Thursday, September 5, 2013

Guest post: A quarter-century moment

I turned 25 in May and my life started to shift greatly. Somewhere over the next couple months many of the things I thought were most important in life: education, career, financial stability, settling down with a partner, started to change. It’s not that they became unimportant, it’s that they hopped about my order of priorities and importance like jumping jelly beans. Here I am: living in Thailand, single, 6 months away from closing my Peace Corps service, with an English degree, and no real career or graduate school education under my belt. Fair enough. That’s a pretty standard place to be at my age. However, it doesn’t jive with the reality that blindsided me one day: “Holy moly, Batman. The thing I want most in life is to fall in love, get married and have children.”

Okay, so you say that’s a pretty normal thought for a 25-year old woman. No, not this woman. If you’d met me 1 ½ years ago at the beginning of my service you would have laughed hysterically if I told you that. I ran out of rooms full of children with an ice pack on my head and aspirin in hand. Not really, but I ran into hiding. Before you call me an evil monster, read on.

Maybe because my uterus has a mind of its own that nature bestowed it with, or maybe there are actually hormones in my body that function normally, or maybe Darwin was on to something when he talked about our biological drive to carry on the human race, I don’t know, but suddenly the only certainty I knew about my future was that I wanted a settled-down life that involved family, children, and a loving supportive wife. For years I had been in this mechanically-like driven determination to get to medical school. And here I am now reduced to smiles and tears in a classroom of adorable first-graders.

As a side note, other life influences surrounded this quarter-century crisis. At the beginning of June I went through a painful breakup with a woman I thought I was going to marry and settle down with. We dated for 3 years. I naively assumed it was a certainty because we’d planned our lives together and done everything short of propose. Many nights, what got me through each difficult day away from home was knowing that she’d be there waiting for me at the end of my service and we could start a family together. We were each others family. However, life and whatever Higher Power there is other that ourselves has a funny plan for us, so I had no choice to let go of all that when she decided I wasn’t the one for her. At first I felt devastated because I thought what I lost was this woman I loved more than anything and my hopes and dreams of settling down, getting married, and having children until one day it dawned on me: I haven’t lost the chance to get married and have children, it just means it isn’t with her. It’s at that exact point that I realized how incredibly important it is for me have that life for myself. I want those things, for me. Ladies and gentlemen, this was just short of a miracle (Dramatic you say? Talk to me about what I used to think about these things. Better yet, talk to my friends).

And then, I do believe, the first-grade girls I teach changed my life. Every morning I walked into the classroom and these young, 5-year girls screamed my name, walked up to me and wrapped their arms around my legs. My heart felt pretty raw and bare on those days and their sweet, simple love for me caused me to tear up a bit. Here I am, a foreign teacher they barely know, we hardly speak the same language (culturally or natively), and yet they are so eager to have me in their lives. All they want is to love and be loved. Yes, that sounds cliché, but its true. We try to over-complicate things in life when that’s what it all comes down to. I found myself just as eager to receive Monday morning hugs from these girls every week. They brightened up my life. I thought to myself, “I want this. Why did I resist so much before? What was I afraid of?”

Fast forward to today. I’m successfully 3 months and 3 days into my 25th birthday and life is strange. One day, after pursuing medical school since I was a junior in high school, I asked myself, “Is this what I want?” Ever since I can remember I have written the ending to things far before they even happened. I had a burning desire to figure everything out light-years before it actually happened. We call this living in the future. Part of me was afraid of living with the uncertainty of everyday life and seeing where it takes me, part of it was feeling the need to control everything so it doesn’t fall apart or fail, part of me was afraid that if I didn’t plan then I wasn’t headed anywhere in life. Until one day I realized that I MUST live with the uncertainties of everyday life because the present is where life happens. I also realized that I have to let go. Let go of control, let go of trying to fix things and settle into the way things are at this moment. As far as the last one, I have enough years of life under my belt to know that I never need to plan a thing and I’ll never allow myself to fail, no matter what. “If you can dream it you can do it,” may as well be my philosophy. However, this notion calls into question one small thing: the dream.

I reconsidered my final decision to go to medical school and turned it into an option instead of an absolute. I realized that I’d do myself justice to pursue experience in the healthcare field, seek out shadowing opportunities, and volunteer with hospice to see if this really was the life I still wanted for myself. The one big looming question, “Can you do it? Can you go to medical school, be a doctor, a wife, a mother?” Or maybe the real question is, “Can I do it?”

You know what, actually, I take that back. The question is not CAN I go to medical school. The question is not doubt. Of course I can; there are thousands of women before me who have shown us that it’s possible. The pivotal question, and the more terrifying one is, “Do I want to?” That’s what I’m struggling with. It’s “Do I want to be a doctor, a wife, and a mother? Is that the life I want for myself: being pulled in so many directions?” To answer this question begs me to let go of whatever plan I may have for the future. No really, Julia, let go. To take each experience everyday and let it shape me on its own. To live in the moment and follow what my heart says to me when the time is right. When it’s time to act, I’ll know it. If I don’t know it yet, I’m not there yet and I’d do myself a favor to keep enjoying the little things and following the path (as blindly as it may be).

I’m the only one who can answer this question. And maybe even then, there’s a bigger plan for me out there. I better just breathe, take a look around and enjoy this quarter-century moment. That big stuff? Careers, family, children, love, it will all turn out as it supposed to. I just have to have a little faith. For now, if you need me, you can find me in the present.

I’m Julia. I am 1 year and 8 months into my Peace Corps service in Thailand. I admittedly have no more answers to life than anyone else. Each day I wake up, go to one of two village schools and teach a mix of elementary kids and high school kids. They’ve taught me more about life than I have them.


  1. This post resonated with me because like you I am also 25. I have also prematurely experienced a 'quarter life crisis'.

    You said:
    "I thought were most important in life: education, career, financial stability, settling down with a partner"

    I also thought that. I was on my way to achieving that. I had a degree, a career in accounting, my bank balance was finally in the black and I had found myself a partner that I could finally see the future with.

    However, I wasn't happy. Far from it. I was depressed because I hated my job. Found that it was meaningless and uninspiring. Finally after much pondering, I threw out my life plan. I threw out my degree, my career and my relative financial stability to chase a dream of being a poor medical student and a much harder life of being a doctor.

    My point is this, you can plan your life to the absolute last detail, but life has ways of throwing curve balls at you. If medicine is what you are meant to do, your path will eventually lead you there.

    If you don't end up doing medicine then that is also fine. I think falling in love, having a family and raising children are as important a job as any.

  2. Julia! I can't believe I'm reading this! I feel like you took the words right out of my mouth. I've experienced a similar line of questioning myself over the past year.

    A year ago my boyfriend and I broke up. The aftermath was an intense period of questioning about what I really wanted in life and whether I wanted to continue my current career/life trajectory. Pre-relationship I was hurtling towards medical school with no regard for anything else in life. Like you, I decided with absolute certainty my junior year in HS that I was going to be a Dr. Started shadowing Drs and volunteering at 17, but NOT with a critical eye to evaluate the profession and decide if it was for me, just to get the experience I needed to "show" adcoms and profs that I was med school material. Very dangerous and blind thinking.

    Pre-relationship (I was 18 then) my only ambitions in life were to (1) impress my professors and (2) please my parents by bringing home good grades. My reasons for the MD were mostly about prestige.

    It's totally normal and GOOD to reassess priorities periodically. My relationship taught me that there are pleasure in life other than academics. Like you I recently went from not wanting kids/family any time soon to seeing that those are things I don't want to postpone or shortchange under any circumstances. Over the past year I've decided that I want a calm and stable family life over all else. That kind of family life is attainable under the MD-track, but it's MUCH harder than it could be with another career.

    Anyway, now I'm done with my BS and… after a few months of career counseling and serious soul searching... applying to PA school.

    Good luck to you!!

  3. Hi Nelly,
    I'm glad you posted. It's so nice to hear from others in a similar situation. I feel you about the parent thing: my dad is in the medical field and is so PUSHY about me going to medical school. It's been almost a full year since my decision to switch to PA and he's still wounded. Lots of guilt-tripping and he'll use almost any (irrational, untrue) argument to get me to change my mind: "you can just get out of med school in 4 years and practice w/o a residency!" (yeah, right) "med school debt is only 100k!" "you will regret your decision in 10 years!" "All your hard work in undergrad is going to waste!" "Look at what you could have become!"

    The truth is, you're the one shouldering this journey and all the stress and risks associated with it. Your parents are looking at this career with rose tinted glasses. It's up to you to be honest with yourself. Please don't let your parents influence this decision that will determine the quality of your life for the next decade. The MD track is like a fast-paced treadmill that doesn't stop for 7 years minimum. And then don't forget the large loans that MUST be paid off afterward. You can't just stop and redirect during the journey or decide you don't want to continue anymore.

    I firmly believe that the MD is a perfect fit for some people. I have a couple girlfriends who got into med school and they are going full steam ahead. They will make fantastic physicians. If a career in medicine as a team leader and ultimate decision maker is all that will satisfy you, then the training length/difficulty and debt won't derail you at all. But if you have reservations or don't think you're pursuing this for the right reasons, you will end up being forced to make sacrifices that might not be worth it in the end.

    Anyway, these are just my own thoughts. I'm dying to hear from some Mothers in Medicine... post, ladies, post!! :D

  4. Thankfully I don't have parents who sway my decision to go to medical school either way. I have a pushy older brother who told me that he is not going to allow me to go to PA school. He isn't going to let me stoop that low or give up on my dream. Best intentions aside, that's not a very sensitive way to motivate someone. It sounds similar to the things your father is saying to you, Nabat. Good for you for following your gut.

    For me, it's not about prestige. Maybe at the beginning back in high school prestige played into a large part, but now, understanding how much time, hard work and difficult/unpleasant things doctors put up with, how people can do that for the prestige alone is beyond me. It's a tough call for me because the lengthy education doesn't put me off; I love learning and want to continue for the rest of my life. It's just the time commitment. If I want to frame my life to make space for a spouse and children, medical school doesn't make that easy.

    I do want to say, though, that I'm corresponding with a wonderful woman who is a wife, mother and doctor and her intentions and passions are inspiring. A fulfilled life for her couldn't exist without both medicine and family. It's as important for her to pour her love into her family as it is for her to care for her patients. Without either one, she wouldn't feel full. For her, she has a supportive spouse and children who understand that when Mom isn't there, it's because she's giving back to the world and helping others. She also shows her love to her family by making as much time for them as possible and really being present when she is with them. That means no phones, no TV, no internet. Actually spending quality time together (yes, it still exists out there).

    I'm in a world of indecision right now but that's perfect because I'm not at a crossroads where a decision needs to be made. Thank you to all the current Mothers in Medicine who have paved the way for us to be able to even consider these things such as family career balance.


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