When should you play along with societal games?

What was my age when I was in primary school?

Seven to twelve.

Reflecting back, a tumour was slowly developing inside like a fetus but instead of growing inside a belly of a woman, it chose to grow in the raw mind of a prepubescent child whose servings of TV programs wererife with themes parading the unexamined virtues of ‘truth’, ‘honesty’ and ‘fairness’.

I call the tumour ‘idealism’.

Medical school conundrum: good grades vs good understanding (aka when you can’t have both, you can only have one)

A repercussion of having the tumour is I can’t stand people who cheat. As the tumour grows, my conception of cheating enlarged to encompass those who progress in their field through playing along with the games that were held.

Consider my experience in medical school.

I believe medical school should be a place for medical students to learn lifelong skills and knowledge that will serve them for a lifetime. Instead, what I see is the purpose is secondary while the game play is first.

Look at exams.

There are repeat questions in the exams; in fact certain questions were repeated every year starting from around 2010. I should love that, right?

Consequence — the students can game the system and score higher than what they should be getting. They can just cram the past questions a week before the exams and bam! An instant pass. Deplorable, unconscionable, outrageous! How can this be possible?!! My self-righteous idealistic moral sense perked up when I discovered that. Practice questions are fine but to repeat the exact question in the exams especially exams that were intended to weed those who studied and those who slack off…the thought gave me anger mind sweats.

I refused to play the game. My ego pushed me to study without referring to any of the past questions. The facts about my studying skills:

  1. I have a hard time understanding sciency subjects (alternative: all subjects in medical school).
  2. I have poor general studying skills.
  3. I study alone.
  4. I am wrecked constantly, physically and emotionally, by my severe social anxiety.

In my case, idealism works against me. It might work for others who has the aptitude of most medical students. Being mentally ill brought down my aptitude from an average medical student to the aptitude of a bound to fail medical student (note: am I blaming my mental illness for my poor grades? No, it’s my idealism that I blame).

My current idealism is making it more difficult to pursue my future idealism. I idealise myself as a psychiatrist but if I don’t pass the exams due to my current ideals, there will be no chance for me to achieve my future ideals

Temporal and pragmatic perspective of idealism: a guide on pursuing ideals

The lessons:

1. I didn’t realise that there are my ideals are planted in different time points. Furthermore, those ideals of different time points can have varying degrees of dependence with each other. I foolishly thought that my past ideals of not gaming the exams reflects my ability to become a good doctor in the future; I didn’t know that I am poorly built at achieving my future ideals unless I sacrifice the purity of my past ideals.

2. Unless I’m both lucky and genius, it is impossible to pursue all my ideals When I think of all my ideals, from the ideals of my adolescence to the ideals of my death bed self, what appears is an image of a skewer that perfectly penetrates all the meats that are lined up on the grill. The reality is much more difficult than that because for most of us our skewers penetrate some but not all meats. Unlike meats, I can’t pull back the time points I’ve been through and try to get it right this time. Perfection is the most imperfect way of pursuing my ideals.

3. It is necessary to play the game to pursue certain ideals. Other than the establishment of lifelong habits of learning, another ideal of mine would be to become a psychiatrist. These two ideals seem to gel together: lifelong learning habits + psychiatrist. But, I was unaware that developing lifelong learning habits slows down my rate of learning. When exams are looming, slow learning is not an option. Perhaps, flexibility is needed on my part.

4. Playing the game is not always deplorable. Studying past questions is a good way to assess my understanding of my learnings; networking with others is a great way to seek help and give help; marketing yourself and your ideas is a reminder to yourself that ideas are plenty, resources are scarce, and only the best man wins.

5. Maybe the game is not a game; maybe I am just envious of people being smarter than I am; maybe if I studied the past questions, my marks won’t be significantly different; maybe I am lazy; maybe I am not studying effectively; maybe the game is not a game.

Be an idealistic pragmatist

“You can have anything but you can’t have everything.” — Ray Dalio

You can pursue any ideals but you can’t make true all of them .

You can avoid playing any games but you can’t avoid playing all games.

Don’t be blinded by the pursuit of all ideals without considering the games you need to play. And don’t worry that you are sacrificing your integrity and moral ideals; games are supposed to be fun and not damning. This is water — the world does not revolve around your ideals.

Idealise sensibly.

Play sensibly.