I am not, by my nature, a particularly gracious person. Now this is likely the result of a lot of factors-not wanting to receive attention, difficulty in expressing emotions-but I think at its heart, it comes from a place of arrogance. And not arrogance of the sort where I elevate myself at the expense of others, not precisely. Instead, I often find myself struggling against an all-too pervasive belief in our American culture of the cowboy, the rugged homesteader, the individualist who stands alone, knowing only he can seize the day.
We often view ourselves, especially in medical school, as great men and women, the protagonist of our own novel, Nietzsche’s prophesied ubermensch, in need of nothing to survive and thrive but our own strength and fortitude, transcending traditional mores and morals of society.
And so, thinking that our accomplishments our but our own, we allow seeds of ungratefulness to take root and poison our minds. We forget that we are nothing more than the sum of the opportunities given to us, of the sacrifices of loved ones, of friends, of professors and bosses willing to take a chance on us. We erase our pasts to focus on our glorious fortunes of the future. We forget how hard it was in the past, how indebted we were to the mentor who led us through struggles. This, dear friends, is a grave mistake. Where we were once great heroes, as we forget the past we become the villains of our own stories: self-absorbed, arrogant, incapable of learning from mistakes in the present, having our fragile little egos shatter the moment we can’t accomplish something with the ease we expect, burned out. And friends, that’s just not where we should want to be as we pursue this thing called medicine. It will lead us to mistakes in class or clinic, outbursts against our colleagues, unteachable minds stuck in old ways of thinking.
I believe the way to remedy this arrogance problem, to foster resilience through school and far beyond, is through living out gratitude. To remember to be thankful for the opportunity to pursue medicine-not many receive this privilege. To recall what a gift it is that we can serve others at their most intimate, most vulnerable. To rekindle the passion that so often gets lost along our way. To not forget those who got us here through their work and their sacrifice and their great love for you. This, I believe will embolden our hearts and keep us humble. It will give us teachable minds when we find things to difficult, to seek help when it is needed, to pursue excellence not for ourselves, but for the multitudes in us, around us. It will give us the strength to remain resilient when we get rocked by life, because we know, that we do not stand alone.
And it is not enough to simply say we are thankful, but we must actively live out our gratitude. I know school is long and hard. I know it seems like we don’t have any time. But take a few minutes, each day, just to be thankful. Call that teacher or that friend. Write them a letter, send them a small gift, bake something for them. I don’t care what it is, but don’t just rest on your laurels, but actively engage with gratitude as an act. And let it sink in, so that it becomes not just an emotion or even an action, but it gets woven into your very essence, incorporated into your DNA. This, my friends, will grant strength to you and joy to those around you.
So let me say, it is no doubt you worked hard for what you have. But remember you are not a single instance of greatness, but millions of little miracles along the way. Remember what a privilege, what a blessing it is that you can sit here today and pursue this calling we all hold so dearly. I promise to you, to myself, that I will work to live out gratitude, to remember the words of Albert Einstein “There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” I hope you do too.