I’ve written a few times in several previous posts about my natural inclination towards laziness and procrastination. I think unless you knew me very well, you wouldn’t believe me. I love my job; I hate the act of waking up at ungodly hours to go to it. I love food; I’ll avoid cooking it and cleaning up afterwards until I cannot safely do so anymore. I love sleep; I’m not the most consistent with making sure I sleep in the most organised and serene environment. I love music; I prefer to not have to go digging too far to find it. In fact, if I let myself be 100% free to do only what I wanted, I’d spend the rest of my life in bed with earphones in and a good book on my lap (or some internet access), surrounded by piles of edibles and maybe some water. This isn’t a dramatization: this is truly my minimum requirement for a life that I’d never be bored with.
I’m not ashamed about this truth regarding myself (anymore)–if anything I’m always in awe and wonder when I consider how hard I’ve had to push against these baseline settings to accomplish things in life. I learned really young to hack my own internal wiring in order to force myself to do things without realising it.
Getting through and excelling at school, for example, shouldn’t have been possible. To my advantage, because I’ve always been a bibliophile, school was less of a chore than it could have been. But I knew I’d never be motivated to do any homework outside the watchful eyes of teachers (or the pressing urgency of exams) so I would force myself to go the extra mile and really push during school hours to ensure I understood (and completed) the work perfectly before the bell rang and I lost all motivation.
In University, I had only one academic rule for myself. It was the one rule that most University students break the second classes become non-compulsory: no bunking. I attended every lecture, every practical, every ward round, every tut. If a student was needed in theatre to assist, I was there. I did this because I knew myself too well, and having the option to learn stuff on my own at a later stage would inevitably mean I’d never learn it. Going to lectures let me engage multiple senses and primed me for the work so that, if I found myself in a position where I’d procrastinated self-study to the very last minute, I’d at least have had that first exposure to the material and some sort of sensory feedback to link it to. I made this pact with myself because I knew that me not knowing stuff in medical school would have a long-term and devastating impact on the people I would one day treat. Sure, I wouldn’t remember everything either way, but making sure I’d at least learned it at some point was the minimum I thought could be expected.
I’ve written before about the multiple musical groupings I’ve been a part of. But a smaller (yet still significant) reason that I loved collaborating was that it pushed me to grow out of my comfort zone as a musician. Left to my own devices, I would (likely) still be writing the same mournful piano ballads I wrote in highschool, albeit with Mariah Carey levels of verbosity to show for my expanded vocabulary. Being in groups gave me multiple forced weekly creative bootcamps–I had to grow or I’d become redundant and be replaced.
Like I said before, I’m not ashamed to know these things about myself. Others may try to shame me for it, but for me it’s something akin to a miracle that I pushed through six grueling years of training to become a doctor (and that I applied myself throughout), that I’m six months into my internship with no major flops and failures, that I can experience art I would never have imagined myself capable of creating before, that I eat a homecooked meal every day and that I’m presentable for demanding HOD’s that have a personal bone to pick with jeans. These are miracles because, knowing me, these things shouldn’t be my reality. I should be sitting somewhere bemoaning the fact that times have been so hard while I hate my life and my job (or lack thereof) but continue to waste away in front of a television set.
When I look back at it now, I know logically that it couldn’t have been easy. I remember going without sleep for weeks during a particular patch in med school where the work and the hours available to learn it were not matching up. I remember crying on my way home during a really tough start-of-block when I was convinced that I was useless and didn’t have what it took to make it. I remember my matric year maths and science teachers resigning on us and the horrifying marks that made me panic about never making it into the University and degree of my choice. I remember OSCEs where I would be looking the examiner dead in the eye with the clear understanding that we both knew I had no idea what was going on with the patient I was presenting. I remember afternoons of creatively dry rivers, where we would talk about anything and everything just to avoid acknowledging that, as a group, we’d reached a creative peak or were experiencing communal writers’ block. I remember sitting at the back of a friend’s car and realising that we didn’t have a thing in common anymore, but being fully aware that neither of us was going to be the first to pull the trigger. Memory after memory of how unpleasant things have gotten, how impossible persevering had seemed. And yet…
…I must have managed, because I’m here today. Somewhere along the road, things changed. Skills improved. Exams were passed. Degrees were earned. Music was made. Friendships were repaired. Life happened. A younger version of myself decided to grit her teeth and get things done, no matter how difficult or uncomfortable or undesirable that may have been at the time. She put aside her present preferences, to deliver a gift to her future self. And here I am, years or months or maybe even days later, benefiting from her blood, sweat and tears that she poured into my life without any guarantee that they would yield the things they’ve yielded. She got the not-so-nice stuff done, so that I could wake up to the very-nice rewards being delivered.
Who was she? I don’t feel all that different from her, but as I stare down my unmade bed and unwashed dishes, I wonder where she got all that motivation? How was she so energetic? So persistant…so…selfless?
(This could be an even bigger metaphor about the thousands who sacrificed themselves to ensure I even had the options I have today, but I’m not nearly talended enough to write about the humbling gifts they sent into the lives of present-day South Africans, so let’s just zoom back in…)
And then I think of my present self and try to figure out how many bouts of goodness I’m packaging for a future version of myself’s enjoyment. Something as little as waking up in an uncluttered, clean, organised room would be such a simple pleasure–but someone’s gotta do the ground work. Having a homemade meal ready when I come back from an exhausting day dealing with egotistical surgeons would be ideal…but someone’s gotta cook it. And that someone has to be me. I have to find it in myself to do these small acts of kindness for myself on a regular basis again. I know tomorrow me will be really greatful for these small domestic presents. The same way 2017 me will be really grateful that I already got my BLS and ACLS certifications when I didn’t need to, or 2018 me will be grateful that I’ll be entering community service without any debt to my name, or 35 year old me will be so excited to know that I can map out the rest of my career without worrying too much about supporting myself in old age, because 25 year old me had the forsight to have that sorted and let time do the rest.
I’m still looking at that unmade bed and those unwashed dishes, and I think it’s time to stop writing and start sending those presents from the present.