Like a lot of overachievers who end up pursuing medicine, I entered college with a great deal of credit from a combination of Advanced Placement tests and courses taken for credit in night school at my local community college.
Thanks to classes in physics, French and philosophy taken as a high school senior, I was exempted from a slew of general education requirements as a college freshman.
Consequently, when other freshman were in mandatory writing skills and language workshops, I was immersing myself in Russian Realist literature and taking graduate level seminars from a passionate visiting French professor on the works of Albert Camus.
A Public Service Announcement
For readers with high school aged kids, I'd like to offer a hearty endorsement: Please encourage them to enroll in community college coursework while high school students.
The ability to get out of school an hour earlier in exchange for a 2-3 night per week night class was a great introduction to independence and adulting.
The innocent friendships with attractive 20-something coeds provided added incentives. At a time when high school felt provincial, community college offered access to new ideas and interesting people that I couldn't get enough of.
Want your teen to appreciate the opportunities that an education provides? Put them in night classes sprinkled with single mothers seeking to escape dead end jobs, motivated blue collar workers striving to get ahead, and immigrants pursuing the American dream. The lesson will sink in immediately.
But Back To The Lecture At Hand
For all the credit that college accepted, it would not spare me from retaking Calculus. Accustomed to being a strong student in advanced classes, I was not afraid. I should have been.
Since I had passed the AP Calculus Exam, I was required to enroll in a more rigorous Calculus course. This course promptly served me a huge slice of humble pie.
I found myself studying harder than ever with less to show for it. I was now a small fish in a big pond, and I was surrounded by brilliant people with work ethics every bit as strong as mine had been.
It was humbling and worrisome. Fortunately, there was Matt down the hall. When I could not grasp a concept, I walked a couple of doors over to find a friend who was never too busy.
I felt terrible taking his time when he seemed able to assimilate the material so quickly. He assuaged my guilt at being the slower learner by insisting, "If I can explain it to you then it helps me learn the material better." He meant it, too.
Matt was the reason I succeeded in Calculus, a sort of personal T.A. every time I hit a roadblock during a problem set. At my 20 year class reunion, I had the opportunity to introduce him to my wife as the guy who got me through a rough patch, and to honor him in this small way.
I let him know that his kindness those many years ago was still remembered and deeply appreciated. In his usual manner, he insisted that learning how to explain difficult technical concepts had laid the foundation for becoming a patent attorney in Silicon Valley. Although I felt like a black cloud, he saw only my silver lining.
You Can Always Depend On The Kindness Of Strangers
The physician finance blogosphere is composed largely of Matts. Generous people for whom no question is too dumb, no problem is too specific or bizarre, and who have no qualms about explaining how to do a backdoor Roth for the umpteenth time.
I am so grateful to this collection of people who continue to see their fellow physicians' financial questions and debt dilemmas as interesting puzzles they'd be interested in helping to solve.
You Can Reflect That Kindness Back Into The World And Amplify It
You won't know when the opportunity will present itself. It certainly won't be the person you think could most benefit from the insight.
At some point over the next week, someone will ask you for help in a way that seems cumbersome, imposes on your already scarce time, and that no social contract requires you uphold. It might happen at work, in your neighborhood, or while you are on a Costco run trying to be super efficient.
It's completely okay to groan internally for a moment. Then remember your personal Matt. The person you barely knew who brought you food when you were sick. The people who organized your baby shower at work, because they are just nicer than other human beings. The time you went to pay the bill at dinner only to be told a complete stranger had already paid it.
At which point you might take a deep breath, smile, and say, "If I can explain it to you then it helps me learn the material better."
And you'll mean it, too.