Starting Over.

Thursday, January 5, 2023



If you read my last post or follow me on IG, you know I left my first job as a surgical PA last August and accepted a new position in an entirely different specialty. I was wooed by the prospect of working 14 shifts per month, a big salary bump, incentive pay, and the promise of being able to walk away from work at the end of the day (that was a farce). I wrote that post two weeks out of training and, looking back, now understand it was an attempt to dismiss my intuition, which had been trying to send me signals for some time. Because if I said it enough, often enough, perhaps it would become reality.

Here's the truth: I made a huge mistake

If I'm being honest—and I finally am—I knew this job probably wasn't a good fit from the start. Looking back, I had serious reservations even before the interview. I took the maximum time allowed to sign my contract, and chalked the delay up to busyness. I knew. But I kept convincing Husband and anyone else who would listen that I was going toward better. The argument for the job always centered around paying off my student loans faster! and more variety! and more free time!. In hindsight, it was never about the things that actually matter like fulfillment or purpose. Husband raised concerns about some of the red flags, but I didn't want to hear it. I'd argue that he was wrong long after I'd made my point. The person I was really arguing with was me.

The past 4 months I have been plagued with anxiety and depression. There has been a deep sense of unease simmering in my soul but I could never seem to get to the crux of it. Instead of facing some hard truths about myself—and the dysfunctional behavior patterns that got me here—I suffered, and not subtly. 

Last week I had a day that really scared me. I reached a level of hopelessness completely unfamiliar to me. I felt like a trapped animal trying desperately to free myself while my brain and body screamed GET OUT NOW. Husband, being the wonderful soul he is, dragged me out for dinner and ice cream. When we got home I restarted the rumination process of "maybe I should have..." that had punctuated our lives since late summer. 

Only this time, Husband got real and I got really honest.

I'm reading a book called Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle. Before I even got through the introduction I was hit with this, "We thrive when we have a positive goal to move toward, not just a negative state we're trying to move away from. If we hate where we are, our first instinct is to run aimlessly away from...our present circumstances, which may lead us somewhere not much better than where we started. We need something positive to move toward."

The truth is, I have spent my entire life running away from things. I physically uphold my commitments—marriage, motherhood, my education—but have been mentally and emotionally on the run since early childhood. I thought vulnerability was synonymous with weakness, so I wore a layer of armor so thick it was sometimes even hard to look inward. (Running in armor is no easy feat. No wonder I am exhausted.) I have always lived 5-10 years ahead, looking toward an abstract existence that I somehow perceived as being superior to my current life. I discarded the present in favor of a future that was never certain, but I had convinced myself otherwise. When that visceral restlessness within me surfaced—and it always did—I'd ruminate internally and externally until I convinced everyone I was on the right track. Only no one was convinced, let alone me. And so, anxiety.

That night last week Husband admitted that while he understood why I left my old job, he didn't understand why I left when I did. The truth is, I ran away without knowing what I was running toward. It was a reaction to a less-than-ideal but not horrible situation. And for the first time I said those 4 words out loud, which I had been feeling so keenly: "I made a mistake." What followed was not unlike those movie sequences where relevant snippets from childhood through current day flash by in rapid succession. For someone who is painfully self aware, I had never understood on a fundamental level just how reactively I have lived my life. It was time to stop running.

What followed was, "This is the absolute wrong job for me and I'm miserable."

In that moment of admission—to myself, and to him—the shame started to melt away. It is the shame that has kept me in a cage of my own making, depressed + anxious and unable to get vulnerable enough to see what has transpired. I've always been able to apologize and admit to mistakes, but never on a level that exposed deeply ingrained habits and behaviors that work to my detriment. This one conversation among thousands in our marriage unlocked my shackles. Because now that I have the clarity necessary to identify the problem, I can start to unearth a meaningful path forward.

My first job as a PA wasn't the right fit. I wasn't experiencing fulfillment; I was bored and had stopped growing in the ways that were important. I had been moved to another department indefinitely, and wasn't sure what my role would be long-term. The company was struggling and it showed in most aspects of the day-to-day operations. I know I wasn't meant to stay in that specific job. But here's the thing I've come to understand and accept: the mistake wasn't in leaving, it was in leaving when I did. I armored up and left, not having taken the time to understand what I really, truly want, while gaining only a few insights into what I don't want. I left a relatively easy schedule and boring but stable position in search of something...else. I'll never know for sure if it was the company, the specialties, or both that weren't a good fit at the old job. That is a clarity I wish I had going forward.

I'm no longer going to feel ashamed that we moved across the country for a job that didn't work out. We love our town and ended up in the right place regardless. I'm letting go of the shame I feel for accepting a job that is incompatible with just about everything I believe about medicine. I'm not going to blame myself anymore for not knowing this job would be at constant odds with my personality. I'm no longer living in fear of having a blip on my resume. Oh, and I didn't make a mistake becoming a PA so it is time to let that shame go, too. I simply haven't found my niche yet.

So what now? Well, the short answer is nothing. I'm starting the slow, deliberate process of figuring out what's next for me in medicine. No knee jerk reactions; no rapid job change or resignation is on the horizon. I've learned from my mistake: I'll only make a move if it's toward something positive. Some firm boundaries and redirected focus will hopefully help in the interim until I find the right position. If this job becomes unbearable in the meantime, with Husband's support I've given myself permission to walk away. No shame.

For perhaps the first time in my life, I'm only focusing on today and the immediate future. I'm focusing on deeply nurturing self care that extends far beyond occasional pedicures. I'm finding a new therapist. I recently established care with a Functional Medicine practitioner. I'm exploring additional certifications/education. I've been in touch with a career coach. I'm reconnecting with my Husband after months of living in a fog. There's a lot of work yet to be done, but I'm finally on the right track.

I can't go back and change the past year. Nor do I wish to undo anything. Regret is a waste of emotional bandwidth. The goal is to stop shaming myself for being human. Because I'll be damned if it isn't exhausting trying to be infallible. What's more, I have been doing a really bad job faking invincibility: anxiety oozes out of every pore in my body, exposing the intense restlessness that has existed just under the surface my entire life. 

It's time to settle into my own life. 

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