You Can’t Always Decide Your Fate, But You Can Decide To Be Flexible

Whiteboard saying Happy Match Day Med19

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.

Woman stretching arms

Match Day

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.

Whiteboard saying Happy Match Day, Med19!

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.

Tiny caravan with luggage on top
We could be packing up everything to move to the opposite coast!

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.

Woman working at a desk
Not me in the picture, but my set up will look similar when I work from home.

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.

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    1. I loved reading your moving post this morning because I got some ideas for our cross-continental move. You’ve certainly shown flexibility with your move to DC!

  1. Good luck with the move! I love working remotely and don’t plan on ever having a commute again if I can help it. That workstation setup looks a lot like mine except mines not as high-end. I got a desk for $50 off Facebook marketplace and a brand new $200 sit-stand desk for $20 at a yard sale. I must confess I don’t use the standing feature half as much as I should though lol. I’ve never even been to New York or California.. Need to start traveling more in my own country!

    1. Wow! I am hoping for a sit-stand desk, although I probably wouldn’t use it as much as I should either. Right now I have a one monitor set up with a wooden straight-back chair. We’ll see how fancy I get! I definitely recommend a trip to San Francisco, it’s an amazing city!

  2. Congrats to Mr. Mechanic! All his hard work seems to have paid off, eh?

    Glad you were able to accept the results with equanimity thanks to the life structure you put in place so early on. It would’ve been terrible to be so stressed out and wondering how you’d get your job moved and all the other logistics. I can’t imagine being married med students who got split up for the length of their internship!

    1. I know, being married and split up for 4+ years sounds rough. It definitely lifts some of the stress, sometimes that extra work early on can pay off!

  3. Wow, this is a crazy process. I had no idea it existed. It seems like a massively random (though I understand not random) way for families to have to “choose” their living situation for several years. I’m glad it worked out and you got a top 3 choice.

    Kudos to you for such flexibility!

    1. Yes I was surprised since I figured we would choose a program based on offers like what you would do for University or the average acceptance process. We’re happy about the outcome, even if I’m a bit stressed about two cross-continental moves on the horizon! It will work out I’m sure.

  4. Flexibility (or finding happiness in all kinds of situations) is a gift.Having a job that can bend and adapt is crucial as you so rightly acknowledge. By choosing a job in healthcare I have have been able to work in 4 or 5 different countries so I can relate to having flexibility as as a priority. Best wishes as you plan the next steps for the next phase of your life.

    1. I’m glad you found a job that offers you the ability to flex the opportunity to travel for work! That sounds really interesting. Thank you!

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