It's difficult to shock me at 9:30 in the morning, but a friend of mine managed. He said: "Who needs Netflix, friends or a girlfriend? Whenever I feel unhappy, I look at my MCAT score and everything's OK."
My brain could only react in a series of question marks. I sat there with my eyes wide and mouth agape, astounded by this completely bizarre view. On reflection, though, I realized I'd heard it before.
In fact, coming from the medical sciences program, I've seen this mindset time and time again. Why do so many med-sci students make this same joke? It seems as if students in my program use humour to cope with the stressful realities of pursuing the medical field and the workload-life imbalance that can come from being in the program.
Funny as these jokes may be, there's an underlying attitude to them that I find troubling.
Take my friend for example. He was fine being miserable, as long as he was one step closer to achieving his goals — and ultimately, that's no way to live a fulfilling life.
Don't get me wrong, a goal-oriented mindset can be extremely useful for fulfilling life-long ambitions. But in unhealthy proportions, the attitude of "A's before baes" or "med school or die" can impair our well-being and erode our sense of identity — even if we end up successful by our own metrics.
Giving up or severely limiting enjoyable activities, like Netflix or social interaction, results in isolation. Numerous studies have shown that isolation and loneliness can lead to unhappiness and a plethora of mental health disorders. Engaging in conversation or hobbies allow us to develop a sense of self apart from work. This can help keep us sane in the long run, which may better equip us for the challenges that life throws our direction.
But even more concerning is this: if we only see our lives in milestones, we'll be unhappy the whole time we're chasing our goals. And when we do achieve our goals after a lengthy and sustained effort, we'll feel exhilarated — only to become indifferent, and then wonder what's next. It's a perpetual cycle of misery, and we need to learn to recognize it before we fall down that rabbit hole.
It's unfortunate that so many young people, especially those angling for stable, profitable professions in the sciences, have this bleak outlook on life.
For students, university is a transitory period in which they prepare for the next step of life. With the daunting thought of "real life" ahead of us, it's easy to get shortsighted with our own life's master plan. But we can strike a happy balance as long as we prioritize our own well-being and the people we care about.
Just as Victor Frankenstein became delirious from his obsession with monster building, we, too can become trapped in our own horror tale if we don’t keep our ambitions in check. So indulge in some Netflix, go out for dinner with friends and, whatever you do, don’t use your MCAT score as a means of finding happiness.