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.