Partner Up: Discuss your long-term goals with a trusted friend regularly

Medical Center

In last week’s issue of Synapse (February 6), Winnie Chan described a struggle many professional students experience: the effort to maintain the qualities they have always valued in themselves while working to keep up with the furious pace of their education. Adding to this problem is the self-doubt that naturally occurs from being in an environment where no matter what they do, someone around them has done more and nothing seems like nothing is ever enough.

Ms. Chan beautifully described the discord between tirelessly splashing away without ever feeling like it pushes one far enough forward and the disappointment that comes from several months or years gone by while proverbially treading water.

By the end of her piece, Ms. Chan decided she wanted to keep dreaming, setting goals, challenging herself to help the world around her and to lead others in these efforts. Over the past ten years, I have felt many of the same emotions Ms. Chan described as I went through the process of being top dog in my undergraduate institution to not even knowing if I was above or below average throughout my professional training. Just as I seemed to figure out one set of challenges, two more seemed to pop up. 

About three years ago, a friend and I decided we needed to set aside protected time to check in about our longer term goals that were previously falling by the wayside. Since then, during the first week of almost every month, we talk for between 30 and 60 minutes, going through how the past month has affected our visions and helping each other think through next steps to tangible goals. Some months are humbling – realizations of missed opportunities, recognition of weeks of stagnancy. But others are uplifting – evidence of progress, each other’s perspectives on previously internal thought processes. At the very least, it’s kind of a comforting ritual.

There are still feelings of having fallen short of my goals. For instance, if I love learning and writing, why don’t I have more than one professional publication (of which I am the eighth author)? Why does closing a simple wound still take me so long? But I have also come to take a bit of pride in the progress I have made, and I suspect so has Ms. Chan and most other people who have been shaken up by their professional training. Do keep dreaming, but when you wake up, write the dreams down and work on what you can do to move toward them.