Learning to Forgive Myself for Not Being On Track
Alexandria had a plan for how her life would go. She would graduate college, start medical school, and everything would fall into place accordingly. But her path had more obstacles than she expected. Here’s how she came to forgive herself for having a different timeline than others — and embracing where she is because of those obstacles.
It was summer.
It was also freezing.
Or at least, I was freezing.
We were sitting in the dorm common area, considering, with much determination, which movie to watch. The massive quilt that I had schlepped out from my room was little help against the blasting air-conditioning — which was, after spending the day in the summer sun sailing, a sharp and unwelcome contrast to the heat outside. I curled myself into a ball in my quilt, attempting to get cozy, and pulled out my phone.
I had a list.
Well, I had been given a list.
It is, in my opinion, invaluable to have friends who have thoughtful opinions and interests. Who have things they care deeply about and can give you not just a recommendation on something, but can give you that recommendation along with a ten-minute spiel on why they recommend that specific thing for you with intentionality and purpose and thought. I had asked one such friend for some movie recommendations.
And this is how I saw (500) Days of Summer for the very first time.
I never would have guessed, sitting in that faded mustard-gold upholstered dorm chair, watching Tom and Summer galavant through Los Angeles, that nearly ten years later I’d be there myself, living out my own little adventure.
What I also didn’t know at the time — sitting there that summer before my junior year of college, before starting the process of applying to medical school — was that my future path would be filled with unexpected rocks to deal with. Cliffs I had to climb. Deserts I had to travel. Rivers I had to cross.
These are points on the map that typically don’t make the highlight reel. The times where it has felt like my body has been thrown from the road. That I’m not running at the same speed as my friends. That I’ll never get where I’m supposed to be going. And that I don’t know even where that is.
For example, am I going to look back and want to frame the feeling of being rejected the first time I applied to medical school? When I felt like everyone else had their life and their path figured out after graduation?
But would I change it?
Would I have wanted the warning of the rocks about to come?
Would I call myself at 20, and tell her about all of the mountains, if I could?
I’m not sure.
“Hello,” I might say, “it’s me.”
“It’s me? How are we? What are we doing? Where are we?”
I feel like I would have had a lot of questions for my future self, so that makes sense.
“Well, how are you first?”
“Oh, we’re doing well — I mean, I’m sure you remember, but maybe not. We’re taking a few classes — it’s been really nice. Busy, but nice. Weather has been pretty muggy, but campus has been lovely still, and we’re doing a fair amount of running and sailing outside when we have time. And tennis. We just watched a movie actually — it was really different…”
She would continue speaking. I would listen. She would have quite a bit to say about the movie. I would not interrupt. It would be the film that made her start to be interested again in telling stories and writing and film. Watching that film re-awakened a spark of creativity within her. I might mentally note to thank that friend during the conversation as she continues to speak about how her summer is going.
“… oh and I bought an MCAT prep book. It’s a bit early, but I figured why not start studying. I guess we’re probably a doctor by now? Or you are?”
She sits at the edge of that faded upholstered dorm chair. For some reason, I imagine us on FaceTime. She sits, waiting. Holding her breath.
Would I tell her? Would I tell her that we weren’t going to get in that first time?
To maybe wait? Apply later?
I think she needed that rejection, while painful and unexpected.
She would forgive me later.
Sometimes our timeline doesn’t look like how we thought it would. Like when I didn’t get into medical school the first time. But that made me choose to get a master’s degree in anatomy, which made me enjoy teaching as a graduate teaching assistant, which made me interested in pathology when I did get into medical school, which made me more interested in health education, which made me interested in explaining health concepts in media formats…
which made me, which made me, which made me
me, where I am, now.
Those little points, where my time feels like it is behind or not on my schedule. That’s when I’ve had to learn to forgive myself for not being on track, and keep going. And then, looking back, it all begins to make sense that I had to be where I was.
At that time. For that reason.
It is at those times where forgiveness takes a different form.
We let go.
We move on.
But, simultaneously, we keep going.
It is not giving up. But, more accepting that there will be rocks. There will be cliffs. There will be deserts. There will be rivers. But letting go of our own failings in getting through those obstacles in order to overcome them, instead of perseverating on falling down. And learning from them in order to keep going. To forgive, but not to forget, and to remember how we overcame. All those little twists and bumps in the road had to happen to get me exactly here.
They were important.
And, while I can’t particularly say I enjoyed crying in the bathroom after getting the last rejection letter the first time I applied to medical school, it was worth it in the end. God’s plan for when things should happen for me was far better than mine.
Forgiving becomes acceptance.
Sometimes it might feel that other people don’t get it, or that my path should look different. That I should be on their life schedule, matching the pace at which they climb. That I should be at the same points where they are, riding each curve of the road with them. But that’s okay. I’m not late, I’m just me.
I have my rocks, and they have their rocks.
And I have my rivers, and they have their rivers.
They might climb faster, but I might swim faster.
And we all go at our own pace to our own destinations.
I can forgive myself for that.
I can accept myself for that.
And I think, one day, the girl curled up in her quilt on a dorm couch, hungrily awaiting her future,
she will, too.