Tuesday Questions, benevolent stupidity edition

By way of answering last week’s Question, Maribou offered up this lovely little recollection regarding a particular song:

[I[t was the song I listened to incessantly as I was (subconsciously) bracing myself to drop out of college and move down here to marry Jaybird. Best stupid decision I will ever make.

To which my beloved co-blogger replied:

I LOVE this. Can this be a stupid Tuesday question?


My answer to the Question is easy.  The best stupid decision I ever made was to go to medical school.  Or, more precisely, to go to medical school the way I did.

I attended a combined BA/MD program straight out of high school.  (Those of you playing “Who is Russell?” at home have another clue for your charts.)  This seemed like a marvelous idea at the time.  It offered guaranteed entry (assuming I finished it) to a prestigious and financially secure profession.  It shaved a little bit of time off of the usual tally of years required to get a medical degree.  And I got to call myself a medical student at 18.

The problem, of course, is that I was a medical student at 18.  I was (in the manner of many 18-year-olds) perhaps not 100% ready for the implications of the commitments I had just made.  I was (in the manner of many 18-year-olds) more fixated on the social aspects of the “college experience” than in making the most of the opportunities that were given me.  I was (in the manner of many 18-year-olds) kind of deeply immature and still trying to (forgive my use of this hackneyed phrase) “find myself.”

I was too young to be a medical student.  And, as I have said many times since then, no teenager knows he wants to be a doctor.  He just thinks he does.

A couple of years in I was learning various different developmental theories and came across the psychosocial concept of “foreclosure,” which is a handy way of describing what happens when a late adolescent locks into a career path he doesn’t understand very well.  “Dear GOD!” thought I, “that’s what I’ve done.  Wait… what have I done?” and then proceeded to have a semi-prolonged period of diffidence and angst, during which I almost entirely sure I would take a break from school and backpack through Europe and learn what it was to Live, Truly Live!  Luckily, I had lots of good company as many of my classmates went through similar crises (one of whom really did end up bumming around the world before maybe, within the past few years, actually trying to grow up).  And most of us, through a combination of rational decision-making and the sunk costs fallacy, ended up sticking it out.

Thankfully, it all ended up working out quite well.  After the ups and downs of residency and fellowship, plus a subsequent job that was not quite the right fit, here I find myself in a practice I love and on staff at a couple of amazing hospitals.  I get to interact with amazing, brilliant people on a regular basis.  I am as happy as I have any reasonable expectation of being in my job, barring some windfall that lands me a lucrative career offering sarcastic color commentary during Oscar season.  (C’mon, world.  I would be so much better than Billy Bush.)

So there you have the best stupid decision I ever made.  What’s yours?

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. I wanted to be a physical geographer when I was 18, however a failed condom postponed my dreams of finishing up college for a few years. I was married and then divorced, and when my daughter was 10 I went back to school.

    I had planned on taking core classes at the local community college and then transferring to the state U to finish up the rest, when I met Husband 2.0, fell in love and decided that I’d move to Europe after we married. So I opted for an Associate’s Degree first (since ANY degree increases your chances of your visa being approved as opposed to a hodgepodge of college credits).

    Once here, I had to use 2 years to become proficient in the native language and settle into the rhythm of daily life out here. Then I went to college out here (which as the spouse of a citizen I was entitled to attend for free – well – paid for via taxes), and I received my B Sc. in Environmental Biology and Geography. Then it was off to the races for my M. Sc. in Environmental Chemistry and Health. I’m debating if I want to go for the trifecta with a Ph.D.

    So it’s been a case of ‘taking the long way ’round’ but you know, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

  2. Deciding to have a baby. I’ve always loved children. Growing up I told everyone that I wanted six, seven, or even eight kids. Now I’m quiting after one.
    I had not been married long before deciding to get pregnant (while going to college and starting a career). Looking back, not the best timing. Best stupid decision I ever made though. I couldn’t ask for a better Junior.
    Besides, I like a challenge.

  3. I told the woman who would become my wife that we needed to start talking about marriage… two weeks after our first hello.

  4. Dropping out of university in the coastal college town (SLO) that I grew up in, to follow the soon to be mother of my child into the wilds of deep red California (central valley.)

  5. In my second year of college, I had a horrid vision of my future self, some tweedy type, either a professor of linguistics or a pastor, in short, a carbon copy of my father. This nightmare was of sufficient power to prompt me to enlist in the US Army, which was what my own father had done to escape the stultifying grasp of his own Faulknerian life in the shadow of his own father.

    The Army might not have been the right choice but it shaped me nonetheless. It prepared me for a career of taking orders from idiots, rendering a nice snappy salute, doing an about-face and marching off to do things of which I did not entirely approve and teaching others to do the same. If it made me the king-sized asshole you have come to know and love, it also taught me the simple virtues of honouring ordinary people, seeing in them the greatness they could never see from their own perspective.

      • We really do (even if I feel compelled to correct a howler now and then.)

        • I rather like being corrected, curiously. Writing this much off the cuff, of course I’m going to get a lot of stuff wrong. Can’t learn anything otherwise.

  6. So anyway, I was browsing the internet one day, and I came across this political & cultural blog. I hung out for a few months, and then I sent an email to this E.D. guy and asked if he would let me submit some stuff…

  7. I’ve got lots of these! I am excellent at making bad decisions that end up weirdly fortuitous!

    1) You shouldn’t meet people with whom you’ve only had contact online, or they might just kill you and sell your organs. At least, that was the conventional wisdom of the time (dear Lord, was that almost 2 decades ago?!). I decided to go ahead and meet that nice gay guy who also liked the Simpsons I had met in (wait for it…) an aol trivia chat room. And I got a best friend and co-blogger for life.

    2) I flunked out of college my first semester. This led to several years spent volunteering, working, and taking the odd course before I settled down and became a full-time student again at 24. There is no way I would have had the focus, discipline, and interest necessary to excel at a university if I had stuck it through at 18. And thank you, School of General Studies at Columbia University, which gives schmoes like me (who dropped out and worked for a while) a contingent shot at an Ivy League degree. When I make my fortune, I will remember you.

    3) When I turned 30, I left a reasonably well-paying and steady job with great benefits to move to a new city and become a philosophy grad student. Extra stupidity points, since my husband-to-be had just done the same. Extra extra stupidity points, since the economy has since tanked and the philosophy job market went from tight to basically non-existent. But, even if an academic job is out of reach, I still got to spend almost a decade teaching and writing philosophy, and got the flexibility to spend my kids’ early years with them.

    4) Prenatal diagnostic tests for genetic disorders are nearly 100% accurate, but can, rarely, cause a miscarriage. Prenatal screening tests are more like 80% accurate, with both false positives and false negatives. But there is no risk to fetus. Current recommendations are that women 35 and older get diagnostic tests, not simply screening tests. (The reasoning behind this recommendation is absolutely ridiculous, and it reminds me that it should be the subject of a post.) When pregnant with my second baby, I was 35. So I opted for prenatal screening. L’il Squirt passed all tests with flying colors. Managed to get himself born with not just one, but two (2) severely disabling syndromes. Several thousand wet-n-sloppy kisses later, I am awfully, awfully glad I did not find that out until there was nothing to do but take him home.

      • Also, it is worth stating that I moved to NYC in no small part due to the friendship formed in said Simpsons trivia chat room.

      • And if ANYONE here was equipped to harvest organs, it’d be the good doctor.

        Well, him or Blaise. Blaise probably wouldn’t even need anesthesia. He certainly wouldn’t use it, regardless.

        • Oh yes he would. Mr. Blaise spent several years learning to manage pain, that is to say, learning to live with pain managing him.

          • Hehehe. I tend to think of you as the evil love child of the World’s Most Interesting Man and Chuck Norris. Please take this as the compliment it is intended to be.

          • Remember that bit of Zelig where he’s been sorta-cured, only now his problem is reversed, where he can’t tolerate anyone else’s opinion? That’s me, a glib asshole in six modern languages and a merely pedantic asshole in three or four dead ones.

          • Haven’t seen that one, but I’ll look for it. I certainly don’t picture you as Woody Allen though! Again, I assume everyone looks like their gravatar.

            And you’re much more than that, Blaise… your the second most likely guy here to harvest organs!

    • > I had met in (wait for it…) an aol trivia chat room.

      Hah! You liked him because his first line to you wasn’t “a/s/l”, right?

    • You shouldn’t meet people with whom you’ve only had contact online, or they might just kill you and sell your organs.

      Yeah, that’s why I skipped Leaguefest.

  8. In 2002 I quit my job at the local newspaper to start a regional publication with a co-worker.

    We struggled for a year or so before I was nearly broke. The publication was popular enough, but we could barely sell enough ads to cover costs and pay ourselves a couple of hundred dollars a month. We’d assumed the advertising market would be picking up, but the reality was that businesses were starting to figure out that most of their advertising budget was being wasted. That money wasn’t ever coming back.

    So,five figures in credit card debt, behind on student loans and car payments on an income of about $6K, I went looking for work and miraculously landed an entry level job at a local company that turned into my career, moved me across the country where I met the lovely Mrs. P. and baby girl came along shortly thereafter.

    My old partner still runs the magazine. I am not sure he’s ever paid himself into five figures, but it still runs. I keep praying some idiot with too much money will buy it from him and my cut will pay for something nice, but if I’d stayed at the newspaper, I’d be a lot poorer for it, both financially (I’d probably be making far less than half what I do now if I’d stayed in newspapers – if I was employed at all) and personally.

  9. Like Maribou, marriage is probably mine.

    I was a 20-something getting ready to marry someone with whom I had exchanged far more time online than in meatspace, I had a $12/hour job (and was *PLEASED* that I had a $12/hour job!), and was living in a $330/month apartment… in an apartment complex filled with people who lived in $330/month apartments.

    The wacky thing about being friends with someone online is that you’ve got this weird inverse Maslow’s Hierarchy thing going on. You know all about their spiritual fulfillment, creativity and so on but not what they smell like. (The first time we went to the grocery store, I didn’t know whether Maribou was a mayo person or a mustard person.)

    It worked out.

    It was definitely the best stupid thing I’ve ever done.

  10. I have done a goodly number of stupid things in my life, but nothing colossally stupid. And certainly nothing so colossally stupid as to be potentially a moment of greatness. It’s hard to call some of my decisions “better” than others, since both the good and the bad ones wound me up where I am now, and I’m ecstatically happy where I am now and wouldn’t change a thing. I have correctly navigated a bunch of “boy, that would have been a disaster” moments. I’m rather much the conservative at heart.

    But in an alternate universe, I’m sure there is Pat”’ who made the “colossally stupid” choice in some of the decision trees (where Pat went the conservative route), and he’s got a decidedly different but probably equally awesome ecstatic life that is much different from the one I have.

    I don’t envy him his; to get it, I’d have to give up mine. I sometimes am mildly curious how it turned out, though.

  11. Jesus, I feel like this is impossible to answer. All of my decisions are either highly researched, thoroughly calculated, and repeatedly thought through -OR- completely impulsive.

    While she generally prefers the more romantic reboot story, my wife and I met sloppy drunk at a ticket party neither of us were invited to in a shitty college bar. It started as a drunken hook-up, proceeded to become a quick fling before both of us moved to separate cities, grew into the type of distance relationship I swore I’d never get into again after the last one burned me… and here we are. A series of questionable, potentially stupid, decisions. But that’s how I roll. And, just so we’re clear, she has since been thoroughly vetted. I’d date a crazy (and believe me, I have!), but I wouldn’t marry one.

  12. I contemplated commenting further on exactly how stupid my decision was. As if a)
    dropping out of school, b) immigrating to the US, and c) getting
    married at 21 weren’t enough, THERE’S MORE. However, y’all don’t need
    to know all that, and I don’t really need to revisit it:).

    Still, I’m awfully glad about how things worked out.

  13. Two weeks before I left Australia, my buddies and I found ourselves in one of our favorite clubs in Adelaide. Because it was my unofficial “going away” party, a handful of folks we didn’t normally hang out with showed up, including the female officer who had been my crew commander up until just the week prior. Anyway, she asked me to dance and I, of course, said yes. While on the dance floor, she gave me a look that I chose to interpret as an invitation, so I leaned in a little closer, hoping to steal a kiss and expecting to be rebuffed. I wasn’t. Thirteen years of marriage and two kids later, I’m glad I made that (potentially) stupid decision!

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