On pushing the boundaries and crossing the line (or a slice of humble pie as second year begins)

In a silly act of defiance for the sake of defiance, I decided to present my Summer Immersion research project while barefoot. Having looked at the syllabus thoroughly, I knew that professional dress was a minor, but notable component of my grade for the project and presentation: meaning I would not earn a failing grade for the stunt, just the ire of the SELECT administration.

So, I wore a nice pair of slacks, a button-up shirt without a tie, and a clean belt. I left my professional dress shoes at home, the ones that I own specifically for seeing patients in clinic, and only brought a pair of Xero sandals. I got a fair number of weird looks from my peers, but in a “oh, Eugene” sort of way. The faculty gave me a few double-takes, but it wasn’t until the dean of the College of Medicine walked in that anyone actually addressed my shoelessness.

I’ll be honest, it was a middle finger to the kind and caring faculty of SELECT. I had lost perspective over the summer of what I am truly attempting to accomplish with my MD and my medical education: I want to push the boundaries of the medical systems, to normalize some more ‘out there’ behaviors in order to encourage other ‘non-traditional’ students to pursue a medical degree. I don’t want to embarrass the physicians and professors that have fought behind the scenes to include me in this MD class. I just barely got off the waitlist and I have no idea who vouched for me during the admissions process.

It’s so easy to imagine that I am a lone person fighting the man: a tree in the wind with a sturdy trunk battling the wind. But what is unseen are the roots that support this seemingly solitary figure and the signals sent by neighboring plants that warn of dangerous pests and incoming storms.

I used up a lot of social and political capital with this silly stunt for the sake of a silly stunt. In some ways, I’m glad. I’m now forced to back away from my self-imposed revolution within medical education or else I might endure actual repurcussions for my actions. Second year will be demanding and challenging, more so than first year in many ways. I need to focus on staying afloat and on top of the deluge of lectures and other responsibilities and time commitments. I will still refuse to sit in a chair, because that’s a relatively established Eugene weirdness, but I will no longer make it my mission to stir things up or raise hackles… unless the opportunity truly falls in my lap, like the abortion debate last spring.

I’ve found that slacklining seems to be the proper outlet for my anarchist streak. Earlier in the week, we SELECT folks met up with our littles in downtown Tampa, at the lovely Curtis Hixon park on the waterfront and by the Tampa Museum of Art. I arrived early, looking for places to set up my slacklines, to give the awkward and nervous first years something physical to do with their anxious energy. The wiggles and giggles on a slackline are a great way to open up and let loose, especially after a full day of powerpoint lectures while wearing professional ties and uncomfortable shoes.

Initially, my partner and I had trouble finding out where we’d meet them, so I held off on committing to a web of slacklines. As the nervous first years began to arrive and the jaded second years trickled in, the slightly tense ‘hey tell me about yourself’ conversations began and I was left waiting for my first year I gave him a few minutes and he didn’t show on time, so I went back to my car to grab my lines and set them up a couple hundred feet away from the mass of small talk, but still clearly in view.

The organizers of the event did an excellent job of placing the initial meet-up in a central location with many nearby walkable sites and restaurants so that big-little pairs could splinter off as they liked, but I noticed that few took them up on this offer. Something about the group huddle seemed comfortable. So, with my slacklines I helped peel some squirrely individuals off the herd, to try out the wiggly slacklines or play with my undersized soccer ball.

With a bit of pep in my step, I decided to double-down on this strategy during the big-little reveal lunch a few days later on campus for the whole first and second year class. Setting up my lines in a major courtyard with lots of traffic on either side, I wanted to show the first year class that there are individuals in the College of Medicine that are doing weird stuff. Maybe it was that I skipped the big-little lunch (I had already met my little), or maybe it was my giant speaker bumping brass band music, or perhaps just the four slacklines setup in a central location for all to see. Eventually, the exhibition ended when an Associate Dean of Student Affairs told me that others are concerned about safety: I set the lines over concrete and the worriers were worried about liability.

Upon reflection, the difference between my barefoot stunt and my slacklines lies in the focus myself or others. When presenting the poster barefoot, I was shining a spotlight on myself and this makes me incredibly uncomfortable in retrospect: it is probably perceived as grasping at attention for the sake of attention. With the slacklines: yes, I set them up, but the intention was to give others an outlet for their own nervousness and anxious energy. Narcissism versus service-orientation.

Rolling into second year, this distinction will serve as my guiding light. Am I doing this for myself or for others? What is the intention: stirring up drama for drama’s sake or am I creating a space for others to feel comfortable and themselves? Not only in my anarchist social tendencies, but in my future medical practice: am I publishing papers to get first authorship, or to push the boundaries of healing and knowledge? Am I enduring this coursework to wear a white coat so others call me Doctor Kim, or to change lives for the better?

Sometimes, when pushing boundaries and playing with the line, it is invaluable to humble oneself by crossing the threshold into poor taste and falling off the line. Without that moment of sheer humility, you never really know when too much is too much: otherwise, it is only suspected and likely underestimated. A training injury can tell you when you are pushing too hard, and retrospectively you can identify the signs and symptoms of arrogance and a lack of perspective.

I’m glad to learn this lesson early on in the year, to remind me what is important and what is silly ego-driven nonsense. I’ll nurse this sprained ego-muscle back to health and refocus on the bigger picture. I’ll need that perspective during this downhill sprint of second year.


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