Dear 18-year-old Shannon,
You are wiser than you should be at this age, but still have much to learn with many roadblocks and lessons ahead of you. Just know that you are so lucky to be where you are today, and take neither the hardships of your youth or your current state of privilege for granted. Your past has shaped you to have the emotional intelligence to move through these formidable years gracefully but you will be plagued with more self doubt than what seems normal. I'm writing this to silence that.
I want you to know, right here right now and for every day forward, that you are so incredibly capable. You will fail your first chemistry test and suddenly believe for a few weeks that you are not enough for this path. I am so proud of you for quieting your own voice. You will have the optimism that it will get easier, but you'll develop the tenacity to keep trudging through when your grades continue to stay mediocre. Just so you know- your MCAT scores won't be so hot either, and you'll wonder what you got yourself into. I want you to stop comparing yourself to the "naturals" in your classes, those who seem to breeze through coursework without a hitch; you will envy them and wonder what's wrong with you. The truth is, Shannon, you have no idea what those classmates are going through. If they feel lonely, or pressured to succeed, or if they lack the same passion that will carry them through. Everyone fights their own battles and comparison is the thief of joy. You don't know how well-prepared they may have arrived when they came to your undergrad campus, and you are not them. They are not you. Focus on what's in front of you, not the seemingly easy paths of those around you.
Despite your worries for academic success, I want to sincerely thank you for taking a leap of faith and signing up for the Women's Rugby team. I have no idea why you did this, but it shaped you into the woman you are today. This will be your version of a sorority- a sisterhood rooted in athleticism, strength, camaraderie, and true joy. You will leave the country for the first time with these women and you'll drink a beer out of a boot when you score your first try (not sure if I'm thanking you for that part.) You will learn the value of getting tackled repetitively yet still standing up and sprinting full force. Most importantly, you will learn that being powerful and being feminine are not mutually exclusive.
You will have academic counselors that seriously have no idea what they're talking about. From a university that breeds traditional acceptances to California MD schools, you will feel panicked when they tell you your application is weak. At this point in your life, you are not aware that the medical degree you'll eventually obtain even exists, and that you'll travel across the country to obtain it. You will be dismayed to know that you will not go directly from undergrad to medical school. I'm writing this to tell you, it works out perfectly and exactly as it should.
It works out perfectly because, without even knowing it, you will navigate your way into some of the best friendships imaginable. You strike a beautiful balance between school and friends and family and self care (ok well you definitely should have slept more. And sugar is not a food group. But other than that you did great!) I can't tell you if you had chosen to be a recluse if your life would have worked out as you imagined- staying in one of those California schools straight from undergrad- but I can tell you it doesn't matter. You learned to enrich your life with more than success, and I don't know how you understood the importance of this. You'll figure out a path and how to do it your way. You will meet the love of your life and future husband far earlier than expected (just 2 years from now) and he will be by your side for every rocky step ahead.
18-year-old Shannon, I want you to know that I am so so proud of you. I'm writing this 12 years later as a doctor (yes, you MADE IT) currently in the depths of residency (you chose internal medicine and you're anxiously awaiting match day for GI fellowship... different story for a different day) and I can't thank you enough for laying the foundation for a life of happiness and career passion. There are so many times you could have changed paths, believing the voices that this wasn't for you or that you didn't have what it takes. Being on the other side, I want you to know all the hardships ahead will be worth it. The doubt will still creep up, but you'll get much better at silencing it. But let me be the one voice to which you'll choose to listen: "You are so incredibly capable. Right here right now, and every day ahead."
(30-year-old) Shannon L. Tosounian, DO