That Monday in early October was the first morning I awoke to silence—no alarm, no hum of the automatic coffee maker. It was the day I curled over in bed when I should have been scuttling from the parking garage toward the medical complex in pointed heels and a professional skirt. It was the day I pressed send on a letter that would change the rest of my life—the day I dropped out of medical school.
As I lay in bed that morning, I looked out the window at the hilltop view of the trees and the sprawling city below, and I remembered for the first time in a long time what it was like to feel small. Those weeks of emotional strife leading up to my withdrawal from school had left my body more physically ill than it had ever been, and I could hardly speak, much less move from bed.
When the ringing of my phone cut into my silence, I answered it—in spite of the gravelly pit that my voice had become. It was the dean of the medical school. Though she claimed she had called to talk through my options, it felt like she had really called to check on my sanity.
No one believed that my decision—to leave behind a prestigious program, to throw away years of labor, to forsake this path that oozed sure status and success—could possibly be what I truly wanted. In the eyes of the world, I was well on my way to living the dream.
For most of my life, I looked like the girl who had it all together—the one at the top of the class, the one instructors praised, the one slated to achieve something big. I graduated summa cum laude from college, and was accepted to seven medical schools. When I decided to enroll, I committed to take on at least eight more years of exams, grueling hours, and sleep deprivation.
But as I persisted those first few months—passing around the bone saw in anatomy lab, withstanding those mingled scents of antiseptic and flesh, learning from patients with diabetic foot ulcers, lung disease, and ulcerative colitis—I noticed my peers growing in ambition and excitement for the path they had chosen. They spent afternoons off volunteering in the wards. They stayed after-hours in the lab, snapping scrub selfies with pride. Those future physicians began to shine, and they were hungry for more.
Meanwhile, I withdrew. My sadness grew deep roots inside of me, and I began to feel like a whisper of my old self. As I walked the hospital corridors in my white coat with a brand new stethoscope around my neck, my mind sought refuge in anything but medicine. I thought of every other longing I might have to let die in order to be there, longings I didn’t even know lived inside me—like having the space and time to cook dinner for my husband most nights, to pursue creative dreams, to be a young mother.
My heart ran further and further away from medicine until I understood that, for so long, I had been dreaming the entirely wrong dream. I had let success and expectations chisel away at my identity, and I had never let my own dreams grow from that secret soil deep inside that sprouts joy and life.
When I finally hung up my white coat for the last time in the darkest part of my closet, I was foolish enough to believe that the emotional distress of my decision was behind me. But the aftershocks were just beginning. As I fielded more and more questions from family and friends about what I would do next, I began to feel creeping sensations of shame.
Of course, I had other dreams in mind when I dropped out of medical school—to be rooted in ministry, to raise a family, to breathe meaningful creativity into the world. But the strongest pull on my heart was to leave behind those days of restless striving for a more ordinary life.
The reputation that trailed me from such a young age had stifled the changing passions of my heart. For too long I bought into the lie that in order to use my gifts, and in order to serve the Lord and others well, I needed to impress, to achieve, and to succeed. But now—on my simplest of days, as I chop onions and file papers and scrub dishes—I’m reminded that my life doesn’t need to be extraordinary to be worthy, and I’m savoring the joy and freedom that comes with finally letting myself believe it.
Cover image by Louis Melendez.
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