bestest, craziest, insane medical friends
Let’s just put aside the small matter of where on earth I’ve been for nearly a year (more of that in future posts!) but suffice it to say I’ve been dealing with my own life crisis. Whether I dealt with it very well, or not, only time will tell. But what happened has really made me reflect on the sanctity of life and what on earth we are trying to achieve on this cooling ball of fire.
So you’ll understand why I was thoroughly entertained by a splendid piece in the New York Times today by Pamela Druckerman entitled ‘What you learn in your 40s’.
Now as a man of tender years and clearly with my 40s still at arms and legs distance (in my dreams), I approached it with caution. I’m not sure how much I have honestly learnt as I’ve grown older but she was spot on! Everything she said was true.
In your 20s, you spend all your time trying to get everyone to like you, you start new hobbies, new clubs. You try fitness regimes, diets. You do whatever it takes to fit in. By your 30s, this insane behaviour continues but now you have the dawning realisation that you are not that young any more. You have pressure of speech, keen to tell eager listeners what you have done, achieved and how much of a success you are.
And then you hit 40. I don’t know what happens but there is clearly a seismic shift in your brain chemistry. You suddenly wake up one day and realise that you actually quite like yourself. Moreover, it dawns that you can’t actually change anything about you. This is you, warts and all. And people will either like you or not like you. And you also come to an understanding that despite your silliness, and urge to still go out drinking and dancing to all hours (once in a while) you actually know stuff. Like important stuff. Stuff that takes a lifetime to accrue.
And you also realise one other thing. And it was something spelt out in the article today. A dawning realisation that THERE ARE NO GROWN UPS IN THE WORLD. Everyone is blagging it. You’re blagging it, your friends are blagging it and so are your contemporaries. One of my best medic girlfriends has a recurring nightmare that she never passed any of her exams!
On that topic, a couple of months ago, I went back to my Medical School ReUnion with some of my closest friends. It’s been over 20 years since I left and I hadn’t seen most of the others in all that time. Weirdly I was really anxious about it. But excited at the same time to be reunited with people that I had been through so much with. But I’ve been a bit of a black medical sheep.
20 years is a long time if you stick at one job and do what you’re meant to do. My friends have mostly done that. They did all the exams, worked their buttocks off, did unsocial hours, almost became psychotic (some did) and now they are all at the pinnacle of their careers. They are all 45, Consultant Physicians and Surgeons and Radiologists and lots of other fancy Greek Titles. They are amazing.
But what have I done? Some people think I’ve thrown away my medical training by not becoming a traditional career physician. I can certainly say my career path has hardly been planned, nor could it have been. Having said that, I have done things I could never dream of, I’ve had champagne with the Queen of England, dined in the House of Commons, lived in Los Angeles, hosted and written Prime Time television shows for the BBC and other major networks. I’ve done a movie, bought and sold houses, started and sold a PR company. Oh and I’ve been a physician too! You name it, I’ve done it. But weirdly I’m quite jealous of what they’ve achieved and I think the same is true of them. We always crave what we don’t have
Now despite our obvious differences, my old med school friends and I have discovered one important thing. For some rather too late.
As you plan and plot and manoeuver your way up the career ladder, you are always spurred on by the hope that one day you WILL make it. You will get to the top. you will become the best surgeon or physician or whatever you chose. But at what cost?I may not have had the most financially rewarding career, nor the most traditional, but I can honestly say I don’t regret one bit.
One of my old girlfriends was at the reunion and I bounded up to her. She had always been so feisty, so full of adventure, such a bonne viveur. So naturally, I was so eager to know what she had done over the last twenty odd years. Answering my question, she uttered three sentences which hit me smack in the face.
“I’m a Consultant Radiologist. I’m married with children, we have a house. And that’s it”
WHAT? It was that ultimate sentence that completely shocked me. She had fought hard to get to her goal and now was couching her achievement with those three gloomy words. And that’s it.
As you can imagine, I’ve ruminated a lot since that evening over our various conversations. And I’m happy to report that I don’t want to swap places with any of them, even though they have achieved such extraordinary things. On a more sobering note, some are no longer with us. So I am now even more adamant that you have to live every bit of the path you chose. Life is a fantastic, ridiculous, frustrating, bonkers journey. But it is exactly that. It’s a journey. One you need to enjoy.
It’s not all about the destination. And there are no rules. No grown ups. Noone to tell you what you can and can’t do. And you have to grasp your friendships along the way and hang onto them. They happen for a moment of time.
But most importantly, know this.
We only get one go at it. One performance. One opening night.
Or as my gorgeous friend Frank told me all those years ago at Med School “Life is not a dress rehearsal“