“Forward ever, backward never” is a saying that I heard so frequently growing up in Nigeria. To many, it was unfathomable and undesirable to ever have to go back instead of always progressing in the forward direction. But the more I experience life, the more I realize that sometimes progress involves going back so that you can move forward.

In the Fall of 2023, I took the bold step of returning to school. I did this because in my journey towards actualizing my dream of becoming a doctor, I needed to fulfill certain academic requirements which I didn’t do during my undergrad. One of these requirements involved taking Physics, a subject I hated and never fully understood (even though I studied it for the MCAT in 2022). I considered this move a bold step on my part for a few reasons. Firstly, the last time I was in a classroom was in 2019, and since then I had spent my days working full time as a software engineer and living an adult life full of responsibilities. I wasn’t sure I knew how to be a student anymore. Secondly, I was sort of nervous about being a 25 year old in a class of first year students fresh out of high school. How would I fit in? Lastly, being back in school meant that I could no longer work full time, so naturally this meant that I would have to make financial adjustments. With all these considerations, this move was definitely a backward move for me.

What I did not expect was to actually fall in love with Physics, I see it everywhere I go now – it’s like I’m looking at the world through “physics-coloured” glasses. So for this reason, I’m going to give a quick physics lesson on the action of drawing back using a slingshot.

The physics behind the use of a slingshot involves harnessing the elastic energy stored in the stretchy band to shoot a projectile (a stone or whatever you decide to launch). The kicker here is that in order to maximize the kinetic energy of the projectile, one of the things you must do is draw the elastic as far back as possible.

In essence, the elastic takes a few steps back in order to produce its greatest output. Now of course you are not a projectile, but what I want you to see here is that sometimes in order to get the most out of life, in order to make greater progress, you may have to take a few steps back. This may look like discontinuing a product or shutting a business down momentarily and going back to the drawing board to develop an even better product. In my case, this looked like going back to school and doing something I absolutely didn’t want to do.

The duality of life lies in the fact that there can be beauty in uncomfortable circumstances. Not only did I end up loving physics and having a better understanding of it, I also made very valuable connections just by being in this class. As for my initial concerns, they all managed to sort themselves out once I committed to taking the step back. Firstly, I love school and I love learning, so it was easy for me to integrate back into student life. I also enjoyed the structure that being in school provides – I knew when I had classes, the exact procedure for the experiments I did in the labs, how much each test was worth in the final grade, and the deadlines for all  assignments. This structure made it easy for me to figure out how to distribute my time and effort. Secondly, I thank God for the gift of looking younger than my actual age (even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with being old or looking your age). Thankfully, I didn’t stick out like a sore thumb, and whenever someone asked for my age, they were always surprised by the answer. Lastly, even though I was concerned about my finances, there really was no cause for alarm. Earlier on in my life, I had made some wise financial decisions in the form of savings and investments, and this was more than enough for me to live off while being in school. Personally, I think the best gift that came out of this backward step was the time I got back. Previously, most of my time and creative energy was dedicated to my 9-5 but now with the milder and more defined structure of school, I could explore more of my interests and fall in love afresh with my creative expressions, including writing.

I’ve said all of this to say that progress is not always in the forward direction. Sometimes it looks like going back to gain insight and then going moving from there. Other times, it looks like losing something to gain something better. If you are currently in what feels like a backward step, don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, I encourage you to look at the duality of the situation. You will find the good if only you surrender to the process and embrace this step as progress, regardless of what other people may think.


Author Ebun

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