To My Sister

In Goals on September 14, 2010 by David

Hi Jessica,

As I start medical school here in San Francisco, I have been excited to meet interesting new people. In a class of 149 people, the UCSF medical class has a broad range of experiences, ideas, and backgrounds represented – and yet there are a few commonalities that seem to describe everyone. As I take time to reflect back on how I got to where I am, I want to take some time to share with you a few of the key decisions and habits that I see as being common to my class and other interesting and successful people.

In talking with my classmates, the first thing that struck me was how common it was to have people who went to the same high school meet up again in medical school. Often, there were people who went to the same middle and high schools and then different colleges or universities, but end up back together at UCSF. For example, here at UCSF we have only a few people from Texas (3 or 4 at most), but I have a high school friend from TAMS who is also in my class. More than just random chance, I think that there is something essential about the growing up process that happens at about middle school and high school – and this vital factor is necessary, maybe even sufficient for future success.

What I am trying to say is that going to the best college is not really that important. It’s too late to change an average person to an exceptional person. Don’t think that growing up happens in set intervals and in quick sprints. Don’t think that by getting into Harvard, you will become a super genius or be set for life. Don’t think that you will turn 18 and suddenly start thinking like an adult. You are gradually, day by day, changing and growing into the person you will be forever. Growing up does not happen quickly, but rather by pushing yourself in different areas, slowly and gradually. Day by day, you cannot tell that there is change and it is only when you take a step back and look far back when you will be amazed by how far you have gone. That said, it is important to have good goals. Goals and direction that is worthy of your time, because that is your most precious resource.

You might not think it now, but time is the most important thing we have and it is the most fleeting and precious. You cannot save it or store it, and everyone only has so much. The only way to capture it is to make good use of it through worthwhile goals. I’ve previously emailed you Paul Graham’s high school speech (it’s one of my favorite speeches), but I just wanted to reiterate how much I agree with it. The biggest regret I have (that everyone has) is how much time I wasted in high school. Unfortunately, it’s natural to waste time – to surf the web, watch mindless TV, and think about trivial things, but that’s what makes environment and friends so much more important. (Remember the start of my email, where I wondered why many people at UCSF went to the same high schools, and even the same friend groups?)

Of the things that are in your control, environment and friends are the most important. When we talked about applying to St. Johns, you mentioned that you didn’t know if you wanted to go because you were afraid that you would have to leave your friends right now – yet to me, this seems like one of its greatest advantages. You see, I think it is vitally important to be part of a community that cherishes and enjoys learning – and this is something that I don’t know if I see at your current school or with your current group of friends. Sometimes, our worse influences are our best friends. Friends, for better or worse, reinforce what we think is important and what we spend our time thinking about.

You see, if we were the same age and I was back in middle school, I don’t know if we would be friends. When I was in eighth grade, I was fat, selfish, nerdy, and never took care of how I looked. I had a lot of growing up to do when it comes to learning how to be humble, how to be a good friend, and how to play well with others. Fortunately, these are all really important areas that you are good at, and I am glad to see that you have many friends and care about them so much. But in addition to these flaws, I had my strong points. Because I was unpopular, I was not shallow. I could understand what it was like to be an outsider, and to this day I try really hard to include people who I see aren’t fully engaged in group activities. I had a passion for learning, and to this day I love the activities I got involved in at that age. Little did I know speech and debate or computer science could be important, but even as I continue to the path of a doctor, I am impressed by how vital and helpful they are. These are two traits that I think are absolutely important in growing as a person – yet I am I worried that these might be areas that you are struggling with.

You are pretty (or at least you think you are) and you are popular (or at least you think you are), but I want to ask you if you think that these are worthwhile goals. When you are my age or even older, do you think you will care about these things? It might be a waste of time for me to tell you that such attention to how you look don’t matter, but I will say that every time I hear mom describe how much time it takes you to get ready for school in the morning, it makes me a little sad on the inside. You might ignore me when tell you that popularity is not that important, but I want to unequivocally (state absolutely) say that it is not OK to try to pretend to be more popular by making fun of or disrespecting others who you think are less pretty, more awkward, or in any other way is an easy target. (I am reminded of how you treat Byron.) We will not be remembered by how cool we are, but by how we treat both our friends and our acquaintances. Good friends will spur us on to be more creative, to do greater things, and to try our hardest. Given how important your next few years are, a change in environment might be good for you.

Everyone is different and unique – we all need to walk our own paths – so I do not ask you to be as nerdy or studious as I was when I was your age. Science is an acquired taste, and we all need to acquire our own interests and passions. But I would like to ask you to remember that:  You are gradually, day by day, changing and growing into the person you will be forever. Choose goals that are worthy of your time. That’s an important responsibility, but one that you should take with joy and excitement. Life is beautiful, diverse, and interesting. However, all that requires that you open your eyes, think critically, and stay curious.



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