What is success?

I recently had the good fortune to meet with the Dean of Student Services for an interview about success in med school. My first question to this physician with over 30 years of experience working with students was What is success? In more the tone of a spiritual guru than a med school administrator, Dean McBride told me that Success = Balance. Balance = (Academics + Personal Life + Health) x Meaning. Work can add meaning, but not at the expense of Personal Life, and certainly not at the expense of health.

We’ve all experienced periods of being so wrapped up in our work that relationships suffer and our health falls apart. If we don’t recognize that it is not sustainable, we eventually burn out. The great irony is that when we reach that point, no matter how much of ourselves we pour into our projects, our productivity will suffer. The problem is that we might be so fixated on the short-term gains that we can’t see long-lasting success slipping through our fingers. That said, balance does not mean symmetry. If you are a med student, you better tip the scale toward academics, or else I won’t want to be treated by you in four years. If you are a new parent, there may not be a better time to focus on your personal life.

The reason that Meaning is multiplicative is because the stronger sense of meaning you find in anything you do, the more successful you will be at it. If you struggle with the sacrifices that med school demands, do what I do and occasionally re-read your personal statement. Remind yourself not only of how lucky you are to be here, but why you wanted to come in the first place.


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