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Where a Conversation Led Me

I work with a number of people who coordinate meetings to provide continuing medical education credit for smaller organizations that are not accredited. I like them all, but I have a couple with whom I have become close. I got to speak with one of them this morning, and it really made my day--and this is why:


Kelly is 13 years younger than I, but we're kind of in the same boat. We both like what we do and we are both unsure we're where we're supposed to be long term. She has been with her employer a whopping 22 years, which I can't fathom. The longest stretch I've had with one employer was 7 years, and in that 7 years I had 4 different roles in 4 different departments. With my current employer, I'm coming up on 5 years, and in the first 15 months I had 3 different roles on my team. In both cases I was moving up and/or moving on to a new challenge, but that doesn't change the fact that I haven't had the same role in any job for more than 3 years. 


I'm not really a job-jumper. I don't get upset or bored--I just get restless. I constantly worry that I'll hit a wall in my work and start having attitude problems. I know myself well enough to know that I need variety in my work life and if my employment situation isn't providing that, things won't end well. I learned nearly 20 years ago that hard-core for-profit employment wasn't for me. I lasted 364 days at UPS and everyone there congratulated me for getting out while I could still afford to leave. Since then I've worked in retail (part time at Lowe's), but that's a different animal and not worth more than a mention here. My primary focus has always been on non-profit employment, where what you DO matters much more than the bottom line.


So what's got me thinking about my employment situation again? After talking with my friend this morning I've had to examine that. I certainly haven't hit a wall here--at least, not in the usual sense of feeling like I'm in a dead end. I still have room to grow in my current job, albeit mostly self-generated growth. I don't have a problem with my co-workers or my boss. What I do see, however, is that my options narrowing as I become more specialized in what I do.


I've been around the medical world in one form or another since 1995 when I worked part time in the employee health services office at a teaching hospital. I wasn't directly involved in medical education until 2004, though, when I started helping arrange surgical resident rotations through the Transplant Surgery department where I was working at the time. I moved into graduate medical education (GME) where I coordinated a fellowship  program and helped develop a curriculum as part of my job, then I become a full time fellowship coordinator, then I took a break.


I wanted to be a nurse, but I could only afford the money and time for a year of prerequisite classes. Heartbroken (truly), I made my way back to medical education in my current job--this time in continuing medical education (CME) for established physicians. And just this spring, I took the exam that makes me a credentialed professional in my field. I realized that I may have found a career. Finally.




Now I'm not so sure. As much as I love my job, as much potential as I see for continued job satisfaction in this field, I'm starting to get restless again. Is it because I got the credential, so I've hit a benchmark and I'm done? There's a part of me that wants to be very sure that this is not the case. I don't tend to be that kind of person, and yet as soon as I had those initials after my name the restlessness hit. I've started to wonder if I'm experiencing 'buyer's remorse' or if, for the first time in my life, I'm feeling what people might call ambition, or 'professional drive.'


Suddenly, I'm on people's radar. I'm known by others in my professional organization, where I've now been in a leadership role of a special interest group for over a year. I've joined the editorial board of our online publication and started writing articles. I've had a proposal accepted to present a poster at our annual conference, so I'm actually doing research on my CME activities. I'm making a name for myself for the first time in my life.


When I volunteered last year to co-chair my special interest group, the idea that people would know my name scared me half to death. What if someone asked me a question and I didn't know the answer? What if they thought I was a fraud, or at the very least, stupid? Once I got my credential that feeling abated a bit, because through that process I discovered I really do know stuff. And after all, I've always said 'it's okay to say you don't know all the answers, and anyone who doesn't is lying.'


So am I feeling that drive, that ambition, for the first time in my life, or is it something else?


Like most people, I have tasks to do as part of my job that I enjoy less than others. One part of my job in particular is less enjoyable all the time. I look at other things I could be doing and grumble about having to do that one thing. If I could sit all day and work in my LMS--making improvements, proofing, checking, tweaking, testing--I think I could be happy for a very long time. Pushing the boundaries of what it can do, making things work for my purposes...that's what it's all about for me. I love it.  I love learning coding, CSS, design, innovation. I love creating webforms. That sounds really sick, so I refuse to say it out loud. But I love it. I really, really love doing that part of my job.


I also love outcomes. I love looking at data and making it talk to me so I can tell the story. I don't get to spend much time with data in this way, and that makes me a little sad. There's so much my LMS could tell us about what we do if I just had time to work with all that information stored in the outcomes reports.


And yet...


There's a part of me that wants to walk away from it all. There's a place, down deep, where I really just want to do my own thing. I want to do a podcast. I want to write--not just outcomes narratives or professional articles, but really write. Write whatever's in my head and heart. I want to travel and share and learn and grow. And in my core I know that if I stay where I am, if I stay on the trajectory I've found myself on, there will be an unfulfilled part of my life that will make me regret not walking away now. I know this beyond the shadow of a doubt. 


Staying on this path provides a level of security (non-profit pay notwithstanding) that going it alone wouldn't. I am far from unfulfilled in this career, and in this job in particular. I can truly say that I really like my job most days, love it a good deal of the time, and rarely hate the thought of going to work. Staying put, at my age, isn't a bad idea. I'm not getting any younger, and I have a lot to offer to my employer and my profession. I'm just becoming more convinced every day, though, that it might not a good idea. I ask myself if I can do this for another 20 years. I'm going to have to work well into my 70s--can I see myself doing this that much longer? 


My head says yes, but my heart isn't so sure.

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