When do you think you were first asked...
“What do you want to be when you grow up?”
I would argue that the first time we are asked this is likely before we even have a memory of it, and certainly before we really understand what it is that we’re being asked. This question seems to continue being asked and to evolve as we get older.
How about this one…
”So, where are you going to school in the Fall? What are you going to major in?”
And before we even graduate…”So, what are your plans after graduation? Where are you working? Going to grad school?”
I don’t know about any of you out there, but I feel like we are conditioned in this country to start planning our futures somewhere around age 3. That’s heavy.
It is not necessarily a bad thing to have some dreams, aspirations and a bit of direction, especially when we are young and making sense of who are in the world. BUT...I have wondered over the course of my time in college and in my early post-grad years, how much of this need to have a plan contributed to my anxiety as a new grad.
I also wondered…If I was feeling such anxiety and pressure to do certain things and practice in a certain way, how many other people were feeling this way? Are other people making career decisions because they think it’s what they’re “supposed” to do? I certainly was not finding a ton of fulfillment or “success” in that, and it made me start to think that there was something wrong with me.
If this is resonating with you, join me on a brief flashback:
Steph Allen, final year DPT student in 2013, headed for an orthopedic manual therapy residency in January of 2014. Post-residency plans: be hired by residency site, sit for the OCS exam, take 2+ additional certification courses during the following 1-2 years and specialize in the endurance/sports population. Simultaneously, begin working towards an adjunct teaching position (ideally at her alma mater).
I was so proud of myself- I had it ALL figured out. Funny thing about life, though, is that it doesn’t always cooperate with the map you draw up for it.
My map went “off course” pretty damn quickly. I was not offered a position at the clinic where I completed the residency. They were part of a larger non-profit hospital system with a strict budget. An additional board certified PT salary was not in that budget for 2015.
HOLY CRAP. Now what do I do?!
Inside my mind: Okay, no problem- I have always wanted to travel and I have a LOT of student loans, so I will try travel PT for a year or two, pay down my loans, and ideally end up back at the clinic where I did the residency, and I’ll be “back on track!”
Ohhhh Steph, you sweet, naive young PT. Life had a detour in store for you, young soul.
Back to reality: I began in NJ, and traveled to NY, then CA, then NM, and ended my travel journey in CO (almost 2 full years). But, not only was I NOT en route back to the residency site, I was burnt out and seriously contemplating if PT was the right profession for me. Yes...you read that correctly.
I began the travel journey really wide eyed and excited, and frankly, thinking it was going to be a pretty easy 1-2 years of using my doctoral degree and paying down my student loans, while getting to help people. Easy! Right…?
By my 4th assignment, towards the end of my time in California, I had been seeing a pattern that was really unnerving to me, and that didn’t seem to be different between clinics or across state lines. This pattern looked something like this: private and hospital based outpatient clinics, average 20 min sessions, mandatory manual therapy, double booking, heavy reliance on aides/techs, and HEAVY emphasis on completing notes and billing as much as possible.
I felt like all I did was write/type notes, I had much less time with my patients than I'd hoped and envisioned, and I was even getting reprimanded at times for not billing enough or seeing enough people.
Inside my mind: Is this what PT really is?? Why didn’t they tell us about this in school? Am I doing what I am truly meant to do? This doesn’t feel right to me. Did I just waste 6 years and a LOT of money?! I can’t tell anyone this, or they will think I am ungrateful or even crazy!
Also inside my mind: Alright, Steph, get it together. There is definitely more out there, you just need to seek it out. They can’t teach us EVERYTHING in school.
End [long] scene.
So I did. I started digging, researching mission driven platforms to learn from and reaching out to people in our profession who I respect and who I felt could help guide me. I’ll fast track this part of the journey, but those people included Chris Johnson, Strength Faction, Frank Benedetto, and many other strength and conditioning resources (T-Nation, Supple Leopard, etc.- and no, this is not a joke. This is where I started).
I fell in love with the integration of S&C within all aspects of rehab, and even more so, how this was HUGE in the ACL rehab world (another one of my special interests after I suffered the injury in high school). I also felt immense reassurance and comfort with the realization that developing genuine connections with our patients can have even more profound positive impacts on their outcomes than anything we do with our hands or prescribe through exercise. This made me feel like I didn’t have to put such pressure on myself to be the best manual therapist out there or to know all of the latest types of fancy programming or exercises.
With these new values as my guiding light, I ended up where I am now, at Boston Physical Therapy & Wellness (BPTW), as I trusted Zak and I knew as soon as I visited the clinic that I wanted to be here.
This was NOT the destination I had in mind while in school. And by way of the plan I had laid out, I failed HARD. But, had I not failed and adapted to a new guide...DAMN. I don’t even want to know where I’d be or how unhappy I’d feel.
Here is what my “scenic route” taught me, that I want to share with you:
- Change is HARD
- Con-Ed courses alone do not make you better
- Failure is GOOD and/or serves as an OPPORTUNITY for growth
- Actively seeking feedback, challenge and difficult conversations should be a part of all types of learning/skill acquisition
- Ultimate goal: find your “why.” What keeps you up at night? Go after that.
I must clarify: the above words are not to declare that you should go through school and/or life without any plans or aspirations and expect opportunities to just come to you. It takes being an active investigator, and being driven by your own core values for things to “fall into place.” BUT...being comfortable with some uncertainty and having some trust in the process will go a long way.
In our country’s current state of heightened uncertainty and tension, I am hoping that all of you in the Level Up community (and beyond) can not only take comfort in the morals of this story, but also gain some motivation. Motivation to keep learning so that you can do better once you know better; motivation to keep searching for YOUR “why”; motivation to seek feedback and mentorship; and motivation to have a little blind faith in your process.
Keep those heads up, hearts open, and eyes forward!
Thank you for reading.