Long ago, in a living room far away, I had a late night conversation that set in motion a plan to be in school for FIVE MORE YEARS. By long ago, I mean three years. Which, math fans, means I have two left. Right now I’m between semesters, looking down the barrel of summer break with the uneasy feeling that there is something else I should be doing. I should be studying. I should be researching. I should be schooling! I should not have this feeling of being academically obligation-less.
Well, mostly obligation-less. The soul crushing nature of a program where you have to take boards at the end means you could always be studying. For me, it will be the Family Nurse Practitioner certification exam. That test is ever-present. That test is the kind that sneaks up on you when you think to yourself, I’m free, I have nothing to do, and whispers, “you still have me” in a menacing, sadistic voice, like a serial killer who is toying with you before he makes his final move and throws you in the back of his van on your way out of Wawa.
That might be a little dramatic. But, there is something about that unfinished feeling that comes with being in school. It hovers over you while you watch t.v., or sleep in, or, heaven forbid, read fiction. (Scandalous.)
Even with that sneaky bastard nipping at me, I still have a mostly unencumbered feeling that begs encumbering. There is a big hole in my brain where schoolwork had been hunched that is pulling for more obligations like a vacuum. Fortunately, I have the fall pottery season to shove in there. Before I was even out of the parking lot from taking my last final, I thought, gosh, November is getting close and I have nothing made.
Still. Call me midlife crisis-y, but, I constantly feel like I’m running out of time to get life done. That is what sent me down this school rabbit-hole to begin with. Being an RN didn’t feel like I was finished. Since nursing was something I fell into without much forethought (don’t judge me, I had a baby, my brain was barely functioning) it didn’t feel like I was finished cultivating a career. So, here I am, back in school, and in the midst of being a graduate student it has finally dawned on me that one does not finish a career. You freaking work. You try to do your best. You aren’t finished until you stop working. And, even then, you aren’t finished living. There’s still stuff to do.
Which makes me wonder, when/if I finish my degree, will that make me feel finished? I’m guessing it won’t. I don’t think finished is something my brain is capable of understanding. (I can't speak for anyone else's brains, but I know my mother felt this way too. Does everyone?) As long as my neurons are firing, there is something else to get done. Always. It’s like never being done with laundry as long as there are still family members out in the world wearing clothes. The laundry isn’t finished. The laundry will NEVER be finished.
If that is the case, did I really need to go back to school? If I was never going to feel finished anyway, wouldn’t it have been easier to stop where I was? I really like being a PACU nurse. Being around people when they wake up from anesthesia is like being there when people are getting off a roller coaster. Their hair is a mess, they’re disoriented, and there you are, calm and stabilizing, helping them reclaim their bearings so they can go back out into the world. Yes, sometimes they puke, but mostly, they’re just looking for someone to be there so they can say, “can you believe that just happened to me?”
I guess the part of me that decided to become a nurse practitioner is the part that wants to be there before the roller coaster ride. When patients come to me now, all the decisions have been made and the intervention is done. I’m a receiver tasked to catch them so they land softly and can get back on their feet. The bossy, opinionated part of me wants to get to people well before they are rolled into my bay. My goal as an NP is to help people find the motivation to make healthier choices so that some of them can avoid the hospital entirely, let alone the recovery room.
Maybe my unfinished feeling is the part that wants to walk along the beach throwing starfishes back out to sea, counseling each one to go forth, eat healthy, exercise, get enough sleep, and manage their stress as I send them on their way. 'Cause isn’t that what we’re all looking for? Someone to rip us off the hot beach and throw us into the cold, unforgiving ocean?
Yeah, no. We don’t want to live healthy lives. Living healthy is effortful and un-delicious. It is not until we find ourselves sick that we wish we could go back and make different choices. I know this. I live this.
Can I get people to choose a different path? I don’t know! Maybe somebody! And since there are 7 billion people on the planet that all need to make healthy choices, it is not possible to ever be finished promoting healthy living. Health promotion is like laundry.
So, I haven’t finished learning, or my career, or my personal mission, and I never will. I won’t be done until I’m Done.
Even so, summer break is here. There will be sunshine, bored kids, fast vacations, pottery, easy reads, air conditioned runs, Harry Potter movie marathons, walks in my forest, and, of course, work. But, I won’t be writing any papers in APA format. I’m getting some school-free relaxing in. I'm guessing the twitchy no tests feeling will be replaced with the twitchy these-kids-are-making-me-crazy feeling soon enough.
And to all the students graduating this season: Congratulations! You might feel the same emptiness where schoolwork used to be too, but my advice is to think carefully before you choose to fill it with more school. Take some time. Dig into work. Dig into a creative outlet. Dig into the unscripted, undefined life that you get to design for yourself. The real test is the one where we choose to follow our dreams and values or not. That's the only vital one you have left to pass.
Well, that and knowing when to avoid creepy vans at Wawa. Constant vigilance, you guys!
I like to throw things.