A Toast: To Not Drinking My Way to Happiness

“I called to say I love you,” I told my father.

“Have you been drinking?” he asked.

“No.”

“Oh–you sound really happy.” I was, but his surprise at my happiness stopped me cold. Was it really that unusual that I sound happy?

Perhaps it was because calls to Dad always had a purpose, and–like him–I didn’t waste time on formalities like “How are you?” and “I love you.” “Goodbye” was even optional. Phoning my father was often for logistical reasons. “If I fly into Westchester at noon for Meg’s wedding, can you guys pick me up?” Or I called in search of someone else. “Where’s Mom? I called the house and her cell phone but she doesn’t answer.” Or I called for shock value. “So I walked into work after being away for a week, and they moved me into an office.”

“You’re own office?” he said incredulously. “They really like you over there.” He thinks this is a good thing.  I just think it will make it harder for me to resign.  Not that I’m going to resign anytime soon.  But it is inevitable. I haven’t held a full-time job longer than eighteen months.  By choice. And now that I think about it, I’ve only ever had four full-time jobs in the fourteen years since I graduated from college. You do the math.

Two of those jobs had definitive end dates: Americorps was a one-year program and my National Park Service job was just seasonal. The other two–like the one I have now–had no expiration. I still remember the utter fear I felt when I first made that realization as I sat in the cubicle in my first corporate job.

I’m going to pause here as some of you are thinking, “Whoa. Wait. Back up. Did you just say you took a full-time job?” Yes. Yes, I did. I’ll wait while those of you that know me pick yourselves up off the floor.

My explanation (or the story I tell myself) is this: It’s a means to an end. At first, the end was to save some money. Then I floated this idea of doing the Camino again next year sometime. Then I started thinking bigger and thought of buying an around-the-world plane ticket for my 40th birthday.

Then I reconsidered.  Because I really like Asheville. And I’m not sure I want to leave for eight months. I remember a few years ago telling my youngest sister she should join me in an around-the-world trip. “For how long? How much time would I need to take off?”

“Take-off? Oh, no. You’d need to quit your job.” The look on her face told me she would not be joining me.  Not for the whole trip, at least.

“Maybe one day you’ll be like other people, and just take your vacations a week at a time,” said my mother to me one day. “You know, instead of thinking you have to quit your job and do something big.” But we both know that’s not likely.

I’ve run some numbers. For those of you that don’t know, it’s cheaper to travel than it is to live in your home for a year. Part of that is because my trip is due to include visits to South America and Southeast Asia. Cost is also less for me because I don’t require that my place of rest be a hotel. Or even a room to myself. But those details can all be figured out later.

So yes, I have a full-time job. And as I search my mind to figure out why my father thought it was unusual that I sounded happy I thought it could be that he recalls how miserable I usually become when confined to the same space for forty hours of my week. My mother says I’m like a “caged animal” when I have a full time job: you look in the cage and think the animal has a pretty good life, but he’s pacing and really he’s thinking of how to get out. Then one day he snaps.  He attacks a visitor or just disappears.  I usually do the latter. In the form of a resignation.

But yes, I’m happy.  I can’t say I absolutely love my job and look forward to going to it every day.  But I love that it’s providing me what I need right now. It’s just another stepping stone. One day I’ll hop to another stone, or venture out into the water. But for now, today, in this moment, I am content.

My Back Pocket

I have a piece of paper in my back pocket.  My figurative back pocket, that is.  In reality, the paper sits in a green file folder marked, “PT License.” The paper was issued by the state of New York.  License #020405.  I received it after successfully completing an accredited physical therapy curriculum and passing a board exam.

Lucky for me, a person only needs to pass the board exam once.  Then, should she decide to resign from her first physical therapy job less than three months after she started it, never to look back, she can pay a few hundred dollars every few years and keep that piece of paper – in her back pocket.  In case she ever needs it again.

Ten years after it was first issued, I used that license as it was intended.  I sought out a part-time physical therapy job and was amazed – and a bit shocked – at how easy it was to get a job in a profession I hadn’t practiced in ten years. Five months later I was accepted into a doctorate of Physical Therapy program.  In both cases, I convinced others of something I wasn’t sure was true: that I wanted to go back to physical therapy (or, in the case of the latter, that I wanted to teach future physical therapists).

In December of 2009, I resigned from my second physical therapy position.  I completed my first doctorate course successfully, but didn’t take another.

That same year, New York State implemented a continuing education policy for physical therapists. So when I renewed my license this past summer, they could have asked me to prove that I had completed that requirement.  They didn’t ask.  But I had.  Teaching Anatomy and Physiology to freshman nursing and physical therapy students meets the requirement, and I did that for three years.

~~~

“It was easy when I was in PT School,” I told my friend Saturday afternoon.  “I just put on my lab coat, put my stethoscope around my neck, and went as a PT.  Or a doctor.  Or whatever people thought I was.”

I was visiting my friend at work that afternoon and had two Halloween parties on my agenda for that evening.  I’ve always wanted to be a flapper for Halloween, but never think about it early enough to pull it off. And my default Halloween costume? The last time I’d worn that lab coat was in 2009, and I was pretty sure I donated it to Good Will since then.

“I’ve got a lab coat I don’t use,” said my friend.  Conveniently enough, she’s in the medical profession and I was visiting her at work.

“Perfect!” I was all set.

Back at home, I got ready for the party, came downstairs and declared to my housemate David that, for Halloween, I was going as one of my past lives. “Why is it you’re not a physical therapist?” he asked.  I sat down.  This could take a while. Mostly because I didn’t really know myself.

Leaving my first PT job had little do with actually practicing PT.  Lack of confidence played a role.  As did my desire to explore all the world had to offer.  Less than a week after leaving that first job, I found myself in the familiar gray and green uniform of the National Park Service.  Six months later, I was roaming the streets of Paris, Venice, and Rome.  And six months after that, I was living in Boston volunteering for a year with Americorps.  The list goes on and on.

I left that second PT job because I didn’t really want to work in a nursing home.  The only reason I chose to apply there was because the want ad said that I could call to inquire about the position. I wanted to be able to explain my absence from the profession before submitting a resume.

“But you have a license, right?” said the woman on the other end of the line.

“Yes.”

“Then it’s not a problem,” she said.

I thought it a fluke.  But as I look back, I’ve had numerous PT’s say they’d hire me in a second – most having no knowledge of my skills as a therapist.

Which reminds me of a corporate job I was once hired for. They didn’t care about your skills – or lack thereof.  Those are teachable, they explained. What isn’t teachable is a good personality. Which, apparently, I have.

So here I sit, contemplating it all again.  Third time’s a charm? Perhaps.  Weeks ago I printed out the forms I’d need to get a license in North Carolina.  They sit on a shelf in my closet. Maybe I’ll pull them out.  Maybe.