Since I started this blog, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. A LOT. Which has been wonderful, although my brain has decided that it is perfectly acceptable to wake me up like clockwork at 3:30 a.m. so I can sit at my computer and get more thoughts out into cyberspace. This would be no problem if I wrote for a living and didn’t actually have to get up and work in the morning.
Not that I’m complaining though. For the first time in a very long time, I can honestly say that I love my job. Or make that jobs. Actually, looking at my life from the outside, one could argue that it has become somewhat messy.
Two years ago, I essentially walked away from my previous life. In all fairness, my husband and I both took a massive leap of faith together. On paper, we had supposedly been living the American dream. He was a big-city, big-firm lawyer, and I was an academic physician at a well-known university hospital. We had the dream house, three cars, and pulled in a half million dollars a year between the two of us.
And we were f**king miserable.
We both hated being smothered by the systems we worked for and had no voice in fixing. We ended up resenting our clients, who were the reason we were employed in the first place. We grew to loath the suburban Garden of Eden we had bought into. We drank too much. We lived to get away for vacation, and then were even more miserable when we came back and it took us a month just to dig out from under the stack of work, charts, and emails that had been slowly breeding while we were gone.
But it took us years to actually figure out that we just really didn’t like how we were living.
We had naturally assumed that we had everything we were supposed to want in life, and something just must have been wrong with us. Though we’re not quite sure exactly how it happened, eventually we both realized that the things that are supposed to make us happy in life simply didn’t. We are just not those kind of people.
And then miraculously (you could almost hear the stars lining up in the sky,) in this crappy, terrifying economy, my husband got an invitation to join a small boutique law firm in the south. Far, far away from our Yankee roots, not to mention both our extended families and life-long friends. It would mean cutting almost every tie we had, and leaving the place we had grown up and lived in virtually all our lives. It would mean leaving behind careers and reputations we had spent decades building.
I tendered my resignation immediately.
Some of my colleagues, of course, were horrified. After all, I was a successful (at least by their terms) physician with a good reputation and a solid academic position. How could I possibly ditch all that? And to rub salt into the wound, I had absolutely no job lined up for after we moved. Terrifying, right?
I actually found it to be incredibly exhilarating.
I have never been defined by my job. I certainly am not criticizing those who are. I am just not one of those people who takes a lot of stock in making my M.D. part of my identity. I am the last person at a party who is going to introduce themselves as “Dr. St. Claire” (especially since people are so uninhibited about asking you grotesquely inappropriate medical advice after they have had some hors d’oeuvres and slugged down a couple of glasses of wine.) My good friend once described me as “the most reluctant pediatrician I have ever met.”
So for me, I didn’t really view this as a period of mourning. I had a great run. I was leaving on a high note. And I couldn’t wait to see how things settled out for me in our new life. Perhaps I was totally naive (actually, I’m sure I was.) But honestly, I think it really worked in my favor. I have discovered several important things in the process of relocating my life:
1. After eleven years in the field, I finally figured out that I just don’t like primary care medicine that much. I am much better as a specialist and a consultant.
2. I absolutely, positively, love being my own boss. And my own scheduler. Although I have on occasion been overheard complaining that I need to fire my scheduler when I’ve really overextended myself. Thankfully, it doesn’t happen very often.
3. After 37 years of living just outside a northeastern urban metropolis, I have discovered that I really do not like living just outside a northeastern urban metropolis.
4. I like my life messy.
Let me clear – messy does not mean chaotic. My life is unbelievably scheduled. I have a speaking engagement I just put on the calendar for April….of 2013. But this discipline and organization has ironically afforded me the chance to be spontaneous much more than before. For one, I don’t take call anymore. I also rarely schedule anything over a weekend. You can imagine after eleven years of being tethered to a pager and spending a good number of weekends on call or in the hospital, how this has blown open my life in terms of new opportunities. For the love of all that is holy, I learned to cook after we moved.
For me, messy just means unbound. I am always open to new ideas, especially when it comes to work. I was just offered some consulting work in an area that is closely related to my field, but is something I haven’t had the time to focus on until now. I snapped it up like a bear standing in a river during a salmon spawn.
Sure, it’s unpredictable. But for me, that’s what keeps it intriguing. Yes, there are times where money is tight, and then times where I can hardly breathe I have so much work. It keeps me honest and prevents me from taking my successes for granted. In my case, leaving clinical medicine simply allowed me to pursue other avenues in life that bring me joy.
Sheryl Sandberg, the current COO of Facebook, said that the best advice she ever got was from Eric Schmidt at Google. When she was considering turning down an offer she received to be Google’s general manager, Eric told her, “Stop being an idiot; all that matters is growth.”
My life is full of growth. My life is messy. I wouldn’t have it any other way.