I was speaking to a friend the other day about how she wanted to start her own blog. I immediately told her what a great idea I thought it was. Her response was, “But, I’m not fearless like you.” Anyone who has been on an airplane with me knows that this statement is false. I sit through flights (in fetal position) with white knuckles as my hands wrap around the armrest. I couldn’t figure out what would make her think I was anywhere close to fearless until I considered the image I’ve created on social media.
We put figurative (and literal) filters on everything. We show the world what we want them to see by omitting, exaggerating, or censoring parts of our lives. I post photos of what I am proud of, blocking anything that may suggest I’m not always where I want to be. I’ve posted photos since the beginning of my career. I’m smiling at MLB spring training and performing tests on NHL combine players. But, the beginning of my career has not been an easy journey filled with continuing education courses, traveling and cool opportunities that I advertise. So, let this post show the other side- the unfiltered- the side I’ve never wanted to post before.
The start of my career is not best represented by me smiling at the NHL combine. If I posted an actual snapshot of the beginning, it would look more like this…
It was 11:30 pm (that’s late for me) and I couldn’t sleep. Out of frustration, I rolled over onto my back and pressed both of my palms into my forehead. Not being able to sleep was a byproduct of the frustration, not the cause. I was in the beginning of my career and the beginning of my residency and I couldn’t sleep because I was unhappy. I took a deep breath, gritted my teeth, and swallowed hard to prevent any tears from starting. I had dreamed about my life as a physical therapist for the last three years. The dream had gotten me through tests, late nights, setbacks, and disappointing bank statements. And now, that dream was keeping me awake because physical therapy was falling short of my expectations.
So, I opened my laptop and feverishly started writing an email to two of my friends and fellow graduates.
Subject: This isn’t what I want
Alicia and Kara,
Coming here [Indiana for residency] was a mistake. Changing my career to PT was a mistake. This isn’t what I want. I don’t know what I expected exactly, but it’s not this. I’m buried in paperwork, I’m stumbling over my words trying to convince myself and my patients of my competence and I’m not happy. I don’t know if I even want to stay in physical therapy let alone Indiana. All I know is that I don’t want to be awake every night unhappy with my life. I hope —
I shut the laptop without finishing or sending the email and eventually fell asleep. The next morning, I woke up and closed the email (forever saving it to my drafts). I couldn’t send that. I had been the PT student that said yes to every opportunity, sought after a residency and then moved across the country. The thought of admitting my fears, unhappiness and insecurities made me feel like a failure and I kept them, along with the email, to myself.
Looking back, there are some smaller reasons that lead me to my 11:30 pm spiral, but there is one MAJOR reason I laid awake that night:
I was ready for my job as a physical therapist,
but I was not ready to build my career in physical therapy.
I had the clinical skills and the academic background I needed, but I didn’t see the bigger picture of my whole career. In school, I loved everything about physical therapy. Now, I couldn’t see past the dreaded documentation, the difficult patients, or the stress of being a new graduate. I was stuck, creeping toward burnout, and unsure of where to go or what to do.
That night, the one I considered changing my career, is the reason I started this blog. I can’t be alone in how I felt that night, can I? Deep down I never wanted to change my career, but I couldn’t understand what I was feeling.
Maybe this should have been my very first post, but I was more comfortable living behind the filters and exposing my successes instead of insecurities. I’m still nowhere close to fearless. I’ve gone through and am going through all the same things as you are. It is my hope that somewhere in these blog posts you find the words to help you sleep on the nights you question it all. So that in the future, you get to the point in your career where you wake up excited to write a blog post at 4:30 am before heading to a job you love.
Please post below or private message me if you have had similar feelings of frustration, burnout, and of not going anywhere. I would love to get your feedback so I can create more meaningful content.
8 thoughts on “Unfiltered: The Career Post I Was Afraid of Posting”
Wow! Thank you for being so transparent and vulnerable with your experiences. I have absolutely been in similar situation. My time didn’t hit until after residency. Having all that stuff to do and learn during residency gave me a sense of purpose, but then after there was just nothing. It was like an addict going cold turkey. I had a DPT and was residency trained so I should know what I am doing now, right? I should wake up everyday happy with the PT I am, but then I had one of those hard mentor meetings you have previously discussed and realized it is up to me to keep growing and finding where my place of joy comes from. And now I am in a place of complete joy, but continual challenges. Which is the way I like it! Thanks for your post this week!
Bethany, I agree completely. I think we all get to this point where we aren’t sure what’s next. The continual challenges you talk about is so important. If you keep growing and looking for joy then challenges are welcomed instead of resisted. We are always changing and because of that we will never stop growing and finding new joy.
What a brave post. And you’re not alone. I would estimate the number of PT’s with significant anxiety, depression, diagnosed or not, is high, during PT school and within the first 3 years. As you know, the end of school is not the end of learning, and seemingly the professional working life doesn’t settle. There’s no outcome measure for our career so it seems like the pathway is circular – and that’s no fun at all. I recall, and continue to experience, that ours is a profession of listening, analysis, giving and creating – over and over. For many of us, the bucket empties each hour, session, day or week. If we’re lucky, the bucket doesn’t empty until the end of the year. If we’re luckier, we stumble across a way to fill the bucket of energy. The mainstream of our industry is there to be swum against – not for no reason, but because identifying your path, aspiring for your path, necessitates swimming a different stream. Those of us who climbed mountains in our profession did just that and my reflection now finds that there should never have been any other way.
Here’s a question for you: whose work are you reading about that is interesting to you? (It doesn’t have to be within our profession, it can be from any field).
I love the point you make about finding a way to fill the bucket with energy- certain things help us fill it for an hour, but we really want to find something much more sustaining. I think a huge part of that is the “over and over” part of listening, analysis and giving and creating. It suggests there is no end point, which is both daunting and exciting. When we feel stuck that mountain feels daunting, but when we can visualize the goal or the summit that same mountain becomes exciting. As someone at the beginning of the trek, it’s reassuring to hear that your reflection finds there shouldn’t be any other way!
As for what I am reading- I’m essentially trying to answer the question of how to create a great career and avoid burnout. So I’ve recently read a lot on mindset, biographies of people, and business development (I think business development books have a lot more to offer than just “business”). I wouldn’t say there is one person who I follow specifically since goodreads.com does such a good job of telling me what else I’ll be interested in. Also, reading books that stretch my thinking in PT. Just finished Move Your DNA by Katy Bowman and have moved onto Conscious Coaching by Brett Bartholomew. Would love any recommendations that you have!
The greatest success of my PT career was healing myself of being a healer. I believe that’s what we are all out to do.
Great post. I am currently in the challenging transition from PT student to professional. As I am already overwhelmed as a fresh PT and learning new systems/EMR I too wonder if I had made a mistake and would be better off pursuing a different career. Hopefully this feeling will fade as it seems it did for you.
Joe, I’d say that the beginning is always the hardest. The transition from PT student to PT is often less glamorous than we imagine. I hope it does get better! I appreciate the comment and know you’re not alone in what you’re feeling.