Good Enough, by Charlie Ho

This writing by Charlie Ho from MUMUS Community and Wellbeing, first published in The Auricle‘s Final 2022 Edition describes the weight of external and internal pressure, and how to break free from its constraints.

Mediocrity, such a word reminded me of a bland taste, a lukewarm sensation, an apathetic aloofness. It had evoked in me dissatisfaction, disappointment, even disdain. After all, mediocrity must have resulted from a callousness, an insincerity, negligence of duty. Mediocrity means that I hadn’t worked hard enough or done my best; it was glaring evidence of my mistakes, yet another blemish painted on the proof of what a failure I was. I sighed, then scoffed at myself thinking about the things I could have done differently, a wave of “what-if”s flooding my head. After all, a mediocre result isn’t exactly going to get me anywhere. After all, my best was never good enough. Who cares about my efforts when outcomes are all that matters? I released my breath I had been unconsciously holding. I took a final glance at the report in my hands and tucked it away into the depths of my bag, as it by removing from sight the document would lessen the pang of guilt I felt being branded as mediocre.

That pretty much sums up what used to be my train of thought every time I checked my score and feedback for any assessment. I’m sure it is not an unfamiliar experience among us medical students, given the tendency of doctors being perfectionists. Yet, over time, I have come to peace with mediocrity and learnt to embrace and appreciate the feeling.

Born into the cut-throat culture of Hong Kong, I had been conditioned into viewing life as a race. The real pressure of getting a head start early on in the race was plain as day — parents filling up their children’s timetables with endless classes, extra curricular activities and competitions from the moment they speak their first word, devising a strategy for getting into a “Band 1” secondary school, camping overnight just to be first in queue for a chance of their kid getting in a prestigious kindergarten. Instilled in me was the doctrine that being mediocre was to be left behind, a loser deserving of none other but the worst. Mediocrity was simply not an option, god forbid even mention burning out — if I couldn’t handle a little stress, I must be weak-willed and unworthy of anything.

Of course, that sort of mentality only proved to be detrimental to be mental wellbeing and soon, other areas of my life started to be affected as well — my hobbies, sleep, physical health, relationships — it seemed as if my life had become undone by my own hands, the roots of despair digging deeper and deeper down my mind. All the self loathing begot worse performance which continued the vicious cycle and before long, I hit rock bottom.

Fortunately, you being able to read this piece means that I have gotten better and here is something I wish I could have told myself about mediocrity earlier on.

First is arguably the hardest step. Accept mediocrity and the discomfort that comes with it. Be compassionate to yourself when you don’t meet your own standards. Getting muddled in your head about how terrible it is that you have done a mediocre job is going to be harmful at best and will definitely not help in any way whatsoever. Know that recognising the mediocrity is proof that you care about what you do and is the first step towards improving your craft. It is in fact possible to be your own critic while being kind to yourself.

Next is something easier said than done. Enjoy the process leading up to the end result. If what matters are only results, your motivations may not be the most sustainable and you might consider rethinking your reasons for doing that something, perhaps even consider taking a break and coming back to see if that something is what you truly want to do. Once you start enjoying the process, the end result typically tends to turn out better, while a mediocre result ends up not having that much of an impact on your overall wellbeing, overall increasing your capability in producing a better result.

Last but not least may be the cheesiest advice I’d give myself: even if you never end up with something that exceeds mediocrity, you are and will always be good enough.

To New Beginnings

This piece by Laura Gilbertson, from MUMUS Community and Wellbeing, describes the feeling of leaving medical school, and the new horizons that emerge. This piece featured in The Auricle‘s October-December Edition in 2022.

With the end of medical school fast approaching (for some of us at least), I thought I’d check in with some of the things I’m feeling as this phase of life comes to a close.

Change is incredibly scary. It’s certainly not easy saying goodbye. Goodbye to friends, to places, to teachers, to memories. Goodbye to being a student, the world of no responsibility and of clocking off at lunch time.

And yet at the same time there is the excitement of something fresh. The world of work. The possibility of new friends and new memories. That feeling you get when you hold the pager or make a referral (and only get yelled at a couple of times) – like, hey, maybe I can do this? In many ways I’m excited to no longer be a student, to finally feel like I have a place, and like I’m no longer a fly on the wall.

When I think back to the first day of medical school, I’m not entirely sure how we got here; how and when everything changed and came together. I think we all battle with imposter syndrome to some degree, especially in the early years. After feeling out of place for so long, it’s heart- warming to reflect on how much I’ve grown and how much I’ve learnt. I did make the right decision all those years ago.

I also appreciate that medicine is not everything. Finding happiness and meaning outside of work is important, especially as we approach a busy and emotionally demanding internship year. Take time to check-in with yourself and prioritise self-care; watch that movie, go to that restaurant, take up that new hobby.

Most of all, I hope you’ve learnt that you’re worth it, that you belong. You will make an incredible doctor. As long as you show up, try your best, and show genuine care for the people around you, the world truly awaits.