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Erin D.
ENG 271
Dr. Nordstrom
6 April 2010

Dear Cop MacDonald,

I can't thank you enough for publishing your book and allowing us the opportunity to read and discover ways to get a life. I was very impressed, both in your book and in our Skype session with you, by how down-to-earth and accessible you were able to make the topics. I really appreciated that you not only share your advice regarding wisdom, but also that you truly seem to live a life of wisdom, intelligence, and compassion -- all characteristics emphasized in your book.

One of the chapters from your book that I most enjoyed was "Our Engagement with Work". I thought that the metaphor for work as a game -- both serious and simultaneously not serious -- was such an innovative way to approach the subject. You also told us both in our Skype session that the wisest way to go about finding a career that fulfills us is to go with our passion, but I'm really struggling with this right now. What if the thing we love -- or at least the thing that we think we love -- seems impossible? I want to be a doctor more than anything; I'm willing to put in the diligent work required for acceptance to Medical School. I know that I have a strong desire to be a doctor, but is that enough? It seems that everything around me is shoving me in another direction, farther and farther away from success in medicine. I'm discouraged by my science professors, my advisor, my grades, and my classes. I'm anxious about the effects that the new Health Care system will have on my future career. I'm afraid of not having time for my family, for my friends, or for myself. I'm disheartened by nearly everything and everyone around me. And yet, I still feel in my gut that being a doctor is what I want to do. Doesn't that, in itself, prove something? Should I continue in that direction even though there is opposition coming at me from every direction? Or is this some profound, cosmic way of the universe telling me to redirect my course in another direction?

Clearly, your "Appropriate Planning" chapter also had a profound impact on me; I'm a big control freak, and I have a serious problem with accepting the inability to control everything in my life. I fully admit that I want all the answers, and I want them now, a mindset that has not served me particularly well thus far. Your advice to let go of the need to control and begin to go with the flow sounds good -- even liberating -- to me in theory, but I'm unsure whether I'll ever totally accomplish this feat. I have, however, begun to practice meditation early in the morning, and I certainly feel a weight lifted from my worrisome heart. I'm not positive where the weight has come from, but I can feel that I've taken a step in the right direction -- for this, I thank you.

Without a doubt, my favorite chapter was Chapter 10: "Feeling Good about Ourselves". As a young woman, I've always struggled to some degree with a negative self-image and low self-esteem. "Switch your attention from what you don't have to what you do have" was some very good advice; the more I think about it and actively switch my focus from the negative to the positive, the more I realize: what you focus on grows. Another sentence really resonated with me in this chapter: "All of us, all the time, are doing the best we can." This statement's meaning to me was two-fold: doing the best I can is enough, but it is also something for which I should strive. After all, the absolute best that I can do is not going to come from a lackadaisical, half-hearted attitude toward life; I need to be engaged in all that I do. This outlook, I believe, has shown me the path toward a more effective life.

Your book was a straight-forward, simple read somehow infused with more wisdom and knowledge than most others I've come across. This was just the sort of "self-help" (for lack of a better term) book that I've been seeking for a while now, and I can't fully express my gratitude to you for sharing your beliefs, ideas, and advice. It is a truly inspiring work.


Erin D.

April 21, 2010

Dear Erin,

Thanks so much for your kind and supportive words. It has been a real pleasure to interact with all of you. A few comments on the points you raised.

Regarding your passion to become a physician, I'd encourage you to follow it and see where it leads. On your list of discouraging influences, the really important one would seem to be your grades. My first life passion was radio and electronics. It started when I was five and my father gave me a crystal set radio -- just a few parts on a masonite board that pulled music from the air and filled my head with it. Later I built radios, and in my teens became a ham radio operator. The natural next step was to become an electronic engineer. I enrolled in the engineering program at the University of Kentucky (with in-state tuition at $60 a semester, a no-brainer). On the first day, the head of the engineering department spoke to all us new students. Among the things he said was: "If you don't love math, you'll never make it through." YIKES! I didn't love math. I was not even very good at it. But I loved radio and electronics, and I was determined to get that degree. In the end I did. I had to work harder than the math lovers at my math and physics courses, but I made it.

So I would talk to your science professors and your advisor about what would be required of you in the way of grades to get accepted into a US medical school. My understanding is that the competition is great, and just passing wouldn't be enough. But talk to them. Then feel the situation out. No guarantees of course, but is making the effort your ultimate choice? Also, get in touch with your various motivations for doing this. Is it money and prestige? Or is it serving people who need what a doctor can give? If it's the latter, and despite a diligent effort to get into a US medical school, could there be possibilities in other countries?

Is the opposition you are getting "some profound, cosmic way of the universe telling me to redirect my course in another direction?" I'd be open to that possibility. But as long as the become-a-physician passion is there, I'd follow your bliss in that direction. Over the course of my life to date I have had several passions - electronics, world travel, social change, personal growth, writing in general, then writing about wisdom, and "wisdom education" in general. In each case, however, the new passion sort of took over from the old. There was never a passionless vacuum. So if a new passion arises, great. In the meantime, I'd see if it's not possible to actualize the present one.

Ah yes, the control issue. My tendency, too, is to want to control. As we face a greater variety of life situations we do get a clearer sense of what we can control and what we'd better let go. As Reinhold Niebuhr's prayer indicates, it is the growth of wisdom that helps us to deal with this:

God, give us grace to accept with serenity
the things that cannot be changed,
Courage to change the things
which should be changed,
and the Wisdom to distinguish
the one from the other.

While at any moment you and I are doing the best we can, that doesn't mean that with a bit more attentiveness and effort we can't do even better in the future. As you so beautifully put it, "What you focus on grows."

You are facing your challenges head on. I have no doubt that you will work through all this and make some good life choices. Thank you for your openness and your sharing.

All the best,