career

Finding My Passion

Each time I go on a long hike I have a long time to think, a rare privilege in a fast-paced world.  A week or so into every walk, I find my thoughts slowing and relaxing, and I begin enjoying the opportunity to think a thought through to its completion, to follow a train of thought to the end of its tracks.

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Felting Rae Lakes

Perhaps as a result of my being in my 20s, this thinking eventually turns to jobs and careers and what I want to “do with my life.”  On the Appalachian Trail, I decided that I wanted to have a job in an environment that wasn’t stuffy or sterile; I wanted to come down from the ivory tower and inhabit the real world.  On the Pacific Crest Trail, I learned that making time for creative pursuits was important to me; I longed to stretch my brain in the way only creativity and imagination can.  Finally, on the Camino, I learned that I wanted a job that wasn’t self-serving, wasn’t just about making money and getting by; I needed to do something that was fulfilling and, in some small way, made the world a more beautiful place.

The idealism there is palpable, right?  But, all of my thoughts came from confronting, in some combination of my own experiences and those of others, how I didn’t want to live.  I wasn’t quite sure how to go about building the life I did want to live.

There is a common idea in our society – especially among my fellow millennials – that we should each find our passion and that, upon finding it, we must then dedicate our lives to it.  And, for those lucky few who seem to have always known which path they’d take – who, for example, loved science class in middle school, continued to study biology in college, and now work as veterinarians – this model makes perfect sense. But, for those of us who tend more toward the dilettante or polymath end of the spectrum, who enjoy experimenting with lots of things rather than focusing on any one, this notion of a singular Passion can be distressing. We expect something to come along that we love most of all, and I know I hoped it would ride in waving a flag to alert me to its presence; we despair when it alludes us.

On the Pacific Crest Trail, Pine Nut introduced me to Rainer Maria Rilke by reading aloud parts of Letters to a Young Poet.  While Rilke’s letter full of sexual advice was bizarre, there were others that were insightful.  In addition to the oft-quoted advice to “love the questions themselves,” there was another line that I’ve taken to heart: Rilke’s insistence that, to be writers, people must want to write, must need to write so much that it keeps them up at night.

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Felting a white blaze

In discovering my love of fiber art (entirely by accident and partially thanks to Lyme Disease), I think I’ve experienced that feeling.  I find myself felting until I go to sleep and then again first thing in the morning, squeezing in moments of felting whenever I can manage it.  I notice my mind wandering to my latest project while I’m tree planting, and my weekends are consumed with creating fiber art.

Just when I gave up thinking I had a Passion, I seem to have found it – or maybe it’s just a burning interest, one that will extinguish itself in time.  I suppose it really doesn’t matter.  For the time being, felting is something I love just about as much as I love backpacking, and that’s saying something.

On Mountains and Medicine

As things are wont to do when you’re in your 20s and a year has passed since you’ve written, so much has changed since my last post.

After being forced off the PCT because of Lyme, I returned home to help my mother with her new business, eventually recovered, visited Pine Nut in Seattle, relapsed and reached my all-time Lyme low at the start of 2016, discovered a deep passion for fiber art, decided to go into the medical field, walked a winding yellow arrow of Caminos, explored Western Europe, enrolled and (very) successfully completed four weeks of pre-med courses, and then suffered from Lyme or carbon monoxide poisoning (long story) and had to withdraw.  Now I’m back at my “old Kentucky home,” creating fiber art, feeling strong, and pondering my next move.

Healthy people on career tracks might be so caught up in the day-to-day challenges that they are not afforded the chance to pause and take stock of where they’re going.  Getting to do so once every few years is a treat.  Getting to do so once every few months because of the cycles of remission and relapse (or carbon monoxide poisoning, you know) is a little excessive.

It’s not that I’d rather avoid being deliberate and mindful; it’s just that I’d prefer not to question my deliberate, mindful choices at such frequent junctures.  I feel completely smitten by mountains and art and the biological sciences; how am I supposed to choose just one?  (Perhaps I should take a page from polyamory and refuse to choose.)

I feel relatively certain that I would enjoy the lifestyle of a locum tenens hospitalist, traveling to various assignments and using modern medicine in the acute care setting where it most excels.  I would enjoy keeping abreast of the latest research and working through differential diagnoses to problem solve.  Most importantly, I would enjoy doing my best to ensure patients even more ill than I’ve been get the chance to hike another mountain.

But, the journey to that point feels daunting.  I’d forgotten about the competitiveness – the Slytherin atmosphere – of school; I’d forgotten what it felt like to live in a world where statuses and resumes are important.  It’s not a place where I feel as though I belong.

Thus, in my mind, the question right now, at this unusual limbo before registration for next semester opens, is whether I will find a place for myself – without losing myself – in med school. Should I be focusing on getting these last prereqs under my belt, when I’m not sure whether what comes next is a good choice for me?  I don’t want to go into medicine in spite of needing to go to med school; I want to be able to enjoy the journey.  I’m not opposed to hard work; I have just learned that life is too unpredictable to spend healthy days in unhealthy settings.

So, that’s where I am in my thoughts, at least today.  I welcome feedback, especially from med students who are finding their way toward their dreams.

AWOL no longer, cell phones, Lyme Disease, and a cup cozy

I didn’t fall off the face of the Earth.  I just felt like I had.

First of all, this past week was my last spent selling cell phones.  After AmeriCorps ended, after I’d hiked New Hampshire’s 4000-footers, and after the tree planting crew I’d been on in Vermont was done planting for the year, I’d returned to my family’s hobby farm in the Northern Bluegrass Region of Kentucky and been fortunate to find work at a local wireless store.  I learned a lot, both about technology and about sales, and I’d feel competent asserting my customer service skills in a resume.  However, my first foray into the world of retail was everything this highly sensitive introvert imagined it would be, and I’m glad to be able to have some time to think and breathe and work on the farm and see my family and friends and prepare for the Pacific Crest Trail.  It will also be nice to reenter the blogosphere.

If I’m honest with myself, part of the reason that I have been reluctant to blog is because I’ve been reluctant to think about the PCT at all.  And, I’ve been reluctant to do that because I’m petrified that Lyme is returning.

My PCP (who has Lyme herself) in Massachusetts warned me that Lyme never really disappears; rather, it goes into remission.  Everyone I know who has had Lyme insists that, like a trumpet vine plant (or kudzu?), the bacteria that cause Lyme never really, completely, utterly, die out in a person.  I just wanted to imagine that this remission would last a nice long time.  Maybe it will.  But, like anyone who deals with a chronic disease that ebbs and flows knows, every unexplained health issue starts the flood of questions and worry.

Are my leg muscles twitching because I need more sodium?  Are my knees sore because I’ve been standing on concrete too much?  Are fluorescent lights to blame for my headaches?  Am I excessively tired just because I’m stressed?

I’ve got a doctor appointment tomorrow, so perhaps that will make things better, either with explanations or with Doxycycline.

All that said, I do have some fun news to share:

First, I’ve been speaking at meetings around Kentucky lately, both at Lyme groups and at churches.  I’m presenting for the Kentuckiana Lyme Support Group’s monthly meeting next week.  It’s been interesting to talk with people about my hikes and experience with Lyme and listen to their stories in return.Lyme cozy

Second, my amazing sister is supporting my hike of the PCT for the International Lyme and Associated Diseases Society with a cup cozy that she’s selling on her Etsy shop.  If you’d like to drink coffee or tea in style, check out Kelly’s store.

More to come soon!