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What I learned from taking a year off

/ 05:10 AM November 25, 2018

I was one of those people who never stopped or slowed down.

I never stopped dreaming. I never stopped studying. I never stopped aiming for something, or trying to make good use of my time.

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Not once did I attempt to deviate from my seemingly grand and rigid plans. I vowed to never stop, probably because I was afraid of wasting time, of being looked down upon, or of being left behind.

But there I was one day, with every beat of my heart telling me that I just wanted things to stop — that I needed to stop.

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I was a fresh passer of the September 2017 Physician Licensure Examination, and it was time to undergo special training under our residency programs of choice.

There was an option of going into general practice or taking a year off to rest, which for some people is the least practical option — almost taboo.

I had a pretty clear idea as to what program I wanted to go into, and had all the documents signed, sealed and ready to be passed. But, oddly enough, I found myself stunned and hesitant.

I kept retreating to my room or to coffee shops to contemplate whether I was even ready for all of it. I was constantly bothered by the time I missed with family and friends that I wanted to make up for and savor. I kept mulling over the what ifs, the other interests and dreams that I had shoved to the side along the way.

It almost felt like my spirit was telling me that it was time to listen to my heart and take care of myself for a change. Because the truth is, the path to being a doctor can get exhausting.

It was the perfect time to breathe full life back into my drive, confidence and strength.

Making a pros and cons list only reinforced the fact that I was leaning toward taking a year off, and was biased for it without even meaning to be.

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So after mustering the strength to decide with finality, after receiving signs from the heavens, and thoroughly explaining myself to my family, I was all set toward a fateful year of general practice, quality time with loved ones, and self-growth and renewal.

It’s an understatement to say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life.

Contrary to initial fears that taking a break would translate to weakness, cowardice, selfishness, irresponsibility and stagnancy, I realized that it actually provides you with an avenue to become everything that’s the opposite of that.

It takes immense strength, bravery and humility to stand by a decision that you know in your heart is something that you need to make, and to admit that you might not be ready for something, or that there are other steps to be taken first.

Working as a general practitioner opened my eyes to valuable life lessons and the weight of my responsibilities. It gave me extra opportunities to overcome my fears, leaving me with improved courage, confidence and a sense of independence.

I was able to battle my intense self-doubt and insecurity by proving to myself that I am capable of correctly treating patients, and worthy of their trust and appreciation.

The time spent with family and friends strengthened our bonds, renewed my zest for life and showed me that life is indeed meaningless without the people in it.

The opportunity that I had to slow down and appreciate where I was and what I had in my life was enlightening. I was able to strengthen my faith and understand the world and myself on a new level.

Anxiety was replaced with peace of mind. Fear with faith. Doubt with certainty. I can now face things with a different kind of positivity, composure and determination to serve.

I now believe that it is not selfish to find time to take care of yourself and your wellbeing. It fills up your cup, and allows you to give more of yourself to others.

The year off made me realize that there is no shame in running your own race, and running it at your own pace, as long as you keep your goals in mind. There really is no need to compete with anyone else but yourself and the person you used to be.

Every person in this world is destined for something beautiful and unique, and none of the paths toward that are meant to be trod in the same manner or beat.

Some people may have seemingly straighter or smoother paths, others may have detours, bumps or stops along the way. But for every path, every detour and every bump, there is surely a unique goal to be met, growth to be done, and a purpose to be realized and served.

There is no sincere intention or goal that is less noble than the other. For those who choose to take the time off — whether it be to spend time with loved ones, to earn and save, to travel and recharge, or to rest or find their true calling — none of those reasons are any less meaningful.

I am glad that I listened to my heart. My passion and desire to be an instrument of healing and becoming the best person have only become brighter and fiercer.

It’s time to take the next leap.

* * *

Ina P. Ortiz, 26, is a physician from Quezon City, and an incoming internal medicine resident.

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