This Post was originally published on April 21st, 2014
Last month when I was on vacation I discussed writing with an old friend. I don’t think that this guy has a Facebook, and if he does he is then we aren’t friends. He mentioned that he has read some of my work and that he enjoyed the introspection that I had put into it. This is great because first of all I have always craved his approval and secondly it means that someone is benefiting from these ramblings beyond my computer screen. This got me thinking about the growth that I have made over the past few years and how much better I understand the world around me, and the world between my own ears.
We all start as children blissfully unaware of the world around us. As we grow up we gradually become aware of more of the things that are going on. Our view grows from just knowing that we exist to include our family, friends, community, and eventually we get the idea that we are not the center of the universe, just one thread in a rich tapestry of life. I was lucky enough that my family encouraged growth and awareness through experience. I was pretty well traveled and through books was able to be exposed to several different world views and see things through the eyes of others. By the time I was in high school I was able to grasp some of the complexities of life around me, not to say I was some type of savant and I certainly didn’t understand everything, but I did have a decent grasp on reality and my place in the world for a music obsessed lonely teenager.
In college something changed, I regressed gradually at first but as the pressure mounted I became an animal, I suppose as a type of defense mechanism. I reverted to a macho mindset that I was going to be a tough guy, a real man of action instead of just a pussy thinking all the time. For a long period the main things in my life were boxing, eating, and getting drunk, literally the eat, drink, fight survival responses of a wounded animal. I couldn’t understand emotions, I oscillated between terribly sad and irrationally angry. Everyone kept telling me to be happy, but I don’t think that I would recognize happiness if it jumped up and hit me in the face, but then again hitting me in the face would probably just make me angry. Obviously this is a bit hyperbole, but the fact is that just 5 years ago I was a very different person, and frankly I was not someone who I would currently want to spend time with. So what was the turning point? What was the catalyst that promoted the burst of self awareness and started this change toward enlightenment? Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.
Yes that bothersome little book that ACPHS forced us to read for Healthcare and Human Values changed my life. I have never been a fan of classic literature, but for some reason I was able to understand and digest this book like no other. Maybe it was because my 23 year old sensibilities were on par with 18 year old Mary Shelley in 1816. I remember sitting in the back of our 20 person class, head down, hat on, hood up, hung over and hearing someone stumble through a poorly prepared answer to a homework that I didn’t bother to complete and just having the light bulb go on. With my head still down I dissected the entire book during a few minute talk that clearly answered the question asked as well as tied in themes flowing within the book and connected them to modern society and science. When I finished I looked up to the entire class staring intently at me seemingly shocked that the drunk guy who skipped all other classes actually had a brain and knew how to apply it, and the professor who I had for several classes as a freshman smiling because after a long hiatus I was back.
It wasn’t an overnight transformation, but after that one experience I was able to muster the courage to start thinking big picture again. I set myself a goal that when I was on rotations I would use the time for my benefit and ask the deepest questions and find the right answers that would straighten my life out. I was going to figure out finances and professionalism while regaining the love of travel and exploration that had laid dormant during my booze soaked college years. I set a very ambitious goal of having my whole life figured out by the time that I crossed the stage with my diploma. Needless to say I failed.
I felt, and still feel, that the best way to grow was to push yourself out of your comfort zone. I tried to do that personally and professionally as much as possible during rotations. I was able to grow a ton and move toward the type of self actualized life that I dreamed about. I set about to acquire data, reading books, blogs, and watching deep thinking media instead of the terrible action movies that I adore so much. I also set about trying to ask myself the deep questions about myself, and predictably I didn’t like the answers. I decided that since I didn’t like the answers the best thing to do is to play the odds and keep asking questions, eventually things should work out. Wrong. Long after graduation had come and gone I was still searching for the answers that suited my needs under the guise of being a thinker. Little did I know that the funk I had put myself in thinking about issues without acting on them was worse than the blind actions and ignorance that I was running from.
Life is all about balance and trying to strike that perfect chord where everything works in harmony just for a split second. I obviously haven’t found it yet, but over the past 5 years I have swung to both extremes and am searching for the elusive middle ground. I will keep making mistakes, and will bounce back and forth as life goes on, but at least I know that there is no such thing as a magic bullet. No one amazing event will ever make you happy for ever and ever, no one terrible event will ruin your entire life. My path to introspection isn’t complete, it never will be complete because I have a whole lot of exploring left to do. We have never been promised happiness, so I suppose that the pursuit will have to do.