What I thought I knew about life
10 years ago...I left home in the Seattle area. I was off to college, feeling like I was an adult for the first time in my life.
6 years later...I went on what felt like a grand cross-country adventure! Moving myself and my life across the country to the Midwest for a next step that would surely challenge me. I'd come to the realization that I knew a lot less than I thought I did, but felt like I would figure that all out with time. I was confident that despite all the challenges, I was capable of of iguring it all out.
4 years after that...and sans PhD, I am back where I started. I'm older, but I feel like I know a lot less about the world, and about life than I thought I did and I have a lot less of my own life figured out.
I sure as shit don't feel like an adult. My friends are getting married and taking care of smaller humans, and me? I'm back home living with my parents. The most adult thing I'll be doing is paying some bills and working, I guess.
I look back on my last few years and in a lot of ways I feel like I've taken steps backward. And that really gets to me. It's hard for me, perpetual perfectionist that I am, to see my struggles and changes as anything other than failure. Especially as someone who has spent her entire life relying on others praise of her achievements.
That gets to me. A lot. I'm not going to lie. Because I used to feel so put together and like I was really going somewhere in my life. And now? Well, I don't necessarily feel like I am going somewhere. Or, more accurately, I don't have any damn clue where I'm going. And that's really hard.
It sounds morbid and depressing when I put it that way and I'm not trying to be. I guess what I'm saying is that through all the confusion and through realizing all the things I don't know, I've learned a lot about myself. And for whatever reason, because I like to write or because I like to share these things in the off-chance that someone else has felt the same way and needs some common humanity, I wanted to share some of the lessons and realizations I've made.
#1 - Getting away from everything I know is the best thing I've ever done for myself.
People kept asking me if I regretted coming out to Michigan. If I regretted graduate school and moving. My answer is and forever will be fuck no. Not just because of the people I've met, but I've grown so much as a person since I've moved. When I picked up and left everything behind in the process of coming out to Michigan, it forced me to get uncomfortable. It forced me to be an initiator and to be outgoing. To get to know people instead of just relying on college roommates or existing friends to bring new people into my life. I had to do that for myself. And instead of being anxious about all the new faces and seeing all of these new people as strangers, I saw them as opportunities to make new friends.
I am an introvert. So this change in perspective required me to make the conscious choice not to be so introverted so that I could make new friends and build a home and a "chosen family" so far from my family and friends.
Moving also forced me to take control of a lot of the things I've been struggling with. I firmly believe that graduate school and the stresses that come with it put all of your insecurities and your weakness under a microscope (pardon the pun for all my microbiology friends!). For me, all those feeling of "not good enough" and "impostor" came to a head in graduate school.
But that wasn't the kicker and the big growth moment. All of the people that I love had been security blankets and shields for me for a long time. Being away from that forced me face and change all of my negative coping strategies for my stresses and insecurities. Stress-eating. Isolation. Self-critique and self-judgment. It forced me to reevaluate how I saw weakness in myself. And that was fucking eye-opening. When I realized how quickly my lack of self-care was crippling me in March of 2013, I made some drastic life changes about how I approached my health; mental and physical. You've all heard that story a lot before, and I'm not going to belabor it now.
The bottom line is, though, that I've always been independent. Too a fault, actually. (We'll talk about it later!) But I personally would never have described myself as self-sufficient. Especially emotionally. I really didn't know how to handle my emotions, and when you're as passionate a person as I am and feel things as completely and deeply as I do, any negative feelings are taxing AF. Hell, positive feelings can drain my energy, too.
Once I left my loved ones behind, I had to figure out how to handle shit on my own. And it ended up being a good thing! I couldn't depend on the people that I used to vent to and who, in some cases, enabled my habits of drinking too much or eating shitty food or just saying shitty things about myself and others. Some of the time, it wasn't even that they enabled it, but they also didn't really bat an eyelash at it. I found new ways to handle things. And slowly, but surely, I found positive things. Constructive things. Things that made me feel better and stronger and didn't snowball the shitty feelings, making me feel worse. And that is something that has been invaluable in my life.
#2 - embracing uncertainty is not my strength... but it actually is all about the journey.
That fucking cliche. I wish it wasn't as true as it is because I hate uncertainty! I hate not knowing what the end result is going to be. Like passionately despise not knowing what's going to happen.
But it really is about the journey, not the destination.
If life were all about where you were going, then my time in Michigan in school would have no silver-lining. There would be nothing to redeem the fact that I didn't get the PhD that I had gone there to receive. But there were so many incredible things that resulted from my time in Michigan.
I met so many incredible people (which I'll talk about). I learned a lot about what is important to me in relationships. I learned what some of my true passions are. I learned what aspects of science as a career I want and which I do not. And I learned that uncertainty can actually be a good thing.
Certainty is safety blanket. And most of the time, it's a facade. Because nothing is ever certain. In looking at my life, at my career, at the things I was doing that were stifling me instead of improving me, I learned so much. And in walking away from everything I knew and expected of myself, my life and my future became very uncertain.
For the first time in my life, I don't really have a plan. I have ideas. I have possibilities. But no plan, and at times it absolutely kills me. Seriously, I freak the fuck out about all the questions in my life all the time. I wish I was the type of person that could collectively be excited about possibilities, but it really takes a lot of conscious effort for me to think that way. My default is to freak out, to analyze, to go into disaster mode. But considering that my whole life right now is one big uncertain mess, I kinda can't freak out!
Uncertainty challenges me every single day to just get up and live. To move forward in spite of the fact that I don't know where things are heading. Uncertainty forces me to learn a lot about who I am because every single day puts my in a state of mind that isn't comfortable. My lifestyle right now is one big fat question mark. And it's exhausting. I won't try to sugar coat that. But it's also forcing so much change in me. And those not all of that change will be elegant and productive, I can't help but think that the end result will be something pretty fucking incredible.
#3 - i'll miss the people more than the place.
The truth is this...I really won't miss Michigan and Ann Arbor that much. That's not to say there is anything against them! But I really don't particular have a lot of nostalgia about those places and they don't hold any particularly special place in my heart!
But the people? I will miss them more than anything.
I met some of the most incredible people when I was in Michigan and I made some of the closest friends I have ever made in my life. Leaving them was the most difficult part of moving. The crazy thing is that I really didn't fully connect with the majority of them until my last 1.5 years living there. But that doesn't change the fact that they are some of the truest and most unbelievable friends I have ever made.
They are some of the only people that I felt comfortable being 100% myself with.
I fully believe that sometimes we compartmentalize ourselves in our friendships and relationships. Some friends are your drinking/party buddies. Some friends are your philosophical, "let's talk about the deep shit" friends. Some friends are the people you turn to when you just need to be goofy and crazy. Some friends are the people you turn to when you need a hug and a good cry. I fully believe that we do that, whether we intend to or not! And I'm sure as shit not saying that there is anything wrong with doing that! I definitely have a ton of friendships like that.
But I also think that there are friendships you form where you're just 100% safe to be all the facets of yourself. Goofy. Overly intellectual/philosophical. Emotional. Tough and badass. Whatever all your different facets are, there are people that love and accept you not matter what facet of your personality they are exposed to. And those are the kind of friends I had found and they were the first friends I had like that in a long time.
Olivia, my dual-degree buddy. My Tough Mudder team, Savanna, John, Laura, Patrick. Kristin and Jennifer. My twins! I love you both for being the "worst" twins ever and having personalities that are so wonderfully opposite and that compliment each other so well! Bobby for being cool with hanging out with 3 crazy girls all the time! Constance for being the most pint-sized little badass I've ever met.
There's so many others to name. But leaving all you incredible people behind? It made me realize one very important thing. That it's not about where you live or where you're going. The place really doesn't matter. It's about who you're doing life with. And I would do life with you incredible, bat-shit crazy, big-hearted people any day.
#4 - doing things that I look forward to is where it's at.
When I left my graduate program, I left because I literally would lay in bed and dread waking up, putting clothes on, and heading into lab. I didn't enjoy anything about how I was spending 10 hours of every single day. I dreaded it. I wish it wasn't the case. Thing would've been a lot easier if I had enjoyed it more than I did. But I didn't.
Now, I'm doing something more akin to what I want to do. It's certainly not perfect. But it's so much more in line with what I want.
Ya, I'm not perfectly content with freelance editing life. There are plenty of pros and cons to it, in fact! But it allows me a lifestyle that I love--freedom of time and location. I also absolute adore the diversity of science that I'm exposed to! That's something that I always was bitter about with research. That I was pigeon-holed into this one, highly specialized area. Sometimes it wasn't a field that I even preferred or was particularly interested in. Being able to experience science in a diversity of fields--oncology, genetics, infectious disease, physiology, etc.--that's my jam.
But what's super exciting for me? The fact that I have the ability to dabble in all of my diversity of passions and interests. I can invest time in this website and building content for you, my readers. I can write my book. I can more seriously explore coaching! I can travel! All of this shit that I look forward to, am passionate about and enjoy, I can do that now! And damn, that's the best thing ever! That makes all this crazy, uncertain, scary shit so much more worth it.
I DON'T KNOW WHERE MY LIFE IS GOING TO END UP.
I don't. I don't know if I'm going to stay in science. I don't know if I'm going to go back to school at some point in my life. If I do go back to school, I don't know if it will be to get my PhD or if I'll go back to school for something completely different!
I don't know if the visions I have for my career will pan out or if I'll be doing something 5 years from now that I never dreamed of doing.
I don't know if tomorrow I'll suddenly meet someone I love or if I will continue having dating disasters for the next 10 years. (God I hope not lol)
I have no fucking clue. And even though uncertainty scares me, possibilities really are exciting and that's been the biggest realization I've made in the last few months.
So, now what do I know about life?
Not a damn thing. And I'm kind of cool with it!