I drove down to Mayo in the dead of winter for my medical school interview. The winter wind is extra special in southern Minnesota. Anything lighter than my 2500 pound 1986 Volvo would’ve blown right off the road into the ditch.
I wore a “suit”, some off-white situation with black checks. I think I even put on nylons, probably the last time I wore them.
While I had studied for the MCAT, the medical college admissions test (at that time administered on paper!), I believed that a person really can’t study for an interview. I was wrong.
The first interviewer isn’t warm. Maybe he smiles once, an inauthentic grimace. “What do you read besides medical journals?” he asks.
(Seriously? Medical journals?) I stammer something. Hm, fiction, yeah, I can’t quite remember the author (Barbara Kingsolver), or the title (something with pigs?), or the plot (uh, a coyote in the Southwest, some trouble, and maybe love) of the last book I read.
The second interviewer isn’t warm. Maybe she smiles once, an inauthentic grimace. “What are you most proud of?” she asks. Or more likely “Of what are you most proud?” This is Mayo after all. No dangling prepositions allowed.
Aha! A perfect opportunity to talk about the disordered eating research I worked on in college. As I talk, I watch for any sign of connection, even a spark of interest. Nope. Nothing.
I wasn’t surprised to get the thin rejection letter in the mail shortly thereafter.
These two questions stick with me. The real answers, the real me, are obvious and were obvious at the time, though I was afraid to speak them.
“What do you read besides medical journals?” he asks.
“Actually, I don’t read medical journals. You’ve been living in the land of medicine for years and you know the language. For me to read a medical journal would be an exercise in futility. I don’t speak the language. Yet. And frankly I got so burned out on academic reading in college that I forgot how to read for pleasure. I’ll remember in about 2005, after the birth of my son, as I read to him while we rock. Goodnight Moon, The Rattletrap Car, and Corre, Perro, Corre!”
“I don’t read the news either,” I say, smiling like a person who doesn’t read the news. Bear in mind, these were the days before, before the internet made self-protection virtually impossible. “My ignorance of current events would likely astonish you. I try to be kind to people and do good on a basic level in my everyday interactions. This relative ignorance keeps me optimistic enough to get up in the morning and try to make micro differences, changes on a molecular level if you will.” I send him a brief conspiratorial nod.
“I do read music. I’ve been fluent in music since I was a baby, as we all are. I’m ever grateful to my parents for supporting my musical education. My main instruments are piano, percussion, and voice, though I’ve dabbled in tenor saxophone and violin. Currently, I’m reading a lot of Debussy and Rachmaninoff. Rachmaninoff’s second piano concerto is an incredible piece. I love the range and depth of emotion that he expresses. I can vividly imagine the storyline behind the phrases, the passion and heartache, the introspection and risk. I take Rachmaninoff’s notes and interpret them through his experience and my own so what comes out is an old story read in a new way.”
“Of what are you most proud?” she asks.
“Pride is a tricky word for me. Pride feels vain, arrogant. It’s easiest for me to be proud of other people. In 2003, I’ll be proud to twine my life with an incredible man. I won’t expound upon his virtues because he’d be embarrassed; Pride is not in his emotional lexicon. In 2006, I’ll beam with pride when my baby stares at the banks of fluorescent lights on the ceiling of Target and exclaims ‘Gite! Gite!’ as he signs the word for light.
Right now though, I’m proud that I’ve never been drunk or high, that I made it through adolescence and college without making irreversible self-destructive mistakes. And I’m proud that I get along with my parents and plan to do so into perpetuity.”
Mayo was not a good fit for me. I’m delighted the interviewers figured that out.
What would you like to do over?