Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Musings on self doubt, disorganization and other such things.



Truth: on the list of things I didn't do, College Tours lingers somewhere near the top. I skipped the traditional path, unintentionally, in favor of marriage and family. Later, I got that degree. But the time had passed to live like a coed. In reality, my personality is probably not suited for house parties and sorority sisters. I regret nothing and yet one always wonders what could have been. FOMO and all that jazz.

These days high school is but a distant memory, made foggier by the recollection of more recent (pleasant?) milestones. And yet I find myself, now in my mid-thirties, having come full circle. My son is due to be a senior this fall (an opportunity to relive my youth minus the awkward social interactions!) and I have embarked on that long overdue college road trip. Only a more grownup version that cares nothing at all about the number of frat houses and very much about minimum GRE scores and expiring prerequisite courses. Last week saw Indianapolis and Houston, this week Salt Lake City. My days off have been spent in flight, renting cars by the day, and counting the hours of sleep I'll manage before work starts the next morning.

I'm so grateful I decided to get out there and visit graduate schools. Through an eye-opening but not altogether positive experience, I've learned that precious little can be gleaned from website info pages alone. Vibe, it turns out, is a crucial part of the vetting process for me. What is the director like? How friendly are the faculty and students? What are their hospital affiliations? What are their priorities when selecting an applicant? What are their teaching philosophies? These are all questions that swirl through my mind but are seldom satisfied by a FAQ section. And so. I travel to and fro so I may make the best decision regarding my future.

I'll be honest: this hasn't been the easiest process for me. I'm worn out mentally and physically. Doubt and fear of disappointment play regular roles in my self talk these days. What if I fall in love with a program only to get that dreaded rejection letter? What if, oh boy, I don't get in anywhere? All unlikely scenarios, but human nature is human nature. Meanwhile, my brain is scattered in many directions, and I'm not excelling in any one area. (I'd even settle for mediocre at this point.) I'm forgetful and restless at work, unmotivated and snippy at home, and chronically worried about the What Ifs. What if Kiddo doesn't go to college right away? Does he move with us? What if he fails that class? WHY WON'T HIS CHEMISTRY TEACHER RETURN MY EMAILS?! It's exhausting. All of it. (And therefore little things like the wrong milk in my latte seem like much greater adversities than they really are and I become annoyed with even myself.)

This morning my flight left at 10:30a. The airport is 20 minutes away from home. I somehow got it into my head, despite checking my itinerary more than once, that I needed to be at the airport by 10:30. Less than an hour before my flight was due to board I realized my mistake...and I wasn't even showered yet. Thank goodness I wasn't bringing luggage and the parking + airport security gods were looking down on me favorably. My adrenaline was good and pumping, so I spent the duration of my flight ruminating on all those What Ifs and feeling generally sweaty and anxious. Upon landing I recalled those two cups of black coffee I drank sans food and it was nearly 2p. Hello low blood sugar + caffeine jitters. (And 50 rounds of Candy Crush Soda Saga which further fueled the distraction and anxiety. Time for a technology detox, perhaps.) As I sat in my rental car, applying makeup to a bare face, I started thinking about the day thus far and had to wonder where this rather self destructive behavior originates. Why do I get overwhelmed and in turn make things harder on myself? A day trip to SLC could have easily been an opportunity to usher in some calm among the chaos. An oasis. (It still can be. I'm working on it. Starting with this purge of a blog post.)

A meal in my belly and a soothing cup of tea later, and I'm still wondering why I do these things to myself. Why I falter in the areas that matter most: family, food and friends (or anything that brings joy and a sense of calm like reading, embroidery, writing, etc.). When the going gets tough, I let go of the things my mind and body crave...and it takes forever to recover them in the midst of the commotion. Surely I can't be the only one who implodes under pressure. (Can you beautiful unicorns who crave yoga and healthy eating during times of stress teach me the ways?)

I can't remember the last time I made a home cooked meal and that bothers me. (My sweet husband has made many.) I'm trying to read 3 books at once, all very different from one another. (And investing poorly in each.) My bedtime has varied by as many as 6 hours over the last few weeks, and no two bedtimes have been the same. (Jet lag in my own time zone.) This morning, during my frantic shower, I realized I have been attempting to lather my body with a paper-thin wafer of soap for the past week and my record of excellent personal hygiene is in jeopardy. (I just ran into a random Whole Foods and bought a bar of soap to bring home in my purse. I know. It's a real head-scratcher, Mr. TSA Officer.) I still haven't sent my resume and other supporting information to the physician writing a letter of recommendation for me. (It's been over a week since I asked him and I fear I'm falling into flake territory.) I am so out of shape that I think I might be developing a wheeze at the slightest exertion. (I walk 10k steps a day at work, but nothing that gets my heart pumping. Which would help my anxiety. See above re: shying away from the things that help me cope.) I fell head over heels for the Houston program and no less than 10 people have since told me Houston is "disgusting." (I wasn't disgusted at all. But now I'm afraid I missed something big and scary in my short visit.) Husband is going through work changes, both good and bad, and I'm continually afraid he is sacrificing his happiness because he's the primary breadwinner. (He says that is not the case, and logically I know that to be true, but you know. Worry.)

Oh, and did I mention that after 3 years the owner of our rental house wants to sell so we will likely have to pack up and move into a new place for the one remaining year we planned to stay in our neighborhood. In the midst of everything else. Sometimes it's all too much and yet it doesn't escape me that my problems scarcely compare to those of my fellow man. (Cue guilt.)

Where am I going with this? I'm not sure. (Advice welcome.)

What I do know is that life chugs on. Kiddo will find his path. I'll find mine. What is meant to happen always does and this is no exception. Above all, I'm grateful for the means and opportunity to explore potential places for my future to play out. I'm grateful I was given this year off to spend with my family before 3 years of intense work begins. I'm also grateful for lemon cookies, massages, and clean sheets on freshly shaved legs.

This is the last of my school tours for a bit. Next week I head to Colorado for a crafting retreat, immediately followed by a girls' week in Savannah + Charleston (both are cities I've yet to visit!). This is a really exciting time in my life! So for today I'll own my angst, dwell on it a bit, but then I'll need to move on. It's time to get out of my own head.

Life in the meantime deserves to be lived to the fullest.


Monday, March 13, 2017

Changing seasons (and I don't mean the weather)



I've been hearing a lot about seasons. In the checkout line at the market this morning, a lady was proclaiming her profound frustration with the lack of spring weather. And it's not just Pacific Northwesterners. Morning news programs ruminate on those last spring snowstorms, and social media is flooded with the expressed desire to move on from winter already! It seems no one is exempt from the conversation about changing seasons.

During a trip to Hawaii last month, I got news about graduate school. I didn't get in. I was sitting on the hotel bed, checking my email. The answer was overdue and I'd been chomping at the bit to get it over with so I could free up my head space for those last few days of vacation. When I read the words I had feared hearing for so long, I instantly felt that stomach dropping disappointment we've all felt and wish to never feel again. Only, something surprising happened not a split second later: utter and complete relief. Like a wave overtaking my whole body, I was overcome by a sense of gratitude. Yes, gratitude. (I was just as surprised as you are.) The culmination of years of work, and I was grateful it didn't happen. So what gives?

I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on the outcome and my reaction to it in the ensuing weeks. The past 18 months (and 8 years, if I'm honest) of my life have revolved around this next phase and yet...the season remains unchanged. Or does it? You see, 2016 was my trial year. The year I wanted to bite the bullet when it came to all things grad school application: take the GRE (check); write a killer personal narrative (check); complete the requisite patient care hours (check); tackle the monotony of requesting transcripts and completing the extensive online application (check and check). There were a couple of big strikes against me, which I knew would greatly reduce my chances of acceptance: I only applied to a single school (mostly unheard of), and had only just completed the requisite 2000 healthcare hours for that school at the time I submitted my application last August (the average applicant has over 4000 hours).

Though I was thrilled to be taking some substantial steps forward, my application the culmination of years of hard work, all the while I was pushing some serious concerns to the back of my mind. They niggled at me quite frequently, but I was determined to focus on the task at hand. In hindsight, I realize I was spending a lot of time telling myself it would all work out and the uneasy feelings weighed on me more than I wanted to admit. You see, I had set forth a series of personal goals and rocked every one. That was HUGE. (Side note for context: I've been reading Gretchen Rubin's newest book, Better than Before, and oh boy am I an Obliger. That's a person who excels at external expectations but often fails to complete internally set goals. Me to a T.) What I'm saying is, I'm really proud of what I achieved last year.

Now about those niggles. The most serious was the likelihood that I'd miss the majority of my son's senior year of high school (and the summer before). I wouldn't be present to fundraise for class events or summer vacation with him or attend his last year of cross-country meets. (I live for his cross-country meets.) I would miss so many milestones in that oh so important transitional year. Instead I'd be spending that time with my head in a book. Nearly my whole adult life has been spent raising that stinker, and the prospect of missing even a single moment of his last year at home broke my freaking heart. Which is why I shoved my misgivings way back and tried not to think about them. Then there was the awful rush hour commute I'd be facing 5 days/week. I also started having some funky feelings regarding my chosen program, which became especially worrisome after spending a day being interviewed by the faculty and touring the facilities. There were several indicators that perhaps it wasn't my ideal match, and I felt like it was too late to follow my gut and bow out because my career path had become so intertwined with this particular institution. (Let's be clear: had I been admitted this year I would be overjoyed and excel at the curriculum. None of this is to say I wouldn't have received a great education there. My instincts simply told me that I am better suited for a different educational culture. It was a matter of the wrong place and the wrong time and I think we've all felt that at one time or another. The universe intervened and for that I could not be more grateful. There are no sour grapes here.)

Naturally, I went through a self-doubt phase of processing what happened: What if I never get in?! (Unlikely. I applied to a Top 5 school and got an interview on the first try.) What if this isn't my calling anymore?! (Also unlikely. I still love medicine.) Are my coworkers and friends going to think I'm a loser? (Not a single one.) Those fears have mostly faded away and I've since broken the news to my immense support group composed of family and coworkers. Once I assured them they were more upset for me than I was for myself, they continued supporting me just the same as before. Some even confided that they thought I was destined for something greater than that school could have offered me. And while I'm not sure about that, I'm so very flattered.

In the past month excitement has settled in for the first time in ages. Waiting a year has opened up so many options! Since I've now earned well above the minimum healthcare hours needed to get into a competitive program, I can cut back on my hours and potentially find another position. (This job has been tough. I adore my coworkers but am often repelled by the culture/workload/institution.) I have time to think about things like writing for pleasure again, picking up those neglected embroidery pieces, and attending to more creative endeavors. (Which means I can delete that digital Dear John letter I wrote to this blog some time ago and left in my draft folder.)

I've learned so many valuable lessons from this rejection. For one, I now know what I want in my chosen program. As such, I'm taking the time to attend information sessions at schools around the country. (Though we have decided to focus on institutions west of the Mississippi for the most part; we like living in the western half of the US.) Without the familial constraints I had this last application cycle, I am now free to explore programs that better appeal to my learning goals and desires. I have since realized how much the minutia of applying to higher education robbed me of the excitement I once felt about my impending career plans. In less than a month's time I have reclaimed that fervor and couldn't be happier about it.

I am a person who struggles mightily to live in the now. It has taken a great deal of self-exploration and natural maturation to appreciate the days immediately before me. Though nothing in the past few months has followed my predetermined plans, I still consider my life right now to be a success. Nothing big or life-changing has happened, and yet I can feel my life's season changing for the better. Less rain and more sunshine is on the horizon. A huge weight was lifted from my shoulders the moment I didn't get what I so desperately wanted, and that blows my mind almost every day. You see, I've been waiting for something, anything to happen, yet in the absence of academic advancement, I've progressed in life. Thank goodness.

Before I sign off I want to mention that, while this post was a proclamation to myself and a reintroduction to this space after a sizeable absence, it's also a love letter to my husband. I've never experienced such unconditional support as I have from him. He's willing to uproot his life, yet again, for the sake of my education. (We love it here, so that's no small sacrifice.) Every time I bemoan my job, he tells me to quit if that's what my gut tells me to do. He's kind and selfless and everyone deserves a person like him in their life. It hasn't always been easy, but I wouldn't want to do life with anyone else. A bad day with him is better than a good day with another. I'll eat you up I love you so.