Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Sidney Poitier Says Instinct Is...

"Instinct is... instinct, and it is a combination of stuff that goes on inside ourselves and nudges us one way or the other to a particular conclusion that we had no intent on visiting or embracing." 
      --Sidney Poitier on Oprah Presents Master Class episode aired 4/22/12

This quote has much more of an impact when you hear it spoken in Sidney Poitier's smooth, lyrical voice.   The legendary actor is a prime example of someone who followed and found his life's calling, and if you don't know his life story it is worth reading.  He looks at the world with questioning eyes, with the eyes of a wise man who questions everything except for who he is as a person.  I never would have defined instinct in these terms.  My definition is more animalistic, more primal as I associate instinct with the way my snake recoils when something frightens him.  But I think Mr. Poitier is saying in more poetic terms.  Instinct is simply something one does without thinking... something one is compelled to do with no planning or forethought.  Although not explicitly stated in his description of the word, there is the implication that unlike impulsiveness, instinct is not wreckless but rather serves to help one survive.
I was struck by this quote because it so beautifully describes my experiences of late.  I never planned on leaving my residency program.  I never planned on leaving medicine.  But one morning, fully recovered after a week of battling a mild infection, I woke up and said to myself, "I'm not going back [to residency]... I'm certain I'm not going back... and I'm never going back."  I've tried explaining it to people but of course they all think I'm crazy.  I have tried to relay the urgency with which I felt the need to leave the job.  To me it feels like a matter of survival; if I go back I will die.  And it is not anxiety or literal fear; in other words I don't believe I will literally die.  But I do feel that if I go back to that job, a part of me will die, and I may never recover.  What part of me would vanish into disintegration?  I don't know exactly.  The best sense I have is that some part of my spirit will be destroyed.  Like a caged animal that one day just gives up to the point that even if the door its cage is left open, it prefers the relative comfort and safety of its cold, damp enclosure to the warmth and endless possibilities of the outside world.  I am plaguthis recurring thought that over the past eight years (four of medical school and just under four of residency) I have little by little lost part of myself to the point that I cannot afford to lose anymore.  I know I must take the path I am taking if I want to lead the life I was meant to live.  But everyone else thinks I'm crazy... no one else seems to understand my actions.... no one except for possibly Mr. Poitier.


  1. Maggie,

    I think your story is interesting. I can relate to the way you feel (preparing for a career in something you eventually realize is not for you). I hope you write more articles on that topic, as many people are in the same boat, and would love to hear your stories of making this important transition into something you love to do!

    Keep up the good work! Not that I'm any authority on this, but I've found that blogging is tough at first...but eventually you will have some breakthroughs!!

  2. R.C. - Thank you for the kind words of encouragement! The internet is a big world for a little blogger just starting out. :)