We walk many lines in life. Sometimes these lines are well structured with clear and concise paths laid out in simple steps. Sometimes they are serendipitous. Most of the time we don’t see the lines for what they are. They are simply lines. Lines that we’ve created by our free will and choice. These lines cut and shape the seemingly gelatinous space that we call our lives to give us an idea of purpose, direction, and ultimately the identity of what we see ourselves to be. Sometimes in rare glimpses we are allowed the fluke chance of circling back and re-emerging on a line after a tangential circumnavigation through the life jelly, and in these strange moments we see can see a little more clearly, and we see that defining ourselves solely by the line we walk in life is a bit of a joke. If there are an infinite amount of possibilities in how we cut through the jelly than one singular path cannot possibly be our definition. Our identity that is immutable is the substrate between the lines. How we shape that substrate with these lines and paths through higher education and the carnival of the modern business world is just a byproduct of living in the modern world, and not as meaningful to our real identity as we are trained to think.
It seems that we often have to force ourselves out of our comfort zones to escape the [path I’m on is my reality] existence that we seem to fall so easily into. In the turbulence of medical education we experience this charlatanism as the sheep hiding amongst the wolves, hoping not to be discovered for what we are as we so gracefully do the pretend dance of young doctors. Five years ago I made a decision that resulted in me being jettisoned off the path of medical education into the bizarre and sometimes terrifying world of special operations flight medicine. Over the course of five deployments to Africa and Afghanistan my identity as a physician was challenged, destroyed, and rebuilt more than once. All lines I tried to walk shattered beneath my feet and I was forced to embrace the substrate of who I saw myself to be, and what I wanted in life and in medicine as opposed to the misled journey of defining my special little line. So now I find myself back on a familiar line that was never really familiar to me as I stumble through Family Medicine residency interviews.
I’ve been on six interviews across three states at this point. My identity that is thrust upon me is a suit with an assigned folder at a conference table and a name tag that only bears the name of my medical school. This name tag is a palpable reminder that I am right back on an old path. Behind closed interview doors it is no secret that my path and identity as a physician was shaped by a long series of events that have happened since medical school. But, the name tag puts me in my place and is a subtle reminder that although you might think you are different now, you will don this identity as you walk this path. I am still a sheep, just an older and wiser sheep that is trying to fit in with the young and overly enthusiastic sheep. The fears that concern the young sheep don’t seem to interest me. What’s the call schedule like? How do interns cope with stress? Are the attending physicians friendly? The young sheep stress about the details of the long mountain pass between the pastures. This older sheep knows that the details of the mountain don’t matter, the path is long and hard no matter how you step across the rocks. What matters is what can be taken away from the mountain journey not just simply surviving it.