We are all going to die

We are all going to die

SAM_0864Today, I want to write about a talk that I recently attended. The speaker, Dr. Abraham Verghese, a well-renowned physician and author, was awarded an honorary degree by McMaster University.

I first heard of him through his contribution to the foreword of memoir by neurosurgery resident, late Dr. Paul Kalanithi. Dr. Kalinithi’s battle with mortality, portrayed through his writing, makes you realize how unpredictable life is and uninvited death can be. Similarly, Dr. Verghese’s talk, or rather the conversation with Dr. Verghese as it was called, provided me with a dose of much needed inspiration. He spoke in a tone that not only captivates the audience’s attention but also respect, answering questions candidly to give a sense that he is a man with humility. Of course it is difficult to judge a person from one encounter, and that too an indirect interaction. Maybe I was mesmerized by his eloquence and directness.

Or, maybe I fell victim to that effect (cannot recall the name) where you like someone famous more after meeting them simply because you met them. I am certain such an effect exists and I learnt about it in one of my psychology courses, but of course I cannot seem to recall the effect or to which concept it is related. This may not be the first time I experienced this ‘effect.’ I believe it to be quite common although it goes unnoticed, as most of the time we do not question ourselves on why we feel the way we feel.  From what I remember, and from what makes most sense, the reason why we like people more after meeting them is due to something called the familiarity effect. Description is pretty intuitive — the more familiar we are with someone, the more we like them.

To come back to Dr. Verghese’s talk, his opinion on two points stuck in memory more than others. Firstly, when asked about his career as both a physician and an author, he corrected the questioner by saying that he does not identify himself separately as physician and author. Instead, he identifies as a physician and believes that writing is something that comes naturally to all of us — essentially suggesting we are all authors. I have to say I agree with him on this. We have authored, or will author, some sort of writing in the course of our lifetime — be it a book published by a reputed press; a newspaper article highlighting an opinion, or disputing another’s opinion; a personal diary of a young girl [Anne Frank]; or a blog. I can relate to Dr. Verghese’s point because although you may not consider me to be an author, I like to believe I am one. Not because I am famous for my writing, or because my writing inspires many, but because writing is my way of speaking out even if no one is listening. To me, an author is someone who writes a story or shares an opinion, not necessarily someone who sits at a typewriter (or computer) all day to produce something that will help make ends meet.

Secondly, Dr. Verghese grabbed the attention of the already captivated audience by saying these simple, but somber, words: We are all going to die. Followed by, ‘Hope this does not come as a surprise to you.’ As mentioned by Dr. Verghese, and also told by Dr. Kalanithi, an encounter with mortality — or the thought of it — is a grim wake up call to honour and celebrate life by doing what we love, or by loving what we do. In an eerie way, death — or rather the fear of it — inspires us to live. Something to think about until next time!













A work in progress

A work in progress

It has been a year since I started writing in this blog. Time flies. Seems as if it was just yesterday I felt my life was heading nowhere, and I had to think of different things to believe I was put on Earth for a reason. Maybe it feels like all of this happened just yesterday because the fire within me to find my purpose in life has not yet been extinguished. It is quite disappointing to know that a year has passed but you are still at a standstill. Who says the Earth does not revolve around me? Sigh.

Well, I have to admit there has been some progress. In the beginning of this year, I decided to study for the MCAT (Medical College Admission Test) with hopes of applying to medical school, of course. But, the excitement did not last long. Thinking of the (im)possibilities of getting into medical school — being a tiny speck in a pool of thousands of competitive and intelligent kids — sent me into a downward spiral. I don’t mean to use a cliche, but during the past few weeks I have felt as if I am on an emotional roller coaster. One minute I am happy and motivated, and the next I am doubting my abilities to pass the MCAT, let alone get into medical school.

We all need motivation now and then; some more than others. Ever since I made up my mind to apply to medical school, I worry that my so-called ‘dream to be a doctor’ is driven by extrinsic motivation. I bet you will soon (if you haven’t already) open up a tab to search up ‘extrinsic motivation’; it’s great if you do. I am hoping to educate through storytelling — just one of those things I do (insert smirk emoji). So yes — we are said to be extrinsically motivated if our behaviour is driven by external rewards such as money, prestige, grades, etc. We are said to be intrinsically motivated if we do things because we simply enjoy doing them. The following study serves as a great example to help understand the difference — paying children to draw vs. allowing children to draw at their own interest, with no reward. The results of this study are pretty interesting — researchers found that children who received a reward (the children knew about the reward prior to start of experiment) were not as excited to draw, i.e. spent less time drawing, than children who did not receive a reward.

Isn’t that mind-boggling?! You’d guess the children who received a reward to have done a better job. Goes to show how prevailing systems, such as schools, may be causing more damage than good. Most of us go to school to ‘learn’ whatever is taught, cram for a test, and hope to God we pass the course, subject, etc. Schools have merely become a lifestyle, and are not used for their intended purpose. Grades motivate us, getting to the best universities motivate us, yadi yadi yada… We have no value for the essence of education. We no longer love learning — at least not everyone does. I am not accusing everyone else to shrug the guilt off me — I was the same! I studied for the grades. Studied to get a degree. Studied so that I can get a job. And now what? I have that… what have I learnt? I am not sure what the right system is, but I strongly believe the current system is not motivating us to do what we love.

I voice all this is to highlight my own doubts about my future. I no longer know what I love doing. I used to know, or I thought I did until I was exposed to the field. It was not for me. Now I need to find a different road to take — one less boring, as opposed to one less travelled (Robert Frost reference; yes, that’s the extent of my literature knowledge). So coming back to the MCAT, I am not sure if I want to do medical school. I believe the best way to find out is if I shadow a physician/ surgeon to get a taste of what it is like to wake up every day to save lives, and at the same time lose lives.

Until then, I shall continue to study. I am trying not to study for the sake of getting great MCAT scores, but to know a little bit more about the world. Isn’t there a saying — the more you know, the more you don’t (or something like that). This is absolutely true. I have realized over the past few months that I know very less. And I am excited to know it all, or at least most of it, but it is overwhelming, I don’t know where to begin. But I guess that is the beauty of learning; you never know what you don’t know. Before I go off at a tangent, i will bid adieu. Until next time 🙂