My brother Jim graduated college in 1974 with a degree in biology and a cumulative GPA of 2.8. Not knowing what career he wanted to pursue, he took a job in the construction industry performing manual labor. But after a few months of early mornings and grueling work, he decided that manual labor was not really his bag. He surveyed the job landscape and decided to put his degree in biology to work drawing blood part-time at a local hospital.
Some amazing things happened to Jim during his time at the hospital. He met the woman who would become his wife. And more importantly for the purposes of our story, as he worked, he started to dream about helping people as a doctor. So, he began filling out applications to medical schools. But as the months went by, no medical school acceptances came his way. Remember that 2.8 GPA that he graduated from college with? Yeah… medical schools tend to pass on those applicants.
Now Here Comes the Cool Part.
Jim made the decision that he was going to become a doctor. That decision was in his bones and coursed through his veins. Once he made that decision, almost instantly, Jim had his why. He went to bed thinking about ways to make “Dr. James E. Abell, Jr.” a possibility. He woke up energized to take extra classes that would make him more qualified for medical school. He spoke with mentors and medical professionals about what ideas they might have for him to prepare and improve his chances for medical school. He excelled in those classes and took action on the advice he was given. And in spite of the steady flow of rejection letters, he kept applying.
And it didn’t matter as much now when Jim got rejection letters. You see, Jim had his why locked in at this point. Was he disappointed sometimes? Sure. Was he ever discouraged for a few days at a time after getting a batch of rejection letters? Sure. But he was still going to become a doctor, so he continued taking action to improve his chances of getting accepted to a program.
Then it happened.
In one of his many visits with a local doctor, he was talking about his struggle to get into a program and asking for advice. That doctor suggested that if he couldn’t get into a medical school in the US, why not apply to one abroad? Light bulb time!
It didn’t take Jim long to apply to the Universidad de Guadalajara (UDG) in Mexico.
He was accepted! Problem solved.
Except all of the classes in UDG’s program were taught in Spanish, and Jim didn’t know a lick of Spanish. Here was another huge hurdle. So Jim gave up on his dream. End of story.
Ha! Not even! With all that Jim had gone through to get that far, he wasn’t about to give up on his why over a little language barrier!
And that’s the point. Huge hurdles like learning a new language become much smaller when you are confident about your why. This was the case with Jim and his lack of Spanish. He found an amazing Spanish-speaking family to live with during his first semester of medical school and intentionally immersed himself in the Spanish language. He went through significant culture shock, and seasons where he doubted his crazy decision to attend medical school in a foreign country where he did not know a soul, did not know the language and customs. But he carried his why in his back pocket throughout medical school and came out the other side with a medical degree.
Jim went on to establish an amazing OB/GYN practice in Chattanooga, Tennessee that has been serving that community with excellence for over two decades now.
Here’s the thing. Jim is my oldest brother, whom I respect on many different levels, but he’s just a regular person like you and me. When ordinary people get a hold of their why, extraordinary things can and do happen. Hurdles get overcome. Resolve gets stronger. Decision-making gets sharper. We all know ordinary people who do things that are extraordinary.
Here’s my message to you today: You can (and I would contend, should) be one of those people doing that extraordinary thing. But you’ll need your why to do it. Do you have yours?
Footnotes and resources:
About the 2.8 GPA: Jim is my oldest sibling and arguably one of the smartest, but by Jim’s own admission, he just had other priorities during his college years that did not include the classroom. When he took a class he was interested in, he got A’s, but otherwise C’s ended up on his report card. His ability to achieve a higher GPA was there, but his willingness to do so did not fully kick in until his why was locked in. And let us not think that the University of Guadalajara is a school that accepts anyone who applies. They only accept 30-40% of the students who apply to their programs (http://www.4icu.org/reviews/3336.htm). And in the mid-1970s, they had more room for medical students then many of their US counterparts which is why Jim was accepted.
Looking for more information on making decisions or finding your why? Click Here, Here, and Here.
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