The first question I ever heard a college professor ask in a lecture was, “How many of you want to become doctors?” Not so surprisingly, the whole class raised their hands. Statistically speaking, he had suggested, only 5-10 of us would actually make it into medical school. It was a sobering way for an entire room of potential doctors to start their first lecture. We were less than five minutes into our college experience, and there was already an elephant in the room: some of us would make it, and some would not. Whatever he lectured on past that point, I simply did not hear it. I spent the rest of the class period slumped in my chair, looking across the room, and picking out those five to ten people instead. Even in my own head, I was not sure I would be making the cut.
Later that afternoon, I dropped out of the PreMed program – and it was the best decision I had ever made.
Long before you became a PreMed student, you hopefully realized that making mistakes is part of human nature. Whether you like it or not, we are prone to screwing up. However, sitting through lectures wondering which five to ten people are smart enough to make it to medical school makes you wonder where the room for messing up really is. Not so surprisingly, you do not have to look far to realize history’s greatest successes are backed by history’s greatest failures. As you might have heard, Walt Disney was once fired from a newspaper for not being “creative enough.” Also with a long list of failures, Abraham Lincoln could not pass as a businessman. Honest Abe even suffered from a nervous breakdown not too much later. Even seeing John Maxwell speak a few weeks ago turned out to be a humbling experience. He stated, “I learn from my failures more than I do my successes. If you’re going to be brought to the ground, you might as well pick something up while you’re down there”
People fail, even great people do, and I was no exception. Ever since that September afternoon, the choice of dropping out of my PreMed program was haunting. The days progressed and I continued to go about my time as a different major, but I knew I made a mistake. Only now do I truly recognize the importance of that step. Dropping out of my PreMed program was the best decision I ever made because it was the wrong choice. If everybody had gotten it wrong from time to time, then I was ready to use it as an opportunity to get it right.
If we are not creating an environment that encourages risks, then we have a bigger problem on our hands than we are willing to admit. Maybe most people are smart enough for medicine, but only a select few are willing to make the mistakes and learn from them. It is time that we stop treating our failures like a disease and start treating the missed opportunity to learn from them as one instead.
Ironically, I had to sit through the same class with the same professor after entering back into the PreMed program. Like clockwork, the professor came in, sat his things down, turned to us, and asked, “How many of you want to become doctors?” We all raised our hands as he went on his usual statistical ramble, but for some reason I heard it differently than before. Maybe only five to ten of us would make it to medical school, but that is because only five to ten of us would be willing to make the mistakes and learn from them. I looked up and surveyed the room – realizing I was already one mistake ahead of most people. Whoever those five to ten people were are still a mystery to me. All I know is that I like failure a lot more than I am willing to admit.
Austin Greer is a 4th year student at Indiana Wesleyan University and a current Student Advisory Board Member for PreMedLife.