came true.

My heart has been drawn to medical missions for as long as I can remember, but there has always been a barrier of some sort, either time or skills or money. Or all three.

One of the privileges of being a medical student is that you are encouraged to use your skills for the underserved. My school offers several opportunities for students to go abroad during the summer after MS1 to serve on medical missions. There was one in particular that I have had my eye on.

I’ve written before about Timmy Global Health. I love this organization and what it stands for–working with the Ministry of Health of the country to provide sustainable access to care for underserved populations. After dreaming for years to be a part of this organization, I was anxious for the opportunity to apply for one of the 20 spots to go to Ecuador next summer.

And then I heard how many of my classmates applied. For 20 spots, I heard rumors of 40, 50, or 60 applicants. So, I knew my dream may just remain a dream. But I applied anyway, prepped for the interview, and put it in God’s hands.

I cried tears of joy when I got the congratulatory email.

And of course, I wanted to share. I wanted to know who else in my class was going with me. I told my husband, my parents, and my closest friends. But at the same time, I was sad and didn’t want to share the news, because of how many people I knew were probably disappointed, and I didn’t want to rub my good fortune in their faces. Salt in the wound hurts all.

In this day and age, oversharing is the norm via Facebook, Twitter, whatever. We share what we ate for lunch (and where, with pictures, check-in’s, etc), vacations, how much work sucks… and my favorite (sarcasm), parents who share their children’s every bowel movement. It’s not just what we share, but how. The new term I overheard the other day was “the humblebrag”, bragging while trying and usually failing to sound humble. There have been so many articles and papers and blog posts about how these outlets for sharing hone our abilities to just post our “highlight reel” for the world to see, and so they are lies, mostly by omission. So, for instance, “I made this awesome dinner!” but leaving out the “I burnt it the first three times.” I’ve even read articles about how reading others’ highlight reels makes us feel depressed and inadequate. In my experience, it’s totally true! Someone else is having a great time doing X. I wish I was too. So I am immediately ungrateful for all the things in my life that are great, because I am falling into the trap of comparison. “Comparison is the thief of joy,” as the adage goes.

And so, I am sharing my good news anyway–I am so very excited that a dream is becoming reality, that a Bucket List item can be checked off next summer, that my head, hands, and heart can be used to help someone else. I hope that those not selected for this trip are selected for the other trips our school offers to Kenya, Brazil, or Thailand.

Ecuador. South America. The Amazon Basin. Galapagos. Straddling the Equator. Getting to use my Spanish skills. Actually using my newly-acquired clinical skills. New people to meet and communicate with. New problems to solve. So many new things to learn and experience on this adventure. I can’t wait!

But for now… back to studying the pelvis, the bane of my existence as a medical student.

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