Thoughts on my 2-year journey to medical school

Coffeeshops are a perfect place for introspection and neuroscientific musings.

"I'm trying to see the future in a tea cup and a saucer, but I'd rather be drinking coffee with my cigarette foster." -- Aesop Rock, "Water"

"I'm trying to see the future in a tea cup and a saucer, but I'd rather be drinking coffee with my cigarette foster." -- Aesop Rock, "Water"

So much for using this blog as a chronic chronograph of my academic and social endeavors. I originally planned on the next post being an outline of my initial thoughts on the first day of spring term. Then it became a recap of the first week. Now, with the beginning of the 3rd week of the term only 2 days away, the next few posts are going to have to be protracted summations of many things that I have encountered since my last entry, divided up among broadly defined facets of my personal experiences.

I am currently sitting in Backspace, an ultra-hip internet cafe that prides itself on representing the urban technological culture by showcasing several artists that implement so-called “geeky” themes, an XBOX room, a bank of PCs dedicated to online gaming, a pool table and a constant stream of musical artists that play until the joint closes at 2am every night. I have been avoiding this location for several months now, previously operating under the misinformed notion that Backspace charges for their Wi-Fi services and making the moderate trek to Floyd’s Coffee Shop for all my internet-related needs. Backspace is definitely a major player in the social establishment scene, and while I prefer to patronize the underdog, I can’t overlook the fact that I can literally lob a tennis ball out my bedroom window and bounce in through Backspace’s front door. Yes, I can definitely see myself taking up a more permanent residence here.

On a somewhat related note, I have noticed that the aesthetic factors that draw me here are the same for many who fall into my demographic. On the whole, I don’t think my tastes in clothing, hobbies and interests completely define my identity, nor are they reflected in friends I have. I am pretty unique in the context of my social circle, and have therefore ignorantly believed that I am uncommon in the whole of the Portland populace. Now, sitting in this desirable environment, it is very strange indeed to see actually TWO people across the room wearing similar clothing and glasses, on the same model laptops and constantly checking the same model iPhone that I possess. For once I think I see myself the way strangers see me. Maybe I am classified as a “hipster.”

I have brought up this revelation, and others like it, with other people since I started experiencing them in high school. It is usually met with tepid indifference. These reactions fuel my theory that, as a by-and-large introvert, I am emotionally cut off from the context in which I reside. I have constructed an illusory bubble around myself, unaware that I am actually an internal and external product of my environment. This subconscious behavior is observed in people suffering from Autism, and in the off-chance I may be endowed with a mild case of the affliction, it may explain why so many people do not find these discoveries as startling as I. You never know.

Enough of that. Self-diagnosis doesn’t get lab reports written.


The first step: finding motivation

**Word to the wise: any posts containing the tag “brain-dump” are rough ideas more for my own benefit than for any quality reading experience**

Here we are: my first official day as an unemployed schmuck. It’s 4 o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday. Shelby is in Phoenix. CJ is at work. I haven’t said a word to anyone all day aside from ordering my pancakes at Fuller’s Diner and my coffee at Floyd’s, my current location. I wouldn’t say I am hungover from last night, but I am very lethargic today without any explanation. All these factors add up to the fact that I am less than motivated to do anything.

No word yet on CRISP.

Spent the past half-hour or so working on my study schedule. General ideas used in the formation of the schedule:

  • Always print out lecture notes the night before said lecture (requires internet access — must have soon!)
  • When taking notes outside of class, I can be as messy and disorganized as I want, keeping in mind that I will be re-writing them in a cleaned-up fashion. Doing so will force me to revisit the material and systematically organize, restructure, and solidify my understanding of the given concepts. To hold myself accountable, I am going to have Sundays as my “review” days. Whatever I learn the week before will be typed up in a condensed, distilled format (by referring to my notes), printed, and kept in a binder. Again, this will strengthen my familiarity with the material (going over the same stuff in 3 different ways has been proven to do wonders for recollection), as well as prepare a study guide for the upcoming exams.  Looking at my work in a review-like fashion will cultivate a more intimate relationship with the material and help me prepare for the next week’s worth of information. Got the idea from this guy.
  • Once I have a set schedule for volunteering, I will have a rigid framework of times and locations with specific tasks. From here, I can fill in the rest of my time with explicit time-slots dedicated to specific subjects.

Other ideas:

  • Specific date-times for chores/errands (ie, “tuesday mornings = bathroom” “load dishwasher and start every morning/unload at night” etc.)
  • Routine meals for each day of the week, dependent upon activities specific to that day. Helps in planning grocery runs and reduces money wasted on eating out because I forgot to pack a lunch.
  • Daily GTD routine — implement key ideas in Cal Newport’s GTDCS thought process.

Having a totally mechanized, clockwork schedule for just about everything in my life does sound appealing on the surface. I don’t know if it will induce burnout or any other negative consequences. I know that I tend to expand all my ideas further and further with more dedication. Getting too organized might allow panic when chaos throws a kink in my routine.

Differential Diagnosis of a Blank Schedule

"Hold your head high, soldier, it ain't over yet. That's why we call it a struggle: you're supposed to sweat." --Blue Scholars, <i>No Rest For the Weary</i>

“Hold your head high, soldier, it ain’t over yet.

That’s why we call it a struggle: you’re supposed to sweat.”

– Blue Scholars, No Rest for the Weary

This new chapter I have begun is not one full of free time and merrymaking. Yes, I have freed up 30 hours a week, previously spent spinning my wheels in the mud and not making any progress toward my long-term goals, which will be allocated toward a more structured set of activities. I fear that leaving my schedule wide open will result in increased procrastination, reduced success in academics, and a slower-than-expected rate of progress toward my goals.

I can break my focuses down into a few explicit, immediate groups:

  • Dedicated, routine study time
  • Volunteer experience for med school resume
  • Exploration of personal interests (music, graphic novels, bicycle maintenance, Dungeons and Dragons, seeing more of what Portland has to offer)
  • More quality time with friends and loved ones (sorely lacking in this area lately)

Dedicated focus on these will help me develop a more organized lifestyle (“Zen and the Art of Stress-Free Productivity”), lately a losing battle. This will also help me work toward long-term goals, including:

  • Become more organized
  • Move to Chicago this August
  • Prepare for the MCAT
  • Bolster med school application
  • Regain sanity
  • Find self

This is a grand opportunity. A strategic maneuver to take greater control over my life and how I want to live it with tenacious discipline, not a totally rad vacation. There will be no less work for me, just a drastic reduction in tasks that are getting me nowhere. This spring break will be a chance for me to dust off all the GTD/productivity techniques I’ve collected and fetishized the past several terms and actually implement them. I know I can become the streamlined, organized and efficient machine I’ve idolized and wanted to be. The exciting part will be amplifying the behaviors that work, weeding out those that do not, and all without the headache inducing variables I’ve been beleaguered with for the longest time.

I intend for this blog to be a dedicated repository for my progress in this area as well as others: what I’ve learned in school, what I’ve learned about myself, new music I have discovered and wish to share with others, etc. Doing so will help me remain cogniscent of my goals and efforts as well as provide a time capsule for me to look at in the future.

Let’s go.

It’s over: a strange, glorious feeling.

“I need a job,” I say to her.

The south Park Blocks are burning at full bloom. The air is cold, dry, crisp; a static, electric blue sky holds back the future cloudbursts. The air vibrates with movement as students hurry by in chaotic directions, late for their first week of classes. I bite into my granny smith apple and smile inwardly at the unintentionally cliched scene. Portland State University seems to be a good place to call home.

“I have some money saved up,” I say between chews, “but I’m going to need a regular cash-flow by next month.”

Christy purses her lips in thought before speaking. “Starbucks is hiring. Not the store I work at, but I’m sure a lot of stores in the area need people. I’ll put a good word in for you.”

She leaves for work then and there. I consider the idea of working for Starbucks. I had spent the past year at an independent coffee shop deep in suburbia and the thought of going corporate sounds unappealing. But I am desperate. I decide to apply, get some money, and move on to a better-suiting position.

That was 2 years, 4 months and 18 days ago.  A steady influx of course requirements, apartment relocations and a constantly shrinking job market eventually sapped my resolve to find a new job while that job continued to sap my soul.

When I had finally given up all hope at finding a better place for myself, opportunity arose in its typical, unexpected fashion: A grant opportunity.

I calculated that, if I received this grant, I could continue to live the way I do now (meagerly) for the next two terms without working and have enough left over for my cross-country move to Chicago at the end of the summer. I took the grant. My last day at that dreadful establishment is this saturday.

In 28 months, I have shapeshifted from a wide-eyed newcomer staring at the towering buildings into another nameless cyclist, enfolded into the rain-drenched tendrils of these busy one-way streets. I learned of the trials and tributes of living with a drug-dealing roommate. I entered my longest-term relationship yet and know what it is like to refer to myself as “we,” and am now living with her and my best friend, finally returned after 2 years from his harrowing experiences in the deep south. I have seen the sun set over the city’s bridges and a fair share of declared majors. I have watched old relationships predicated on my life in high school and the suburbs fade as new ones have come to fruition. And yet, in the face of all this flux, only one constant had remained until now: my job. Where I work has become part of my identity despite my struggles: discussions with mine and my girlfriend’s families inevitably turn to SBUX stocks. And while this source of recollection may be pathetic, it still warrants a few minor chords of wistfulness interspersed in my joyous fugue.