Campus Life me. vs. me

A deep dive into the motivation behind the things I do

Let’s talk about my worry that I’m brainwashing myself

I really only remember one thing about my interview with MIT EMS. When they asked me why I wanted to become an EMT, I said, “I want to help people,” an answer that was both vague and cliché. “There are other ways to help people,” someone countered. So I recounted the convincing backstory about how my brother had to be taken by an ambulance when he ate noodles with peanut oil once when I was five. To be honest, that moment was not critical in my desire to enter medicine. It’s just always been a gut feeling. I had almost forgotten about the peanut oil incident up until that point, but it seemed to convince my interviewers.

Yet, what they said about other ways to help people stuck with me. Afterwards, I sought out a food bank, emailed them, and eventually showed up, ready to help. Turns out they needed more help with their after-school program, so I began volunteering as a teaching assistant, spending three to six hours a week playing with elementary school kids and helping them with their homework. It’s incredible, being a voice of wisdom but also relatability, learning about each student’s unique character and hardships. I could never part with those kids, so why do I wonder whether I signed up just to show medical schools?

I’ve been down this rabbit hole too many times. Am I majoring in French so that I can look like a diverse applicant, because who realistically cares about French language that much? Did I run for exec positions in all these clubs because I actually wanted to, or because successful leadership is a coveted skill? Have I been skipping meals and sleeping four hours a night because I think it’ll mean I can survive the brutal hours of residency? Ultimately, I’m terrified my entire personality is constructed to convince people, to convince myself, that I want to be a doctor.

Yes, I find joy in doing research and volunteering at hospitals. There’s nothing quite like successfully troubleshooting a protocol or seeing the turning point where a patient finally trusts you, a complete stranger. These are the things I want to do for the rest of my life. But, I remind myself, I probably wouldn’t have chosen these activities if it were not for the “suggestions” (read: requirements) of medical schools. I’ve never not wanted to be a doctor, but I’ve also never encountered a defining moment I can point to that sparked my interest. What if I’ve told myself this so regularly and with such certainty that I tricked myself into believing it? At the same time, so what if I did? Does that make my passion for medicine any less sincere?

The other day, my roommate asked me why I liked cooking as opposed to going out to fancy restaurants. To her, it was simple: sitting at a nice table and having delicious meals prepared for you is one of the luxuries of life. Cooking takes effort and time, and the end result will never reach a professional level. I was at such a loss, wracking my brain to explain my own preference. Other people may say it allows them to know exactly what they’re eating, but I don’t really care about that. My mom thinks it’s a good family bonding activity, but I would be equally happy cooking by myself like I do at school.

In the fall of my freshman year, I received a package from my high school, complete with a booklet of encouraging messages from our teachers. My sophomore English teacher wrote something along the lines of, “Do not underestimate the importance of doing something for no reason at all.”

So why do I like to cook? I still have no idea. I can’t say why it makes me happy to mail my high school friends, dispersed around the country, care packages and letters. There’s absolutely no explanation for my endless pages of song lyrics in calligraphy. I try to quiet the voice telling me that I just want to make sure my friends don’t forget about me. The one that says I’m only trying to be “artsy” and “quirky.” At some point, I just have to breathe and live the life I’m living, constructed from my ideal self or not.