Lesson I. Self-Esteem and Courage — they’re important qualities, so cultivate them.
It’s common for somebody embarking on a new fitness program to view it in terms of strength training and nutrition — obviously, two extremely important components to consider. You have to train smart and train with intensity. You absolutely must have a balanced nutrition plan. But taking on this, or any other lifestyle also requires the presence of intangibles — work ethic, self-esteem, courage, fortitude, persistence. These qualities often provide the difference between fizzling out and long term success in any venture. Cultivate your inner strength so that you can capitalize on your limitless potential.
I remember the moment as if it happened 5 minutes ago. May 1998. A crisp, clear Thursday morning and I opened my eyes to the sun’s rays, warmly shining directly onto my face. The room was silent and still, and that radiant light . . . it felt like a messenger delivering me an epiphany. And suddenly, in that moment everything became clear, a wave of calm washed over me and I felt a tremendous burden lift from my shoulders. I’d made my decision.
Let’s backtrack a bit. I graduated from St. Cloud State University in May of 1996 and with that came a big decision — MD, PhD or both? I’d wanted to be an MD at a very early age, but that career choice wavered on and off during my undergraduate studies — research was something I’d really gotten into. Of course, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to jump right into 5+ more years of school to earn the doctorate either. So I did the next best thing — I applied for a research position at the University of Minnesota and worked for two years in the fields of membrane biochemistry (with W.G. Wood, PhD) and immunology (with Y. Shimizu, PhD). It was my way of treading water; I could stay active with my science education and explore career possibilities without prematurely committing to a long term program.
Of course, time moved on and further choices had to be made. I couldn’t “tread water” forever! So, I took a PhD course as an extension student. I formally applied to the U of Minnesota’s graduate program in Microbiology, Immunology and Cancer Biology. Research continued. And then I got accepted into the PhD program. All I had to do was say “yes.” To the outside observer, everything was going my way as I pursued my childhood career ambitions in the sciences. On the inside, I was agonizing over my choices and couldn’t make a firm decision. Although working in the lab had been fulfilling, I wasn’t completely convinced that a lifetime of doing it was for me. And I still wasn’t sold on pursuing medical school either. The problem was that I’d told people all my life that I was going to be a doctor. . . and now I was hung up on the notion that I’d be “letting everybody down” if I didn’t follow through on my lifelong declarations.
That May morning, with the sun shining down on me, became a major turning point in my life. . . a defining moment when I recognized the need to live my life on my terms, to believe in myself and to face life’s path with courage.
I finally acknowledged that, while my love for science was genuine, I was pursuing a professional degree more because I felt like I owed it to others — I didn’t want to go back on my word. Furthermore, I was going after the titles associated with my studies because I felt they would bring me recognition and respect; i.e. they would validate me. Instead of making life choices based on my own internal demands, I was doing it for everybody else and for all the wrong reasons. No more.
I took ownership of my life. I made a commitment to improving my self-esteem. I recognized that nobody else was going to walk in my shoes, so it was most important that I find what I wanted — because I had to live with it for the rest of my life. I also recognized that I didn’t need titles for people to see my worth. If I was intelligent, talented and a good person, people would
see that, titles or not.
And my decision was made. I thanked the University of Minnesota for their offer and respectfully declined. I stepped away from the “comfort” of my original path with the decision to explore other options. Scary, exciting and requiring a lot of courage.
It’s easy to get caught in life. Caught in an unrewarding job, an unsatisfying relationship, an unhealthy, unfit body — and then keep yourself in neutral because it feels more comfortable than testing your inner strength and taking on the fear of failure or the challenge of hard work. I say to you, take the challenge. Believe in yourself and push your limits even when you’re uncertain of the outcome. Living with self-esteem and courage will ensure that you end up truly living.