I have always been too enthusiastic. Out of all my classmates, I sang the loudest at birthdays, I laughed the longest at jokes and I asked more questions than anyone else. In fifth grade, a firefighter visited my class; after I’d asked my third question about how fire suits actually work, I remember hearing some classmates groan and seeing my friend Thom lift his arms up and, in mock agony, flop down on his desk. I tried to be shy, really. I would go for a few days sitting on my hands during lessons, but, inevitably exhausted by my inauthenticity, I would soon find my excitement uncontainable once more.
Today, as a premed student at Miami University, I help lead Opening Minds Through Art (OMA), a program in which people with dementia complete abstract art projects with a volunteer partner. It has been through this program that I have realized that burnout is caused not by overexertion but by becoming a slave to rules and unattainable expectations.
Evelyn (not her real name) started coming to art sessions last year. At her first session, she decided she wanted to paint something tangible rather than abstract piece. As she struggled to replicate the bouquet of flowers she envisioned, she grew visibly frustrated and finally sighed and said, “I quit.” But after further sessions, she was able to abandon the meticulous lines she’d previously been enslaved by. She freely sloshed paint on her paper, creating rich textures and colors. With her newfound freedom, not only did she create something beautiful, but she was able to stay engaged for the entire project.
I, like Evelyn, am courageously throwing in the towel of expectations–if not for myself then for my future patients, who deserve to be treated by a creative, attentive and energized doctor. I still sing loudly and ask a lot of questions, but my goals look a bit different now: to be the most genuine version of myself and to make sure others know that they are important.
I am happy to say that I am achieving my new and improved school-year resolution, one art session at a time.