I’m in my mid-40s, meaning I’ve made it far longer than many other individuals. Some say that when you’ve made it this far, each following day is a gift.
Setting aside my death fears and the meaning of life and all of that, I’ve lived a good life. It’s a privilege to enjoy it at this age with financial resources and health.
The questions I ask myself should ideally have a resounding yes or else I’ll pass. Learning to say no is a new skill that I’ve mastered over the past decade.
Living The First 45 Years
For those of us who were interested in the sciences and helping others, medicine required several decades of dedication before you could find your groove.
Most of us dedicate much time to education, training, and learning skills necessary to make it in a highly structured field.
If you don’t commit suicide or pick up chronic diseases and addictions along the way, you’ll have a lot of health left to enjoy the income from medicine.
Paying off debt or at least avoiding excess debt collection these first few decades might also leave you in a decent financial state.
Most of us have been saying yes a lot. We did things we didn’t really want to do, met people we didn’t want to meet, and engaged in questionable moral activities.
But that’s the first 45 years. Here comes the rest.
The Next 45 Years of Life
Looking back, no matter how jaded I am, medicine has been a great journey. I discovered what I am capable of; or, another way to put it, perhaps medicine taught me some solid skills to thrive in this capitalistic world.
For many of my colleagues, the next 45 years might be mostly occupied with paying off debt, taking care of kids, supporting family, and managing health problems.
Some of my physician colleagues have a handle on their student loan debt, have some decent equity in their homes, they don’t have kids or the kids are on a decent trajectory, and their health is halfway decent.
These next 45 years are about looking inward and living the life they can. Maybe there is some giving back, or it’s time to enjoy the returns of giving a lot.
Selfishness is Shaming
I’ve been called selfish a lot in my life, from choosing not to have kids to hoarding money to retire early.
People will judge you in any way, depending on how they are feeling at the moment. My mom might be disappointed that I don’t visit her, and my friend might be disappointed that I won’t attend his wedding.
In fact, selfishness, the way it’s used in popular vernacular, is when you want your well-being at the harm of someone else.
My definition of selfishness is that I care about my preference before yours. Despite this, I have a good relationship with my family and amazing friends and acquaintances surrounding me.
Learning to Say No
I don’t recall which of the many books I’ve read recently mentioned this: “If the answer isn’t a resounding yes, it’s perfectly fine to say no.”
Imagine you find yourself in a job you’re not too excited about. Do you want to stay? No. Maybe. Therefore, it’s okay to quit. Don’t have another job lined up; trust there will be something else waiting for you.
This is preaching to the quire. I constantly struggle with my fear of not working or not earning an income.
My parents are in their late 70s, leaving me with another 25 years maximum with them. At my rate, I see them every 1-2 years – so that’s 25 more times seeing them and 50 more times talking to them.
If this is a source of great sadness, then it’s worth having some internal reflection. I’ve realized that it is a great source of sadness with some guilt attached. But I’ve also decided that I am okay with it and don’t care to be different or act differently for a different outcome.
Living life day to day is quite liberating. I look ahead to my week and have no desire to schedule a bar run with friends. Then, suddenly, on a Wednesday night, that’s exactly what I’m in the mood for, and that’s when I’ll text friends.
The reality is that when you do things you passionately want to do, it’s palpable and contagious. This “selfishness” rubs off on people, and genuine people surround you.
Do you really want to go on that 2-week vacation hopping from a plane and boat to the next destination with the camera snapping away at the same destinations?
The hard part is figuring out what you might want to do instead. That is what these next 45 years are there for. As the gurus say, look inward to uncover what resonates with you.