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Struggling To Be Best

JeffJeff Wonoprabowo -- People say that you need to know your own limitations. I think that you need to do more than that. You need to learn to accept those limitations. For most things, it is easy for me. I can accept that I'll never run like Usain Bolt, swim like Michael Phelps, ride like Lance Armstrong, or hoop it up like Kobe Bryant. But for other things, it can be hard. Who really wants to accept that they aren't as good as they thought they were? Or that they just can't achieve the same things others can? I sure don't. It's a humbling experience.

Before medical school I heard people say that the entire medical school class would be people who, for the most part, were at the top of their respective undergraduate classes. And they were probably also near the top of their high school classes. But within every medical school class, there will always be someone ranked first and someone ranked last. And nobody ever entered medical school planning to end up at the bottom.

The problem is that, in general, the kind of people who make it into medical school are pretty competitive. They want to be the best. And it is pretty difficult to not have the class ranking one is used to having.

Maybe the solution is to just be content. I guess I may have to accept the fact that I am not the best. But maybe I can hold on to the idea that my best can still be very, very good. And when I try to think like this I feel better -- I feel that as long as I give my all, I will be content with my performance.

And then I think about people who have risen to the top of their fields. Did they ever just "let off the gas pedal" and accept that they weren't the best? Did they ever feel that "just good enough" was really good enough?

How does one navigate between the desire to be better and the wish to be content with a job done well enough? I don't know. I wish I did. I guess I'll struggle with it some more.

December 18, 2008 in Jeff Wonoprabowo | Permalink


hello jeff, this articcle is very useful.. thanks for publishing this.. what you have said is 100% true.. i am having a competition within myself.. my present has won my past, my future will win my present..

Posted by: aaathi | Dec 24, 2008 2:39:12 PM

i think the ultimate goal of each medical student is not to be the best student but rather the a good, competent and compassionate doctor. remember, medicine is an art, it is so subjective! there is no way that a capability of a medical student being gauged by an exam. i know how u feel:the competition in a batch and the desire to score a good grade as my medical school publishes our marks along with our names after each exams!!
but as doctors(or future doctors), we need to start adopting a more positive outlook in life: always strive for the best, put in your whole heart in doing each and everything. and above all : be contented with result, because that's what you have managed to do with all your capabilties!
all the best ;)

Posted by: olive | Dec 24, 2008 4:36:21 PM

hey Jeff,
really it is a very important topic...

everywhere you go,there is competition between people, actually it's a very important element to keep the work up and to provide the best results for the sake of all, specially in the medical field (school or clinics).

but when it become just a way to say to the others "I'm the best!!" and makes students hide the good and rare cases in the same school-hospital from their colleagues, it really became devastating.. and that will make the relations between students really sucks!! they will all hate each other instead of being friends and help one another.

the thing is ,that what really matters during life,not your grades at school, BUT to keep going up toward your own goals and make something really, really good of yourself and of everything around you, whether you were on the top of your class or not, and sure make competition with others the way to make you a better person (not necessarily the best of all!!)but not a way to go up on the account of others..

after all ,, you guys really made me decide to work harder, in order to be good enough to be content with what I can do and stop saying "I wish I worked harder" every time!! because I really "can",and I "will" :)


& Happy holidays for all..

Posted by: Manal | Dec 24, 2008 4:58:27 PM

Thanks so much for this article...
Trinidadian med student!! ;)

Posted by: Candice | Dec 24, 2008 5:41:52 PM

It’s true. The thinking process is the main culprit. We all think and we all should think. Unfortunately we all consider over selves "THE BEST". I am a general surgical trainee, so I can now tell you guys from my experience that not all what you think are correct. The fact is that no body is infallible and no body is in-fail-able as well. These are the deeds that become part of us and we have to live with them. Both good ones and bad ones. As far as we don’t intend to harm and do our level best at any particular time, at any particular level of training at any particular moment of judgement and at any particular instance of patient care, we are fine. Its also very delicate concept that we should strive for the best though, as it is incompetency and lake of insightfulness to think that near good enough is good enough. Its just polite and professional and honest to accept that " I can be failed and I am prepared for that and if I conscientiously feel that in a particular case or situation, I will only deliver near good enough, then I better ASK for help and pass on the case to somebody else who can deliver real good enough and I should not feel ashamed for that". This is the development of an attitude and this character building process is life long. I am sure we all have seen many examples of our senior medical students, colleagues, consultants and even high lever professors to NOT have a humble attitude. Believe me they all fade in the dust of time and when they realize that they are fail able, it’s too late.
So what it suggests after this very long waffling is " ONE SHOULD STRIVE TO BE THE BEST IN ACCEPTING DEFEATES, HUMILIATIONS & HUMBLENESS AND BY PRACTICE ONE CAN BE THE BEST IN THAT". Also once you achieve this just try to pass it on to your juniors or colleagues in a nice polite way and not be a PRICK. It’s all easy to say but very very difficult to do. OUR PRIDE KILLS US IN ACHIEVING THIS GOAL.



Posted by: Yasser | Dec 24, 2008 6:05:20 PM

great topic you wrote about.

adding onto what IRENE and AJ mentioned, even the great ultra-marathon man Dean Karnazes doesn't always win everything, like his competitors do at Badwater, etc. But he takes part in the MOST, keeps at it, and never gives up. To what end, that is the question we doctors have to ask ourselves.

Posted by: jeff | Dec 24, 2008 6:30:14 PM

This is an issue which has occupied my mind for many months now. Last year I was very happy with the progress I was making and where my position was within my class.

This year I am partnered with a female colleague who out performs me in every aspect imaginable from communication to clinical skills. Her progress is exponential to mine, with frequent comments comparing her to an F1 (bearing in mind we're only in second year).

Whilst I feel almost privelaged to be working with someone of such high calibre, I can't help but think at the back of my mind just how inferior I am and that I'm just holding her back.

I am not looking for sympathy or an answer to my situation. She is clearly a better medical student than I, and whilst I know I have to accept this, it's proving a difficult pill to swallow.

Merry Christmas everyone.

Posted by: Rhys | Dec 24, 2008 6:33:48 PM

I totally agree!! Medical students are the most motivation-driven sort of people. Strangely, it is also what it takes to navigate oneself thru the whole process. I have my exams coming up in a few days and I really wonder how I'll do compared to how I did in highschool. Thankfully, I've seem to come to terms with accepting my limits, but it doesn't mean I don't wanna be great anymore. Sometimes when things don't turn out right for me and I fail, I tell myself a little story for comfort. I think about all the sperms that swim its way to find an egg in the midst of everything, only to compete among their own for penetration. Now, that seems like one heck of a job, but I made it! Even if I fail in everything else, I still won "that" race. Everybody's a winner!!

Merry Christmas!!

Posted by: workaholic888 | Dec 24, 2008 6:52:11 PM

I Think Yasser's comments are very thoughtful. Well done !!

Posted by: Irene | Dec 24, 2008 7:54:48 PM

i think those genius are gifted and its a 'shortcut' for them to achieve good gardes and become the best in med school. while a person who is not genius -which is me- have to work 2 times harder than them in order to maintain good grades.study,read and practice a lot are only my modal..

Posted by: azrina | Dec 24, 2008 8:27:14 PM

Thank you for posting this comment...
To all my future colleagues in Medicine World:

You are the best in your field,
Do not cower to the pressure(s) but tower over your obstacles.
Many have walked the path before you; but you are unique and can help someone in need the only way you can.
You are not a carbon copy but an original composition.
Your best is all you can give, so give freely.
Remember, 'nothing changes unless you move', so dream big and soar high because others are depending on you.
With GOD all things are possible!
There are people wishing to be in your shoes right now, so please take this opportunity seriously!
For every milestone that you accomplish, you will be a mentor to someone...people are always watching but by the grace of God you will accomplish all of your dreams one step at a time...

HAPPY 2009

Posted by: Esther LJ | Dec 24, 2008 10:12:52 PM

Hi Jef
this is avery important topic, i'm thinking about that since longtime specialy when i don't see much change in my results, that makes me think about what are my limits that i shouldnot pass? and what are my top goal that i can reach and i cannot reach more than it according to my abilities?
I thought the solution in IQ test! but later i see the strange releation betwen IQ and grades in school, many smarter ones and not ranking anymore, i donot know what it depeneds upon! i think the issue needs more patience and other things that abrillaint brain
thats for study, but i wish in clinical practice it will be deffrent.
but i still donot know my limits and i donot know if i can increase my abilities more and able to dream mroe to rank oneday or no
with pleasure and respection

Posted by: Feineli | Dec 24, 2008 10:30:06 PM

good job jeff.i think we should do our best in clinical stuffs.just studing isn't that important.

Posted by: sarah | Dec 24, 2008 10:50:43 PM

The problem with some people is that they can't accept that there are just THOSE who are better than them and the BEST from among.
I had a classmate once who used to be on the top of his undergrad class. But when he went to medschool, he was just among the average. His grades were average despite his for-the-best-effort. He couldn't accept the fact that he was among people who didn't even top their undergrad years...and some of them even had better grades than he did. The thing is that, that school was one of the top-ranked medschools. My point isn't to brag about it but to say that of course, he would expect that he was surrounded with not-just-your-average-joe and that the competition is REALLY tough. So, he transferred to another medschool which was uhh... never ranked. He finally had his wish. He was on the top 5.
I'm like... where's the sense in that? I couldn't grasp the idea of a person who would actually transfer schools just to be honored as a top-ranked student. But I guess they exist. I just hope he gets to read your post, Jeff. ;]

Posted by: mgvr | Dec 25, 2008 2:07:06 AM

Hey Jeff;
Have you heard of the LAW OF ATTRACTION? A book called The Secret, i just read it recently. You have to read this book. In brief it describes this law of attraction, u attract thoughts to u, for example if u keep thinking how scared u are of failing, u will fail. if u keep thinking u can succeed, u can do good, u can be the best, u will be the best. you attract ur thoughts to you whether they are positive or negative. think u are the best and truly believe in it and u will be the best. personally i tried it and it really works.

Another thing many mentioned in previous posts before me is, being the best in med school and getting the best grades doesn't mean u will be the best doctor or will have the best clinical sense latter on as a doctor. But being the best in med school or at least one of the top students is what keeps u going in med school, keeps u full of energy and drives u to working even harder.
Good luck and believe in yourself that u are the best and u will find yourself the best.

Posted by: Sarah | Dec 25, 2008 2:50:00 AM

Dear Jeff

There is no need to to accept your place. If you want to the be the best you can and will. You are taking a defeatest attitude one that is probably encouraged by the people in your year who are top of the class. If you watch them closely enough you will see that they just work harder and longer than you but then LIE about it afterwards so you do not do the same and therfor come out lower than them. Copy the behavious that make them effective and take their success with a big pinch of salt. You can reach the top and topple them off their peddlestools in the process.Why should you have to be the humble one? When in rome do as the romans do

Posted by: Alifya | Dec 25, 2008 6:47:59 AM

Hi Jeff,
First of all, I'm really glad that someone is talking about this desire to be the best since it's so common in med students and physians.

I think, this competitive aspect of our psychology is what makes us miserable in med school. However, I also believe you're luckier than me because the most important part of this situation is to be able to turn it into your own advance which means doing something about it. For example, I get these feelings too but I don't make a study plan or participate in surgeries or study properly. If you're capable of turning your emotions to productive actions, then please, be content with yourself.

Also, this "being the best" is kind of superficial, don't you think? It's superficial if you're talking about competing with your classmates, since getting the highest grades or having read something others don't know anything about won't really prove anything. On the other hand, Harvey Cushing was really the best one in his time but that's a different thing and if you're talking about competing with guys like Cushing by struggling to be the best, then it's very admirable of you. Struggling to be the top of your class on the other hand, is lame, since it doesn't give a hint if you are indeed the best or not.

You really should want to be "your" best, since there's not another "best" existing in a real sense. You should want to be a good doctor, because there is such a thing as good or bad doctor. But the best physian in the world or in USA or in any particular place? No, I don't think so, there are just really good ones, ones that are better. That's all. If you try to be your best, you'll make it to there anyway.

My struggle is to do something to be my best, but you're already doing that. So I don't think you've got anything to worry about, because "your best" will seem quite like the best to me or to other people.

And lastly, you can control these feelings. What do I mean? You're competitive right, you want to be the best. I think, you should compete with your idols (mine is Cushing as you might guess:)), not with your fellow friends. Ahaha, that might be even worse, but when you try that, you'll see that people around you who seem to be the best ones will look just as normal as yourself and you'll wake up to the real competition which is independent of time and conditions. By the way, even though Cushing was great, it is still hard to say he was the best neurosurgeon ever. So you see, there isn't such a thing as "the best", even the best ones can't make it to that.

Take care and thank you for bringing up the subject.

Posted by: Melinda | Dec 25, 2008 6:54:28 AM


I think rather than being the "best", focussing on being the best YOU can be, and pushing yourself, knowing your own capabilities rather than by comparing with others will help you to maintain humility and focus, but not allow you to be complacent.

It's like running a race, if you look at everyone else you'll lag behind, if you just focus on yourself and push yourself as much as you can you may be number 1, or a close second, either way you exerted yourself to the best of your capabilities - can't ask for more!

Personally I tell myself it's about whats best for the patient, I struggle and strive to be the best I can be so I can deliver the best treatment to my patients, and from time to time our own ego and glory seeking vanities intrude on this altruistic desire, and it's normal for that to happen but I don't think that should be the only motivating force to reach our potential.

The greats of science had a deep passion for their subject and the desire to just understand and know was a big driving force. Ultimately we'll all have differant motivations for being the best we can be, but as long as we relate it back to the ethos of medicine - which is that we're trying to do no harm and help our patients I believe we'll achieve many wonderful things.

Posted by: Vardha Ismail | Dec 25, 2008 7:30:50 AM

All i can is that school grades are not the absolute standard to measure someone's future as a physician. It is on how he strives to be the best. Other students maybe sooo bookish... But its really different in real world. One should be tactful. One should be creative and resourceful on how he manages certain situation. Coz every situation in the hospital is unique... We should always be ready to be the best person to face it ... the best leader to manage the medical team.

Patients need no books. They need passionate doctors, who may not be perfect but tries to be the best healer, whatever it takes.

Merry Christmas...
in behalf of the Beta Mu Sigma Fraternity
College of Medicine
Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila

Posted by: Rainier Mozo | Dec 25, 2008 9:45:17 AM

hey jeff..very nice article.every medical student feels who has not topped his/her class feels the same i guess.but ultimately its your skills n your love n care towards your patients which matters the most.I'm sure you'll have a great practice in the long run.N Jerry thanks for those tips to concentrate better.Merry X'mas n a happy new year to all.

Posted by: Manjula | Dec 25, 2008 9:50:43 AM

u no wat.. im of the pinion that competition makes ypu do your best.... so compete... healthy competition will make u do the best... also there is this thing of abilities and limitations... agreed n only when u no ur limitations will u make ur strengths even stronger... n try n overcome ur weakness... u will undestand that u r the best in one of the aspects n someone else is the best in somthngf else.. all of u can work as a team.. n u'l might become the best team....Merry Christmas... enjoy!

Posted by: siddharth | Dec 25, 2008 9:56:53 AM

Hi Jeff,Thanks for bringing up such an interesting issue.Can pretty much identify with the struggle to be the best.This struggle can be so arduous and lonely sometimes ...the unspoken jealousy of peers is often palpable;being perceived as successful can isolate you at times...a spouse who gets into a competitive mode just to get one up...family members who plan fun outings just when you need to be working really hard...but the only thing that makes you feel good about the whole struggle is when you are able to do the best for your patients.Nothing can match that satisfaction...Wish you the very best Jeff and keep trying to do your best.

Posted by: karuna | Dec 25, 2008 10:40:44 AM

Hi Jef
Yes you are right it is difficult to assess whether or not you've done your best. Being a third year med student things like that have struk my mind a couple of times. But the thing is you should always give your cent percent without worrying about the result. Give your best shot everytime with a bit of competitive state of mind, i think that'll work. But above all just recall what made you choose medical school? Is it to earn better grades or help those in need. I my context the very thought that i would be helping people in future brings in the positive attitute towards competing with my colleagues.
My best wishes to you
Mingma Thsering Sherpa
Nepal Medical College
Kathmandu Nepal

Posted by: Mingma Thsering Sherpa | Dec 25, 2008 7:02:25 PM

being a doctor is an art, a devotion, an act of love and caring, a science all balanced into one. 'being top of the grade' is one of the components. always try to upgrade yourself but be careful not to be one of those 'top of the grade' guys and be the one patients consult and come away feeling worse than they entered the office.

Posted by: kj | Dec 25, 2008 9:07:44 PM

as long as i know, i am the best, nothing else really matters. we need to outdo ourselves first,before attempting to reign over the rest...a personal experience...

Posted by: Neha | Dec 25, 2008 10:07:26 PM

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