I started my academic career in high school. I wasn’t a prodigy, or even brilliant, just someone who loved to read and read. I was different from nearly everyone in my school. There may have been one more, but I never met them. Picture it - sitting in the lunchroom, reading a book, pushing up my glasses and munching on half a head of cabbage. I was the classic nerd.
By my senior year I had developed a few social skills that kept me from the torment of teenage bullies, but not by much. My undergraduate years were better, but again, not by much. I thought maybe I was destined for the lab, nose to the grindstone and coming up for air occasionally. It seemed to fit. My advisor wanted me to go to medical school, I wanted to become a veterinarian, but life conspired to make me a nurse.
I wanted to publish. It had been a dream since I was 14 years old to see my words in print. So, I wrote about what I knew and experienced, how to deal with children who required physical rehabilitation. You could have knocked me over with a feather when the manuscript was accepted by a prestigious nursing magazine and it was published. I have three of the journals tucked away in my files.
I pushed ahead to my master’s degree, hoping to develop a relationship with nursing researchers and figure out the world of academia. I dreamt of teaching, publishing and creating a new life path. But yet again, life conspired to push me in a different direction. My practice had always been in pediatrics and I was firmly entrenched in physical medicine and rehabilitation. I started as a Clinical Specialist, again hoping to keep a hand in patient care with a bent toward clinical research.
A marriage and a set of twins later, it became clear that I didn’t have the energy to continue down this path. I watched as friends pored over their research designs, anguished over approvals and worked diligently with advisors. I could almost smell the hint of vanilla wafting up from old books (yes, long before computers!). But there was never enough time.
So, I once again moved from one career path to another, using my first master’s degree as a Pediatric Clinical Specialist to support my second as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. It happened at a time when most colleges were combining the degrees and I needed only 18 months of class and clinical work to complete it. I loved pediatrics, I loved patient care and I was excited about working autonomously. It seemed I was always excited about what the future could hold, which is what eventually caused me to overload my schedule, my life and my mind.
It wasn’t long after I finished and passed my boards that an overwhelming sense of dissociation settled in. People were congratulating me on my degree and third child, but I couldn’t connect. The days blurred together, the work was disjointed and I began to wonder what would happen if I quit and stayed home to enjoy the children. Would I enjoy our children? Or did I enjoy them just five hours a day and not more?
Someone suggested I move out of pediatrics and into a career that offered more stable hours and good pay, like wound care - it was enticing, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to give up on one more dream. So, I settled for part time, and discovered I truly loved spending time with my children.
And, I discovered something else. I figured out I was experiencing a whopping case of burnout. Pulling out my trusty fact-finding skills, I set about learning more about my mental angst and how to get rid of it. I learned I needed a better work/life balance, more rest, time away from everything once in a while, and more than work and children to fill my mind. I needed balance.
That’s when I made another discovery. I still loved writing - investigating, collating and synthesizing information I could put to the proverbial page. I had moved full circle - from the desire to do research, to clinical practice and on to inquiring, exploring and creating a cohesive idea from other people’s research. I became the person on the other end of the spectrum, moving information out of academia and into the hands of people who wanted to use it. I think I finally found my niche!