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The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Just Where Are You Going?

    ‘You will work your butt off all your life, and you willnever relax, ever. All your life will be spent with your heartyearning for the next break, the next day off, the moment to rest,and the few moments to breathe that you have will be tainted byyour knowledge that they are temporary. You will dedicate your lifeto helping others, but your sympathy for others alone will not beenough to motivate you for the rest of your life. You will wish youdid something else, anything else, 20 years from now. You traversethis path onwards to medical school because this is all you feelsafe with. You will never rest.’

    I read that on my best friend’s Xanga, his online journal.It’s an exaggerated rhetorical point he was trying to make,and he actually wrote it as if it came in the form of acondescending lecture from an emotionally disturbed statisticsprofessor. He’s odd in that way, but he invokes an excellentpoint.

    Just where am I going?

    My friend and I are both premed, so the above declaration isapplicable to us, in that we both want to pursue our career choicein the interest of helping others, to some extent. But it’strue that this sympathy may not be enough to keep us going.Medicine is a tremendously taxing profession, and so often I speakto doctors who regret their decision, and wish they had followed adifferent career path. Yes, they wanted to help others, but no,they weren’t prepared for the commitment and lifestyle thatwas required of them.

    I hate to confine the relevance of my opinion to a specificgroup, so I will try to expand on the breadth of its meaning.I’m not just talking about doctors here. This applies toevery single profession. Why are we heading in that direction? Isit because we think now that we will be happy in the future,because it seems reasonable that we should be happy? Or is it tojust accomplish some goals we have set for ourselves? Maybeit’s because we authentically want to lead our lives on thatcourse.

    So where does that leave us? My friend continued his Xanga entrywith the following response: ‘It will all work out fine. Ihave a really good opportunity here to make something of myselfthat many others would kill for.’ I have been able to besimultaneously successful and happy at all other stages, why not asa’ medical student and a doctor?’ Besides, being a doctoris the noblest profession that one can choose. There is no moralequivalent to saving a human being’s life, let alone thelives of thousands.’

    So he has rationalized it. Medicine is a righteous profession.Because he is happy now, he will inevitably be happy in the future,and of course he should be if he does what is righteous. This makesperfect sense in the minds of so many individuals who havecommitted themselves to a certain tract because they have believedfor so long that it’s just the ‘right thing todo.’ Often, we have no better explanation for ourmotivation.

    The statistics professor responds to my friend. She says,’Remember what Bertrand Russell said: ‘One shouldrespect public opinion insofar as is necessary to avoid starvationand to keep out of prison, but anything that goes beyond this isvoluntary submission to an unnecessary tyranny.’ You told meonce that you agreed with that sentiment, but all you have donehere is quote some empty platitudes. Do you even really believe inthem? Or do you revert to them because you’ know that deep downinside, I am right?’

    Public opinion is a very strong motivator. For some of us,it’s the only motivator. Yes, medicine is the noblestprofession in the minds of many applicants to medical school, andthat is why they do it, but where did they get that idea? It hasprobably been ingrained in them since childhood. I knowthat’s certainly true for me. The problem, however, is thatpublic opinion can often motivate people to do things theydon’t necessarily want to do. It can influence individualsand veer them in a direction they think is correct, but notnecessarily what they want. Consider for yourself whether that istruly the reason you are inspired to such a calling, because thepublic, or other figures closer to home, should not force anythingupon you.

    The Xanga entry finishes with the phrase, ‘JustRelax.’ All of this is a lot to take in, especially ifyou’ve never considered the implications of your decision topursue a specific career path. Just relax, and reflect upon it all.Remember that you are in control of your life, and no one can orshould dictate your future, not even an emotionally disturbedstatistics professor.

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