Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can? – Sun Tzu

October 20, 2012 § 2 Comments

I can imagine that one of the most difficult challenges in life is the discovery that what you want to do is not in line with what you are actually capable of doing. Growing up we are bombarded with the idea that everything is possible if you just work hard enough, if you just believe. The brutal truth is that this is not always how things work out. Yes, you can work as hard as you can and put every ounce of your being into something – but does that guarantee that you will get what you want? There is always going to be someone that has more money, more connections, a better education, or any number of better qualities – physical, mental or otherwise. Does this still mean that anything is possible?

Throughout my life I have believed wholeheartedly that you can do anything if you just put your mind to it, that the only restrictions are the ones we place unto ourselves. Lately, however, I’ve been taking a second look at my loyalty to this belief. Are we really capable of anything? Sure you have your success stories, many of which are made into inspiring movies and books (like the Pursuit of Happiness). One of my favorite quotes from that movie is when Will Smith says to his son:

Don’t ever let someone tell you that you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you gotta protect it. When people can’t do something themselves, they’re gonna tell you that you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.

At first glance, the quote is all about ignoring the people presented as obstacles on your path to greatness. But there is a second part that is easily overlooked and seldom entertained: there are people who can’t do it themselves. It leads me to wonder why they can’t. Do they lack self discipline or confidence? Do they lack drive and motivation? Or is it that they do not have the qualities, whatever they may be, that they need to get there?

I remember meeting a 17-year-old girl who said she was going to be the first female president of the United States. A grand plan that requires an inspiring type of motivation. But how realistic was it? Had she been given the right tools to achieve such a dream, or was she just a victim of a bloated social illusion of the tangibility of greatness? My questions were answered when she said that she didn’t believe that dinosaurs existed because someone would have taken pictures of them if they did. Was it wrong of me to think that she couldn’t become the first female president? Did that make me one of those people that “can’t do it”? Who was I to make any judgements about her abilities and the manner in which they were expressed?

I wonder: how does one even figure out what he/she wants to do? Does one simply pursue what one enjoys, what he/she is good at, or what his/her parents, teachers or general society want him/her to do? Is there really a perfect fit for the specific, individual traits that we are dealt in life, or do we just pick something and then mold ourselves into the ideal person for it?

I write of this now, not to say that I believe people should hold themselves back and be “realistic”, but rather to reflect on my own fears. How can I be so sure that this is what I am meant to do and that I am not just kidding myself? There were times while attending college in Santa Monica, specially while taking calculus or physics, where I doubted whether or not I was cut out to be a doctor. Those were subjects that I had to take as part of a pre-med degree and I was struggling greatly with them. Did that mean that I wasn’t meant to be a doctor? The doubt grew strong enough that I even took a year off to study art and design. I thought to myself “here is something I am good at. My art is unique and I can learn better techniques to improve it and then eventually market myself. This is something I know I can do.” But there was always a part of me that wasn’t settled. I found myself wandering into the science building, missing the labs and lecture halls, and despising the students there. I ran into a girl I had taken calculus with (the first time) sitting outside of the back of the building, smoking a cigarette. She was a nurse and taking classes to help her prepare for the MCATS. After catching up, I expressed my dilemma. I told of how torn I felt: I was doing really well in my English composition class, being pushed by my art and design teachers to pursue a career as an artist, and had found a true fit in my behavioral psychology class (so much so that I got an A without ever even studying – I enjoyed it that much). On top of all that, I still wanted to go to medical school. She then told me something I will never forgot:

“You have to stop looking for your path in each of those fields individually and start finding one that includes all of them. None of those paths can give you the satisfaction that you feel in the others. The truth is that that one, perfect path is the one you were on. When you are a doctor you need to be able to write well, you are going to be publishing papers and need to be able to effectively communicate your knowledge to others. As a doctor you will need to be creative, as in art, and especially as a surgeon, you will need to understand the biological design of the body. As a surgeon, you will also need to understand the psychology of the patient, their worries, their demons, their fears – you will need to able to sympathize with all of it. Becoming a doctor is the one thing that will fulfill you because it is the only thing that satisfies all the different aspects of your being.”

Needless to say, I was back in the science building the following semester.

I’ve spent a good chunk of my life trying to get where I am now, and now that I am here, I am going to do anything I can to prove myself worthy of this opportunity. There are so many negative opinions about anything and everything that I witness on a daily basis. This is not easy and that hard truth is thrown in our face constantly. Rather than get hung up on the alleged unfair treatment of the students, the difficulty adjusting to Hungarian culture, the language barrier, and the general “this isn’t how we do it where I come from” mentality, I am foregoing my illusions of entitlement, power, and ego. Many may interpret this as weakness or say that I am succumbing to a greater authority because I lack the belief that I can do anything to change it. The truth is that I have yet to experience any injustice. No one has made anything easy for me before, so I can’t expect them to start now. In fact, I welcome challenge. I thrive in it. I want to be broken down because I know that I will survive it and emerge a better person, and doctor, because of it. Yes it was unfair for the girl who failed the anatomy midterm because of one wrong answer, but at the same time, we were expected to know everything. When I went into my own exam, I planned on interpreting my grade, not as a representation of my intelligence or a GPA booster, but as an evaluation of my progress thus far. We want to be doctors. We want to make life-altering decisions on a daily basis – and for that we need to be tough. So why not start building a thick skin now?

There will always be points where I doubt why I am here and whether or not this what I am meant to do. When I consider the sheer magnitude of information that we are expected to master in just these first few months, it almost makes me nauseous. It feels impossible. But then, there are so many that have managed it before me. We all have different tools that we are given in life and I know that the level of difficulty depends greatly on these tools. I know with all my heart that this is what I want and I am going to do whatever it takes to make it happen. It may be easier somewhere else, but I am here now and I am going to make the best of it. I will befriend the doubt of whether this is something I can do and continue until I find out that I can’t.

Do not pray for an easy life, pray for the strength to endure a difficult one – Bruce Lee

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For those interested in my art, here are a few of my pieces:

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§ 2 Responses to Can you imagine what I would do if I could do all I can? – Sun Tzu

  • Charkie says:

    I don’t think everything is possible, but you can’t know for sure until you’ve tested the limits. What that student told you is so fitting!
    We need to have a long discussion in person about all this!

    But PSHAW to your claims that your drawings of bones were “just copies”. I knew you were an artist!

    • Buda B says:

      Would love that! Skjalg and I were both quite reflective today and discussed this concept for quite a while. We concluded that finding out one can’t do something may be more concerned with desire than ability. Whether or not the person is aware of their true desire is the real issue.

      They WERE just copies! I’m horrible at drawing real-life objects…my flowers look like rotten veggies 😀

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