I recently read a devotional in an online service called Lead Like Jesus. The author discussed the seasons in our faith, in our lives, and in our careers. I was struck by the idea of having seasons in my professional life. I had never thought about my career as having seasons before. I certainly do not recall anyone ever talking about “seasons” when I was in medical school. In fact, it seemed that what was expected of me was to follow a very straight path: finish medical school, finish residency, and start a lifelong, successful career.
The straight path works well for many people, and it is valuable. But for some of us, life’s paths are more circuitous. Fifteen months ago, when I considered my life, my career, and my family, I felt a prodding to enter a new season. I had worked for about three years after residency in a traditional practice when my husband and I started to talk about me leaving the practice and staying home with our two boys. The practice was going through a transitional time, and this resulted in me working longer hours and often coming home frustrated. I would either leave the office late (sometimes as late as 9 PM), or I would come home for dinner, assist with the bedtime routine, and then stay up working at the kitchen table until 11 PM. Because my husband is also a physician, we would sometimes get called into the hospital at the same time and then have to frantically search for childcare.
This tiring work situation was the impetus for my decision to leave my practice, but it was not the only factor. I also had a deep desire to spend more time with my children and to be able to focus my attention on my role as a mother. Additionally, I have always had a significant interest in international medical missions and in medical care for the underserved. I have been on a number of short-term medical mission trips, and I wanted to have more time to explore opportunities in the non-profit venue. All of these factors led to our decision for me to leave my traditional clinical practice. Thus began a new season in my professional life.
In academics and the professions, there is an innate pressure to excel and to fully engage in all aspects of one’s profession. Particularly for women, there can be a sense that one needs to prove oneself or to “do it all.” For many years, I worked very hard with one goal in mind: to become a doctor. My professional study was important to me, I gave it my very best attention and effort, and at times, it defined me. In medical school, students are given titles such as MS-1 and MS-2, and then in residency they become a G1, a G2, or a G3. This self-definition is natural and logical; when one spends most of the hours of a day on a single endeavor, it becomes a large part of one’s identity. Unfortunately, in the process, identity can become confused with self-worth. Then, when one has a career change, identity itself can come into question. In all the long days of studying in medical school and in the sleepless nights of residency, I pictured myself accomplishing a specific goal and fulfilling a particular role. When I decided to pursue a different professional course for a season, I went through times of significant soul searching. I had moments of joy and freedom, wanting to dive into anything that was not medical, but I also had periods of sadness and anguish, thinking about all of the hard work behind me and wondering, “Was it worth it?”
This week, I met a fellow mother at the park who told a similar story. She is a child psychologist who decided to take some time away from her career to stay home with her three children. She told me, “When I quit working, I didn’t know who I was.” Standing there next to the swing set, I immediately resonated with her. With time, she said, she began to “embrace motherhood.” I have come to discover that I can embrace motherhood, but that I can also continue to embrace my role as a physician, just in a different way. I am still a doctor. At this time, I am choosing to use my skills in an alternate way, but my training continues to be of great value to me. It has contributed to who I am as a person, and it has given me unique skills and qualities that I have been able to use in a variety of settings.
Over the past fifteen months, I have had the privilege of taking many trips to the pool, the park, the zoo, and the lake with my two children. I have had time to lead community activities through Habitat for Humanity and National Night Out. I volunteered on a political campaign, and I lead a moms’ Bible study at my church. In January, I went to Nigeria with a global health organization and I continue to work with them on planning for the future. I periodically supervise residents at my former residency clinic, and I volunteer at a clinic for patients who are uninsured. It is a full life. And it is a wonderful blessing for me and for our family.
Some people ask me, “Are you ever going to work again?” These comments cause me to think about the way that our culture defines “work.” When I look at society’s hierarchical view of professional importance, I have some feelings of inadequacy and doubts about my current decision to stay home and to pursue part-time and volunteer opportunities. But when I think of God’s view, I see the blessings of the various phases of my career. The natural seasons are refreshing and awe-inspiring, and they demonstrate God’s creative goodness. The seasons of my career are also part of God’s good, creative plan. I see that God has given me the opportunity to cherish everyday moments with my children, and I hear God saying “It is good!” I recognize the opportunities of service and learning that God has presented, and I think “It is good!” I continue to discern God’s calling for my future. Should I pursue a Masters in Public Health, or coordinate a local free clinic, or work in community-based health care in Haiti? I examine these options, and I see God’s hand flinging open doors and windows and allowing me to explore my future.
There are many fulfilling career paths in academics and the professions, and not all of them look like the ideal that we may have had in our heads when we were studying all those long hours. That does not make these alternate paths less valuable. We may have seasons of full-time work and seasons where we choose to step back and focus on other things in our lives. When we pursue a goal for many years, changing the end result can feel like quitting, but this is a sad untruth. God meets us where we are and rejoices with us in the good in each of the seasons of our lives. Let us encourage each other to see the many different forms life and career may take and to be open to these possibilities, rather than being afraid of them because they do not look like the traditional models. I thank God for granting me this season in my career. I embrace the opportunities he has laid before me, and I look forward to the seasons ahead. Hallelujah, it is good!