Today’s post is something a little different. It’s the first part (of two) of a guest post by a friend of mine. What I admire most about her is that she’s always been unabashedly clear about who she is. She listens carefully to her internal compass and follows it. It’s taken her on some interesting journeys while I’ve know her… This is one of those stories.
Meet Jenn, My Free-Spirited & Highly-Educated Friend
After years of hard work, Jenn’s got an impressive list of professional credentials… She graduated at the top of her high school class and moved to Dallas to attend Southern Methodist University (where I met her and) where she earned a BA in Psychology with minors in Biology and Bio-Medical Anthropology. After college, she moved to Washington, D.C. to join the National AIDS Fund AmeriCorps program and the headed north to attend Yale’s School of Public Health. After a short stint in Wyoming for a summer bio-terrorism preparedness internship, she ultimately settled in New Mexico. She’s become a highly experienced and successful epidemiologist after working for the New Mexico Health Department and the Indian Health Service (IHS) doing data management and epidemiology for about 7 years.
For the last six months or so Jenn hasn’t been working in the public health field. She’s been working as a bartender in a local microbrewery, which she calls one of the best jobs of her life.
So I asked Jenn to share her story, and here it is in her own words:
I was out with some friends one night walking under I-25 towards downtown Albuquerque for some drinks, when I said I was thinking of getting a part time job to pay off some debt before my contract with the IHS ended. One of them, who just happened to be a brewer for a local microbrewery, suggested I bartend at the new pub in town called Marble Brewery that would open soon. So I slung beers at night and managed data on Chlamydia (yes, the STD) during the day for about a year and half. I paid off a large amount of debt during this time.
Once the debt was paid off, I started saving. I started saving because the more I thought of doing the same kind of work in my field of public health, the more I knew it wasn’t for me. I can’t count the number of times I sat in my cubicle and cried, I was bored and frustrated and wondered why I had worked so hard for a Master’s in Public Health just to be miserable… I mean, this wasn’t healthy at all! I never once grew up saying to my mother, “Mom, I want to sit in a cubicle in the shades of mental institution grey and manage data all day, every day… Nope, I never once said that, yet, here I was doing just that.
Around this time there was a popular song on country radio (just bear with me, folks) with the following lines:
Missed my alarm clock ringing
Woke up, telephone screaming
Boss man singing his same old song
Rolled in late about an hour
No cup of coffee, no shower
Walk of shame with two different shoes on
Now it’s poor me, why me, oh me, boring
The same old worn out, blah, blah story
There’s no good explanation for it at all
Ain’t no rhyme or reason
No complicated meaning
Ain’t no need to over-think it
Let go, laughing
Life don’t go quite like you planned it
We try so hard to understand it
The irrefutable, indisputable fact is
– Sugarland, It Happens
This was really my life trying to juggle both jobs. I needed a change… I couldn’t just go back to crunching numbers. I was tired of the work, but not the cause. Mostly I was tired of crying about it… So I crunched my personal financial numbers and figured based off what I had saved and made at my 2 shifts a week, I’d be good for about 9 months (which should be enough time to find another job).
I was scared to make this move. I’d worked so hard during my 20s for what I thought would be my dream job, could I just “give it up” now? But I kept telling myself I wasn’t happy ,and well, we all know life is too short to not be happy. I knew there was more out there for me, but I had to go find it. So I left and went straight to Marble that Wednesday afternoon to ask for more shifts. The timing was good… I would work 4 shifts a week and wouldn’t have to really touch my savings. I was done crying… It was time to change my story. It was time to start laughing again and to enjoy figuring out the next chapters of my life.
So here I was, embarking on my unexpected, but somewhat planned, sabbatical. Now what? I still recall that odd feeling of “what do I do now?” during the first few weeks of my sabbatical. I felt like I had lost part of my identity.
I had worked hard to become an epidemiologist… It was part of me, a big part of me. No longer having that part of me was odd. I felt like I needed to wake up early every morning and do as many things as I could. I was stressing myself out when I really just needed to relax, but I didn’t know how.
Ultimately, I walked my dog more often. I went to coffee shops and people watched, caught up with friends, read. I exercised. I read. I started cleaning out my casita. I attempted to learn a new language. I finally painted my bedroom. I went on little trips – Austin City Limits Music Festival, 10 year college reunion in Dallas, road trip to see friends and family over the holidays, and a girls’ weekend in New Orleans. I learned it was okay to sleep until 10 am or 11 am since I don’t finish work until 2 am most shifts, and then don’t get to bed until 3 am.
… to be continued …
Jenn’s story reminds me that the work we do is important, but it should also suit who we are inherently – not the other way around. Jenn is a doer, and it’s truly hard for me to imagine her sitting in a cubicle crunching data on a daily basis, but that’s where she ended up before she trusted herself enough to make a change.
Change this big doesn’t happen overnight. It requires stepping back to be still and to see what we really want out of a situation, and then it requires planning.
I’ll have more of Jenn’s story in the next post… And, there’s an interesting twist you might not expect so stay tuned!
Update: If you’re interested in following Jenn’s adventures abroad, check out her brand new blog.