Saturday, November 1, 2014

Not Succeeding Does Not Equal Failing

We've all been there.

You set a goal for yourself: something as simple as completing a daily task, or something on a larger, more important scale, like getting in to medical school.

And when we achieve those goals, there is always that flying-high, sense of accomplishment. Obviously, things like getting accepted to school or a job promotion have a much bigger sense of fulfillment than doing your laundry, but no matter how big or small, when we are able to complete a challenge that we set ourselves there is a feeling of victory and success.

Take that world: I passed my exam/got my dream job/washed the dishes.

Unfortunately, this means that when things don't go how we planned or hoped they would, those nagging feelings of self-doubt tend to pop up. You start listening to those voices in the back of your head that say you're a failure, you're not good enough. And it can be very difficult to make those thoughts shut-up and go away.

I'm hoping that this is not necessarily how everyone feels, but it's a pattern I've increasingly noticed in my medical school bubble and our over-achieving generation, thanks in part to constantly comparing ourselves to others via social media. It's also something that I've struggled with a lot myself, more so than ever when I was applying to a medical school

The first time I applied to school, I was put on the wait list and ultimately was not accepted. To me, that meant that I was a complete and utter failure, that I was not as good or as smart as my peers, and it's still hard to rid myself of that sense of shame I felt. Even admitting it here is still incredibly difficult.

When I did finally accept that maybe not getting in to medical school did not mean that I was a failure, I got my acceptance letter.  But in an environment of exams, boards, and residency applications with other like-minded goal-oriented people, it's sometimes difficult to remember to be objective and positive about goals.

Ironically, my most recent struggle with this concept was not at all related to school or medicine. Last year I set myself the goal of running my first half-marathon, which I did, and went on to run two more. So, of course, this year I decided to challenge myself to run a full marathon.

If you've ever run a marathon or a half-marathon then you know it takes time to build up your mileage in order to help prevent injury. I was a little busy this summer and so was not able to put in the time training that I  would have liked. Then, of course, I jumped right back in to school, complete with a brand new grueling schedule. Despite all of this, I was still determined to run a full marathon come November. But trying to find the necessary amount of time to run became stressful, which kind of defeats the purpose. My body and muscles were also not being cooperative and I began to realize that if I pushed myself as quickly I needed to in order to catch up with training, there was a good chance I would injure myself. Despite all of this, it still took me two months to finally admit to myself that I would not be running a marathon this year.

Even though I knew that not running the race would actually be better for me both mentally and physically, I couldn't admit it because, to me, it would have meant that I failed. But I know now that I didn't. I am doing what is best for me right now and simply putting a bit of a hold on running a marathon. Just because I didn't achieve my goal, does not mean that I failed.

This long, personal story is my way of saying that even if you don't succeed at every goal you have set yourself, if you are not exactly where you wanted to be at this point in your life, you have not failed. Plans change, adjustments must be made, the unexpected happens... nothing ever goes exactly as we would like it. Every triumph (and, yes, laundry counts in my book) is a success, and every setback is a lesson learned.

So the next time you feel like you "failed" at something, remember that just because you did not succeed, that does not mean you failed. As long as you don't let it hold you back, or you learn something from it, well, then that's a win in my book.

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