05 July 2008

...And Everything Changes

If we have any history together at all, you are most likely aware that over the last few years I've usually had some sort of semi-break down concerning--and it is likely no surprise--what I "want to do with my life" every...Oh, five months or so. Though a distinct pattern has only emerged in say the last 3 to possibly 4 years, I've never been a 'one career dream' kind of girl. Perhaps...until now.

From my earliest recollection I've always been a sort of "hopper" if you will...hopping from one career path to another of varying difference.

My earliest memories are of playing house with my dolls, teaching them to do school work, and going around my house trying to do the medical examination reflex test on my family members' knees with my play doctor's kit in hand. My mom maintains the first thing she recalls me wanting to be was a doctor. That doesn't really come as much of a surprise to me as I recall frequently reciting that as my profession of choice as I got older.

As for my younger days, I explicitly recall a period of time where I literally told those who asked, that I wanted to be "Martha Stewart Jr." when I grew up. I guess that takes care of the playing house and mom with my dolls. (and before you laugh, mind you, this was certainly long before her criminal days!) I digress.

About the time I was in 3rd grade I started going though a NASA/Space phase. I don't know how I even knew such a job existed, but for a long time my career desire was to be an aerospace engineer. Yes, an aerospace engineer! As absurd as it may have seemed to my family, they never once discouraged my ability to achieve such a lofty goal. In fact, about that time, knowing my interest my brother took me to the NASA space center in Huntsville, AL... a memory I won't soon forget. That further forged my interest in NASA and space science.

A couple of years passed and as I got into junior high(5th-6th grade-ish), I found myself still incredibly interested in the sciences. I'm sure I broadly threw around the word "doctor" when asked what the future held but I don't remember having a concrete picture of what that really encompassed in my mind at the time. What I do remember is that at one point during junior high I set out to do an extensive research project on the effects of known carcinogens on different kinds of cells. I went as far as contacting the lab at the hospital in my hometown to secure some clean petrie dishes to get started but soon realized perhaps the project was slightly over my head. (Besides, at the grand age of 12, how was I going to secure isolated carcinogens?) I am still impressed that I even knew what the experiment was about and that I knew, had I had the proper supplies, I could have done something great with it. The remainder of my time in junior high I was predominately fixated on those things that junior high girls fixate themselves on...clothes, hair, boys, fitting in with the popular crowd, and playing a sport or two.

As high school rolled around and I started to think more about the future, I once again returned to the possibility of medicine. To be fair, early on in high school I seriously contemplated the possibility of being a linguist as I had an emerging love for language ( that continues still today.) I dropped that idea somewhere along the way as I was still into science. My sophomore year I doubled up on science taking both biology and chemistry in the same year so I could take College Chemistry through the community college my junior year. (..an admittedly young age to start taking college classes but I wanted to set myself apart like that no less.) If my memory serves me correctly, long about midway through my junior year things began to change. I have some theories on why exactly I started shifting my focus/area of interest but I'm not sure what the exact reason was. Nevertheless, by my senior year of high school I had decided to pursue law school and, subsequently, I found a college that could firmly support that endeavor. I do, however, remember it being the last few weeks of my senior year and having two distinct conversations..one with a mentor who encouraged me to consider journalism as she had read some of the newspaper pieces I had published and was really impressed with my writing, and another with a friend who, after a very riveting conversation, concluded by saying, "Well if you decide not to do law, I think you'd make a great pediatrician." In my heart I remember thinking at that point that I was devoted to law but I was already feeling torn about the possibility of medicine as well.

The summer passed and I found myself living in NYC studying politics, philosophy, and economics. Don't get me wrong, I loved what I was studying and it was great preparation for law school. The City seemed to be the perfect intersection of "God, power, and money" as Stan used to say ..and I can't think of a better place to have been studying such things. However, I don't recall why but around the end of my 1st year I began to consider the possibility that I might still like to go to medical school in the future. I knew that where I was at I was receiving great preparation for law school but I was pushing myself out of the running for medical school by not being able to take any science classes. My friend Anne-Marie and I agonized over that fact knowing we didn't want to exclude ourselves from any potential open doors in the future. She ended up leaving to go to a school where she could get the science she needed. I stuck around NY.

That fall, at the beginning of my 2nd year, I recall two more distinct conversations. The school I was at was hosting a networking/information event with former alumni. I signed up for the law group and was one of the few students to do so, allowing me the chance to talk one-on-one with the female attorney who had also graduated from the same undergrad institution. I told her I was interested in both law and medicine and I asked her what she thought i should do. ..Her opinion.. go to medical school. A few weeks later I met the man who lived in an apt at the end of my hallway and it turned out he was a doctor in Gramercy Park. I again posed my dilemma--law or medicine--and his suggestion...go to law school. Talk about confused, mixed signals! Shortly after my conversation with the doctor at the end of my hallway, I ended up heading to Oxford.

Now, most of you are aware that I spent my time in the UK trying to sort out my religious views as they pertained to pre and post-reformation Christian theology. As a result, I thought very little about what the future would look like for me. Frankly stated, I was consumed with saving my faith and experiencing Europe. ...which, believe it or not, as I have found out, are not two mutually exclusive things.

Upon coming back to the US, I decided that I was passionate about the world (really, the travel thereof) and made the decision to pursue international studies. Let's face it, law was no longer exciting to me... the prospect of sitting in an office doing research on precedent setting cases didn't really excite me in much of any capacity. Law was officially off the radar. As the summer progressed and I made my way to Colorado, medicine once again made its way to the forefront of my mind (this time, accompanied by international studies.) Upon arriving at my new school, I quickly declared a double major in Biology and International Studies with a minor in Spanish. Talk about ambitious!

It only took a month or two for me to realize that pulling a double major in my third year of college wasn't necessarily the brightest thing I had ever decided to do. From my calculations, it would have taken almost 2 additional years to complete both programs. Anxious to start 'real life,' I forewent the bio major and rested in the fact that I was (am) really into world affairs, language, traveling, etc. and that I could find a fitting job with the State Dept, the UN, an intl non-profit, or even somewhere in international business.

All was good until the summer before my final semester-turned-year in college. Prompted by too much TV watching/blog reading and a lot of interaction with my pre-med friends, the medicine switch was flipped back on in my head. In all honesty, I had always been intimidated by the prospect of so many more years of school it would take to be a doctor, that, coupled with the fact that I had never really received a vote of confidence from anyone within the profession (not that I was discouraged, it's just that I never really interacted with any medical professionals on the level of an interested medical student) cause me to start looking for some alternative routes into the medical arena. After a random conversation with my sister, I was definitely turned on to the prospect of becoming a PA. (3 years more of education, no residency and/or fellowship, and the ability to practice family medicine practically autonomously in rural America.. what could be better?) All summer I researched as many programs as I could, talked to an old Bio prof, and even attended an open house at the University of Colorado Denver's School of Medicine. It seemed like a good option( to say the least!)

As fall rolled around, my personal life began taking some twists I never anticipated. As fall left and winter began to settle in, I decided to take a position I had been offered in the world of intl. business. For some reason I rejected the offer at the last minute and decided to stay in Denver. After a tumultuous fall, I came back to Denver following Christmas with a renewed vision of working in the business world. (Mostly, I must say, because it was a pretty easy in and at that point, I hadn't worked for 5 months and needed a paycheck pretty desperately.) At any rate, I began working at a HR firm in the Tech Center. It seemed great at first..decent money, lots of growth potential, and a paycheck commensurate with my ability to achieve. Well, 6-8 weeks in, I came to realize for myself that my soul needed more than money alone. I hated my 8-5 existence that was really a 7-6 existence when you factored in the commute. I had no idea what I was going to do but I knew I had to leave.

Long about March I came back to the idea of medicine, this time going back to the consideration of being a MD not a PA. Simultaneously, I had been hearing a lot about Teach for America and the New Teacher Project and their efforts to close the achievement gap that exists (predominately) between affluent whites and low-income minorities. As I learned more, I got pretty jazzed about being part of the solution for such an inconceivable disparity. I ended up applying to several programs/locations and was ultimately accepted here in Denver as well as in Memphis. I was initially going to take the position in Memphis as it was close to my family, paid a lot more than Denver, and because the city actually has a Greek church. However, when push came to shove, I chose Denver. (Maybe it was my mom's fear of me living in 'colored-town' or my own attachment to my Church and establishment here. I'm not sure but I ultimately said no to making the move.)

All along I knew resolutely that my 'career' was not going to be in education but recognized the difference I could make as well as the benefits I could derive from a couple of years in the classroom. Around April I settled on the fact that I would go to med school... someway, somehow, sometime it would happen. Shortly after my decision I talked with my brother and sister--their advice: "If you know you want to practice medicine, why are you taking a two year detour to teach when you're already going to have almost two years to catch up in the rest of your pre-reqs?" I had to give it to them, good question.

Shortly thereafter I met with my spiritual father and my conversation with him really helped me cement my interest in / desire to practice medicine. It was official, I would pursue the thing I've been thinking about since I was 4 years old. Medicine.

Ironically, as the story goes, I kept going down the road toward education. and here we are...

It's now July of 2008 and I find myself finished with student teaching and almost at the end of the new teacher training institute, still living in Denver, and feeling more alone and broke than ever. I was sitting in class this last week asking myself if this is really what I want to do. Sitting in that class, I unashamedly daydream of memorizing cranial nerves, intubation procedures, and pharmacology information. Am I a sick science-obsessed weirdo? maybe. Do I really hate the prospect of teaching? not at all. Do I hate education theory yet love the kids? you bet. Do I want to practice medicine? undoubtedly. Am I feeling isolated and alone? I would be lying if I said no.

So, I've again come to that dramatic place where I throw my life into crisis and once more begin to question just what it is I will pursue to find for myself the ever elusive "career fulfillment." More than fulfillment, perhaps I am simply seeking connection. Let's again be honest, teaching isn't a bad gig. ..But, it means I am here in Denver. Don't get me wrong, I love Denver and the people contained herein. I have an absolutely amazing godmother and a spiritual father who is beyond words but my true connections here are few...and seemingly diminish by the day. I can't help but long for the days when summer meant organizing a canoe trip, barbecuing out back, and being able to spend an evening playing games or just hanging out with my siblings and aunts. There are those gracious souls here who invite me to be an occasional part of their lives. But occasional is just that...occasional. I've begun to feel like an island unto myself and living on a deserted island is no way to live.

I say all of this to outline for myself the real debate I face: Do I stay in Denver to teach trying desperately to revive the few connections I have, praying fervently that I can figure out how to be 'an occasional part' of the lives of others while not feeling like I'm on a one-man island with incoming water that is surpassing the flood-stage? Or do I pack up and hightail it home where I can be apart of my own family (as dysfunctional as it may be), live in the college town, and finish my med pre-reqs even though I don't have any impressive resume builder to add to my med school application?

...if only life afforded us easy decisions.

Kyrie eleison!

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