I had a timeline that I wanted to adhere to my whole life, and it looked like this:
1. Graduate from college with honors with a degree in Biology
2. Get accepted and graduate from medical school
3. Get married by age 25
4. Have my first child by age 28
5. Live happily ever after
I’m sure many can relate to checking the boxes, but somehow, along the way, life happens and you have to adjust with the ebb and flow. I had a difficult time adjusting, beating myself up for not being perfect and not having control of things outside of my own control.
While #1 was accomplished easily, #2 had a speed bump. #3 was much easier said than done – because how can you force things to happen much less marriages to happen by a certain time period? #4 was because I had to have a baby when everyone else said it was the right time. And lastly, #5 well, that’s a work in progress.
By definition, empowerment means the process of becoming stronger and more confident in your own personal life and decisions based around that.
I was definitely not empowered in my twenties. I thought I knew what I wanted, but in the end, did what everyone else thought I should do, or what I was led to believe was the right thing to do. Throughout many steps in my life and career, I was fearful of making the wrong decision.
I was struggling in my training. I had just had a baby that year. I had no energy or time to study. I turned to a female attending for support but was told that she was able to do it during a time and culture where there were even fewer female attendings, so I should be able to do it and do it well.
There was no reason for me to be struggling - I just wasn't studying hard enough.
I felt ashamed of my struggles, ashamed that I had asked for help, and ashamed that I just could not do it all.
She turned to walk away, and I asked her for a hug. Physical touch is my love language and funnily, I asked her for a hug because I viewed her like a mother figure and was looking for her to tell me that I wasn't stupid, that residency is hard, and that it would be okay. She hugged me but quickly walked out of the room while I stood there crying.
She probably won't remember that moment, but I always did, even over a decade later. Maybe in her own way she was giving me "tough love" much like a parent does sometimes to a child. Maybe she was still fighting an uphill battle in a male dominated field. Whatever the case may have been, and whatever battle she may have been fighting, it was her battle and not mine. I can't know what she was feeling or what her intentions were at the time.
I recount this story only because in my struggles, I was reaching out to someone else to help uplift me.
While it may have provided me with temporary reprieve, what I truly needed was to look within myself.
Residency is not meant to be easy, and certainly, having and raising a child or multiple children is even harder. My life at that time was not what I had envisioned for myself. I was not living the happily ever after, and I was seeking validation from outside sources rather than doing the hard work and looking within to make some difficult choices.
This event with my attending occurred 10 years ago and it set in motion my future path to personal empowerment. It started with moving away for fellowship for a year and really discovering myself in that year of growth. Then moving back home to make difficult decisions in my life and my career.
Life isn’t a straight arrow.
Someone once told me that it is more like spaghetti and meatballs; there are twists and turns and ups and downs.
That “happily ever after”, I’ve realized, is just an ideal. Achieving empowerment over my own life has allowed me to realize that it’s okay to not have that happily ever after. It’s taken me a long time to figure that part out, but I’m grateful for having experienced the struggles to reach that point.