Wednesday, July 2, 2014

On Finding a Career I Loved and Giving It Up

(Written November 20, 2013.)

I never expected to have a career. This is not a statement about, and certainly not an indictment of, my upbringing. I knew I could study and become anything I wanted to be. But for the longest time, I just never really felt a calling to be anything but a wife and mother. Sure, I enjoyed school -- and I LOVED science -- but, if I'm being completely honest, I probably went to college more because that's what I was "supposed" to do, rather than because I thought college was going to help me achieve my life's goals.

My junior year, I realized I was going to have to get a job and I ought to try to sort out what that might be. (Entering William and Mary, I thought I would be a chemistry major and go into forensics, but it turned out that it was my high school chemistry teacher that had made chemistry interesting, and not the subject itself, so I turned to biology and took as many genetics classes as I could.) I started looking for a summer internship and happened to land in the Department of Human Genetics at the Medical College of Virginia (VCU). It was there that I learned about the field of genetic counseling.

I returned to school and scrambled to take all the prerequisites I needed for my graduate school applications (which is how I ended up with 8:00 a.m. classes every day, second semester of my senior year), investigated schools, completed applications, flew to interviews, and ultimately, chose to return to Richmond, the site of my internship. I was offered a job a year into my two-year program. I had some reservations about taking a research position, rather than a clinical position, but everything else about the job was so enticing that I accepted. I moved to Northern Virginia after graduation and started working at Gallaudet University, the school for the deaf in DC.

At the time, I was the only genetic counselor who specialized in deafness. As such, I quickly found myself fielding speaking requests from around the country, and it turned out that I loved public speaking… almost as much as writing. Writing a journal article or a book chapter brought a special joy. I managed files on hundreds, and eventually thousands, of research participants. I talked to people about their histories, listened to their stories, helped them to figure out why they are deaf. I enjoyed going to work every day (even if learning American Sign Language was HARD). And a few years into working at Gallaudet, I realized that I didn't just have a job; I had a career. And -- amazingly, surprisingly -- I loved it.

So when Bubba came along, I kept working (though part time). But Froggy's arrival brought logistical challenges that having just one child hadn't. I made the gut-wrenching, if obvious (for me, that is), decision to leave my job. Just for two years. I wasn't leaving my career.

But I liked being home with the boys. Loved it. And then Monkey came along, so I extended my time home.

A year after I finished graduate school, I sat for my board certification exam. I renewed twice and am due to renew again this year, a process that requires accruing, on average, twenty-five continuing education hours per year. The thought of re-certification has been hanging over my head for the last few years. How am I going to accumulate enough credits for re-certification when I'm not writing or speaking and getting to conferences is challenging?

Then it hit me: I wasn't struggling with the logistics of re-certification; I was struggling with the decision of whether or not I was going to return to genetic counseling. It was a long, arduous decision-making process, but I finally realized…

I'm not.

I'm grateful for my time as a genetic counselor, for all I learned, for the people I hope I helped, and I'm sure I could go back and thrive as a genetic counselor, just as I did before, but life seems to be pulling me in a different direction.

Years ago, I innocently told my supervisor, who is typically quite reserved, that I was "a bit of a planner," which made her laugh out loud. My life hasn't necessarily always followed my plan, but by golly, there has always BEEN A PLAN. But not now. I have no idea what's coming next.

I'll be home with my boys for at least a few more years and, likely, longer. The desire to serve others will play some (likely, major) role in my life, but exactly what that will look like, I don't know. I want to learn how to use my camera and play my guitar and throw a baseball. I'll sing. And maybe somewhere along the way I'll find a new career calling. Or maybe I won't. I'm fortunate to have the ability to relish this uncertainty… even if it feels a little uncomfortable to have no map laid out before me.

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