When I was doing my Post-Baccalaureate in Health Sciences, I already thought that I was shamefully late in the journey to becoming a doctor.
I started the program when I was 25, planned to finish it in a couple of years, so (with the gap year added) I’d hopefully enter medical school at 28. I’d finish in 4 years, then pursue residency, so best case scenario: I would be a non-resident doctor at 34–35. From my 25-year-old eyes, that seemed really old.
Now at 30, it doesn’t. Every age seems a lot younger than you initially thought as you approach it.
This notion of being late to the journey of achieving my then-dream was always a cause of internal anguish. Since I believed I was running out of time, I doubled-up, heck, tripled-up on responsibilities. I took 4 hard science classes, tutored students, freelanced as a henna artist, and worked at a shop.
There’s a frightening picture of me from that time. My eyes are sunken, and I look sickly. I was dizzy all of the time. I had limited energy, and I stayed in a toxic relationship because I couldn’t compound to my already barely tolerable anxiety with a breakup.
I even used to describe my life at that time as a noose tightening around my neck. Talk about dark.
One of my fellow classmates was 33. If I thought I was behind schedule, imagine how silently judgmental of her I was. She always dealt with me kindly, showing a twenty-something the patience I hope I can cultivate now, as a 30-something.
She explained to me that I had to stop thinking about the process in terms of an internal deadline. Instead, I’d be better off concentrating on the question of whether or not I wanted to be a doctor. If I wanted to be part of this profession, then it didn’t matter so much when I got started.
Side note: Turns out, I didn’t really want to be a doctor. It’s better for us all that way. I recently cut my finger while washing dishes, and the sight of blood nearly made me faint. I don’t have the stomach for wounds, needles, etc.
Five years before my post-bacc, the same demon sandglass had unrelentingly haunted me. I had just turned twenty, and I was so crippled by the constant anxiety of having run out of time that I was mostly nonfunctional.
I’d get ready for my college classes just to look at myself in the mirror and feel so disheartened by what I saw that I got right back into bed and cried myself to sleep, deeply frustrated.
I’m still unpacking why the anxiety of having run out of time made me feel powerless in my twenties. What I do know is that I did it- I ran out of time. I missed my internal deadline. I hit 30, didn’t go to medical school and haven’t figured my life out.
Here’s the funny thing.
It’s sort of relieving. I didn’t meet whatever insane expectations I had for myself, and now I’m out of time. I’m in the aftermath, in the post-apocalyptic world of Rebeca.
Being here, in the world of unmet expectations has been incredibly liberating. I now have started to realize that many of the milestones I understood as my own were actually the goals others had wanted for me. My mom, my community, and the larger society had formed the perfect noxious compound with my innate tendencies towards competitiveness and perfectionism.
This compound had been my fuel, and the destination was never my own.
Now, in this space, I’m thinking about what will make me feel fulfilled and happy before my time here is done. I don’t know where I’ll go, but I know that what drives me is fundamentally different. It’s not guilt or shame or the anxiety of ineptitude.
Instead, I do things out of curiosity and love in the quest to figure myself out.
It has been so peaceful after I ran out of time.