Prophylaxis for Burnout: Learning to Enjoy the Present

As I stepped out from my friend’s house, I allowed myself to be enveloped by a once familiar sea of people in maize.

It’s been a while. “Alex, did you miss this?”

My friend asked as we made our way to the stadium.
                   Did I miss this?

I inhaled the crisp autumn air until my lungs were completely full and slowly exhaled.  It was my first time back in Ann Arbor since I started my second year of medical school at Wayne State. My instinct was to shout YES! Yes, I missed college dearly. I missed the naïve excitement of college, the students not in medicine, the naps between classes, the late Sunday brunches, the sports, the food, the city, and even the professors.

As I reminisced on my undergraduate career that went by with a blink of an eye, I became solemn. Life sure seemed a lot simpler back then. Now my life consisted of endless exams coupled with sleepless nights, course-packs that created mountain ranges in my room, competition that turned friendliness into jealousy, and dread from the looming threat of Step exams. All of it had taken a toll on me. No, I didn’t miss college. I longed for it. The times were simpler. The stakes were lower. The life was easier.
In that moment, I wanted to lift my younger college-self up and shout at him. Enjoy the moment! Bask in it. You will crave it when it’s over. Then it dawned on me. The poison of reminiscing is that we forget the pain and only remember the good. We yearn for the past and forget to enjoy the present. College was definitely a great four years of my life, but I had forgotten the toll of being pre-med and the uncertainty of applying to medical school had taken on me. Juggling my classes, research, and volunteering while trying to maintain my science GPA was a grueling process. The truth is that each step of the way in this journey to becoming a doctor is challenging. I can’t let reminiscing about the past supersede enjoying the present. I felt the future resident version of me grabbing me and telling me to enjoy the moment just as I was about to do the same with my previous college self. The staircase only gets steeper from here. I must learn to enjoy each step.
As I finished reflecting, I took my seat among 120,000 other football fans in the Big House and let out a big sigh of relief. My racing mind came to an ease. Enjoy the present. Life is sometimes hard. But not now. Now is the time to soak in the sun. And the game.
It doesn’t matter where you are in the journey of becoming a doctor, learning to enjoy the process and present is essential for living a happy burnout-free life. Like my high school calculus teacher always said about limits, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey.” Let’s enjoy this journey together.

-Alex Yang (Guest Post)

3rd year MD/PhD Student at Wayne State University – School of Medicine

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