Monday, July 7, 2008

#12 How a Self Breast Exam Set Me on My Career Path

Some of us go through life without a calling. Sometimes luck helps dictate our life's direction...

I was driving home from tennis the other day and turned the radio to NPR. They were doing one of their 15 minute "interesting news bits" about kids signing up for military duty. They were talking to new high school graduates who couldn't wait to get to boot camp. They were so gung ho!! What I realized was - these kids have a calling - a calling to serve. Sometime during their formative years, something or somebody clicked for them and they just knew. Some kids know from the time they can walk what they want to be. You also hear about people being called to the cloth and I've also heard stories from people who say they got their calling later in life. Well, either my "phone" was busy or I wasn't home, but somewhere during my 46 years, I missed my call. I have often wondered though if missing that call was such a bad thing...

Never during elementary school, middle school or high school did I have a feeling in the pit of my stomach or in my heart or in my head that called to me. I had no well-worn path in front of me to follow. I didn't have an innate talent and didn't know anyone in the business world that had a career that I thought I wanted to do. When I arrived at college I went to meet my guidance counselor to help me explore career choices. Unfortunately, his interest was more about how I got my nail polish to match the shirt I was wearing than helping me figure out "what I wanted to be when I grew up". In ways known only to the cosmos, I literally fell onto my career path. And metaphorically speaking, I didn't hurt myself.

I thought I wanted to be a doctor, but honestly, I was worried that I wasn't smart enough and if I was smart enough then I surely didn't feel I was a good enough student. So, like thousands of students at George Washington University, I became a psychology major. After my sophomore year, for a number of reasons, I decided to go to school part-time and work full time. I applied for a job in the Emergency Department as a Trauma Technologist. This was an on the job training position where I would learn to perform emergency minor surgery, start IVs, open infected wounds and so on. The job description said that I would be learning all I needed to know during a one year intense internship. This, scarily, would be while I was still finishing my junior and senior years at college. Although the salary was very appealing, I wasn't sure I wanted to do this or could handle the extra work or even had the experience needed. However, if I got the job surely it would help me discover if being a doctor was my "calling". Cutting to the chase, I got the job. How? Pure luck and timing! In life, other forces are in play and without us knowing it, we are pawns on their chess board. When I brought over my application, the head of the Trauma Team happened to be working. He was a young guy who "liked my looks" and told me he wanted me on his staff. He said that he was going to push my application to the top and lo and behold I had an interview with the chairman the next day. During the interview the chairman asked me how my manual dexterity was. I answered that I typed very quickly. He said, not that kind, but on the human body. Not wanting to get into my sex life, I was at a loss. Finally I told him I did a mean self breast exam. His eyes bugged out of his head and when he finally stopped laughing, he told me I had chutzpah and hired me.

When I decided that medical school was not in my future and I was a few months from graduating college, I was at a loss and had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. One day I was talking to my sister and she said, "Well, you like medicine and working in the hospital, why don't you get an MBA in Health Services and track it in Acute Care?" I smiled, thought why not, and went the next day to register for the Graduate Entrance Exam. A week later, I took the exam, got a good enough score and was accepted into the Masters program. Fall came and without missing a beat I started taking classes while continuing to work in the ER.

At the end of the two years I decided instead of doing a thesis I would opt for doing a 2 year administrative fellowship in a hospital. There was one problem - I really wanted to stay in Washington. However, since there were only five fellowship positions in DC and hundreds of applicants I knew my chances were slim. I finally made the decision to apply to just those and if I didn't get one, I would worry then. Waiting interminably, I finally got a phone call [the only phone call] for an interview. During the interview process, an interviewer let it slip that I and the other applicants interviewing that day were actually the hospital's third tier group and that the first two groups had either all accepted positions elsewhere or had declined to interview at this hospital. Some of the graduates with me were offended and hurt, but I felt lucky. I didn't care if I was 60th on their list, I was there and other people who may have had more experience and/or better grades weren't. My interview went very well and I got the fellowship. Yea for me.

My next few jobs over the years were, I feel, based a lot on luck and timing. I'm not belittling a good education, personal appearance, grades and all the hard work put into one's future, but looking back, I truly see that for me, timing and luck may sometimes have played a bigger role than those other things I mention above. I still envy those people who have a calling or who knew from a young age what they wanted to be. I think it may be easier when you know what you want and have some type of path to follow even if it has some bumps along the way. Flying by the seat of your pants can be exciting, but I'm not sure it trumps a calling.

I wonder though if people with a calling are not the norm, but people like me are. No, I didn't have a calling and am not sure I'll ever feel one, but over the years I have learned that if you're in the right place at the right time and your heart and mind are open to the possibilities, good things happen. That's how I met my husband... but that's another babble.

No comments: