Today is a day for confessions. Here is my first.
I struggle with failure. Few things make my stomach twist and turn. But when I ponder the thought of failure, it nearly debilitates me.
The history of this struggle could point to 1st grade when the sticker poster was instituted. Imagine long rows and columns of boxes. The rows were each given a name of a student and each column was a different day, representing a different exercise or test in class. An uninterrupted line of stickers would indicate success and some form of unhealthy, tooth-decaying goodness that we all drooled over.
Without any sort of abnormal external pressure, I found myself deeply desiring, and needing a completed string of stickers. This weight and demand would only grow in my life and academic career to the point of cheating on an algebra quiz in 9th grade because it would ruin my perfect quiz score. After seeing the correct answer off a neighboring student, the guilt complex began and I eventually scribbled the wrong answer. I like to sleep at night.
I believe this potentially destructive obsession led me into identity issues. I found myself seeking approval and feeling valuable in and only in the midst of my successful performance. However, this embedded identity would come to have a paralyzing effect in the face of failure.
The other day I received my first calc test back. In my world, the test score was a failure. One that will require a formidable amount of work to mitigate. I struggled through the rest of that day. Wanting to lash out in anger at those around me, while all the time knowing the simple fact that I felt worthless in this moment.
The discouraging thought pattern runs like this... "If I can't even get an 'A' on the easiest calc test of the semester, how in the world am I going to survive 7 years of med school and residency and the requirement of a good doctor to know and understand the most complex creature in our known existence."
Needless to say. I was discouraged.
A deep cut had been sliced into the foundation of my identity. The reverberations of this shook my seemingly determined purposes and plans for life.
So I treated myself to a big chocolate chip cookie ice cream sandwich, loaded up my tools, and went to build a floating dock. Hitting things and lifting heavy stuff always seems to help, just a little.
Two days prior, I had a conversation with a highly successful ER doc from Ohio. We talked about calculus and why I wanted to be a doctor, etc. He looked at me and said, "HEY... I hope you know that calculus doesn't have anything to do with being a doctor." He's a funny guy, so when his face became stern and penetrating, I thought I'd better listen. "I never took calculus. You'll never use calculus. They're hoops. Just jump through the hoop and keep moving. You'll make a great doctor, not because you know calculus but because you care for people." This guy also likes really nice motorcycles and has a beautiful wake boarding boat. We got along great. It was encouraging to hear a perspective from the other side of this 10 year journey.
I also heard from a wise woman that night. She said, "If your focus is on calculus, you're going to struggle. If your focus is on Jesus, the failing won't matter." I sheepishly looked up with that nod of the head indicating that I knew this already. She continued, "Remember why you're doing this. If you focus on Jesus first, becoming a doctor will fit into that focus. If you focus on calculus, where is Jesus?"
She was so right. I knew it. But still felt like Mike Tyson had busted a few ribs. She was talking about identity. She was talking about receiving value by doing great stuff instead of by being loved and created by my maker. It was hard to hear. But it was good. It was truth.
I have an uphill battle in calculus. But who cares. An F in calculus will not stop me from serving the poor, healing the sick, and noticing the least of these. I will work my tail off and put in more hours studying, no doubt, but when the fat lady sings... it will be my desire to love and be loved by my maker that inspires and upholds me... not my GPA.