I’m not very flexible physically. Even back in elementary school gym class, I couldn’t touch my toes when I bent to stretch. I can’t touch my fingers together when I reach around my back, let alone clasp my hands, and I’m miles away from being able to do the splits. But something happened this weekend that made me glad I am flexible professionally.
Medical students look forward to Match Day with a blend of excitement and trepidation. On Friday at 9 A.M. sharp, an envelope with their match letter reveals where they will spend the next several years, after weeks of interviews, out-of-pocket costs, and– most notably– four years of highly rigorous schooling. An algorithm matches students to programs, doing its best to link everyone up based on rank lists from students and programs.
My partner, Mr. Mechanic, crossed his fingers for something in his top five (hospitals in New York, California, Colorado, or Washington) but he braced for any result in his 15 possibilities. Some students don’t match at all, resulting in a terrible scramble. If they don’t secure a spot in a few days, they have to go through the whole nightmarish process again the next year.
Match Day For Families
This is incredibly stressful for the students, but they aren’t all doing it alone. When we arrived at the large conference room at 8:30 A.M., young children dashed around our feet and husbands and wives of medical students milled with their own anticipation. The envelopes containing the results didn’t just hold the future of the class of 2019, they also affected the future of their families.
At 8:50 A.M. a man with a microphone started an inspirational speech, but I was too nervous to pay attention. In two months, I could be moving to Salt Lake City, Phoenix, Charleston, Hanover, Boston, Portland (ME), or another city that I have never been to—the results completely out of my control.
Some couples have it even worse; when two medical students are married or dating, they can match as a couple. They submit a ranked list together, and the algorithm will (try to) take their relationship into account. However, couples in different specialties won’t always be able to match in the same place. Many are separated for their demanding residencies several hours or states away from their partner.
Being Grateful for Flexibility
Several lives would be uprooted on Match Day, and I felt extremely grateful that I chose a career that comes with flexibility: the opportunity to work remotely.
I have never had much of a plan for my career, unlike Mr. Mechanic, who knew he wanted to be a doctor since high school. When I chose a degree I picked the one that would give me the most options. When I started receiving paychecks, I immediately funneled money into an emergency fund. With so much uncertainty I wanted to be able to make big risky life moves and be able to leave if work turned toxic. When I chose a career, I sought a position that would let me work from home or a different country.
I didn’t make the decision to become a software engineer just because I knew one day I might move with Mr. Mechanic across the country. Most pertinent to me was landing a job where I could solve interesting problems, but job security and flexibility factored in as well. Ultimately, Match Day made me extremely grateful that my past-self worked to give my future-self options.
Opening the Envelope
At 9:00 A.M. Mr. Mechanic tears open his envelope. An algorithm has decided where we will be moving for the next five years, but I feel strangely calm. I might not be able to touch my toes, but I can at least flex the opportunity to work remotely.
He reads out the results in a room full of ripping paper, shouting, and cheers, his soft voice overpowered. I ask to see the letter because I am not sure I heard him correctly. There in black and white is a future I did not decide, but I did prepare for in my own way. In two months we will move across the country to a small town in New York for Mr. Mechanic’s internship year, and then we will spend the next four years in southern California. I smile because the result was within our top three picks, though it all feels surreal. Everywhere I turn, people are hugging, jumping, and crying in either happiness or disappointment.
Sometimes we don’t get to choose our fate, as so many things are out of our control.
In life’s gymnasium, it’s best to be flexible.