The Problem of "What Now?"

I have been running toward some sort of finish line for most of my conscious life. Externally imposed goals have kept me going ever since I can remember. Internal motivation played a role, but the goals were always set for me and I simply followed point A to B and so on. Everything has been pretty formulaic, pretty paint-by-numbers. Some call this drive, determination or ambition… But I sort of see it as taking the obvious route.

After finishing college, medical school, residency and fellowship, I am “done”. I have no more huge and mandatory milestones. Even though everything is seemingly in place, I have never felt so utterly lost. I have gone from living by life by a syllabus or checklist to just… living. After years of aiming for the goals so tidily laid out for me, I have completely atrophied with respect to creating my own goals. I can’t help but think, “What now?”

Don’t get me wrong – I love my life and I am proud of and thankful for everything I have accomplished. I have a career, a great relationship, wonderful family and friends, an adorable dog, and a lovely home. I don’t want more, I just want to know what is next. I want to know what to want, what to try for. It is a great and inspiring problem to have. It’s hard to imagine settling into cruise control already, and I am eager to find out what else I am meant to do. I never thought to fantasize or imagine life beyond finishing my medical training, and now that I am here, I am overwhelmed and paralyzed by possibility. No one is going to tell me what to do. No one is going to knock on my door with an inspiring new project. I have to want something. I desperately wish I had kept up hobbies during my school and training, but I just sort of shut everything else out.

I guess one has to realize that everything is really about the journey and not the destination. I sort of always knew this, but now that I am temporarily out of distinct end points, I am really feeling it. I enjoyed my time in school and residency immensely, and I can say I enjoyed every day (albeit admittedly through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia). I continue to enjoy every day, but I am missing that undercurrent of drive to “complete” something that I grew so used to. Yes, it’s hard to be challenged by outside forces, but I am learning that it is harder to truly challenge ones self. Dreaming up the challenge is as hard as facing it; it’s twice the work. This is why I admire artists of all types so very much. I admire anyone who forges their own path and goals. Hellooooo, Lena Dunham. Wow.

I guess if there is anything I would like for someone to get from this essay, it is to hang onto yourself (if I may quote David Bowie). Keep setting your own goals in addition to doing the things that you have to do. Don’t get so caught up on that treadmill that you have to re-learn how to run on your own. Was that a horrible, gross, cliché analogy? I don’t know. I am just learning how to write creatively again. Sorry to put that on you. It’s part of figuring out what I want to do now.

Does anyone have some inspiration to throw my way? Has anyone else faced the “what now?” How do you all set personal goals? Is there a creative life after so much school? What are you creating?

As always, thanks for reading!

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