Before I dive into the first of what I hope will be many interviews for the Inspirational Women series, I want to give a brief update on my Strong is Beautiful campaign/return to weight training: my legs were like Jell-o after the 10×10 lower body workout yesterday, so I plan to follow that up with today’s 10×10 upper body circuit.
If my arms are quaking too hard to carry my bag and my lunch to the bus stop this morning, you’ll know why. Today’s 10×10 looks like this:
Anyways, with that said, on to the big event du jour (yeehaw)!
After months of thinking about starting this project, it’s finally underway! I’m massively excited to be publishing the first in what I hope will be many interviews with women who’ve taken risks, followed their hearts, and pursued their dreams.
By way of introduction, the first interviewee is my best friend, Susie. She and I went to elementary school together once my family moved back to Colorado when I was six years old; Susie and I met when I started first grade at my new school, and by the end of the first week we were inseparable.
Over the last 25+ years, we’ve been each others’ confidantes though all sorts of existential crises, boy problems, career troubles, cross-country moves, and more.
Now, first of all, it’s important to understand that Susie is one of the smartest people I know. That sharp intellect comes with a downside, though: she understands and absorbs information so quickly that it doesn’t take long until she exhausts any one particular topic and becomes bored with it (American history, psychology, chemistry: you name it, she’s studied it). For a while, she joked that she should change her middle name to “Getting Bored With Stuff Way Too Easily.”
Because of that, it took her a while to find a topic — and, by extension, a career — that would actually hold her interest. Hers has been a circuitous path, but I tend to think that’s the best possible kind. (I mean, the Dixie Chicks wrote a fantastic song about this very thing, so that’s proof if I’ve ever seen it.)
She spent a few years after college doing various jobs that paid the bills but didn’t make her the least bit happy — and, eventually, a series of jobs that made her abjectly miserable. That misery, though, led her to find her true calling, and it gave her the push she needed to pursue it.
Here’s her story.
What inspired you to take action towards your goal/dream?
After I graduated from college, I had no freaking clue what I wanted to do with my life. It was a constant source of struggle and misery. I had no real direction, so I ended up just going with jobs that I could get, and let me tell you, that didn’t lead to job satisfaction. I always told myself (and anyone who would listen) that if I knew what I wanted to do, I would make it happen no matter what.
Big talk is easy when you don’t have to follow through.
I ended up landing a job that paid more than I had ever earned in my life with a lot of potential to grow. It had a fancy job title that would virtually guarantee that I could be financially successful for the rest of my life. I thought it was going to be amazing. Instead, I hated it. I hated every second of the year I spent at that company where they failed colossally at training me, and then threw me into a huge project (working with a company that I found to be morally reprehensible) to sink or swim. I managed to stay barely afloat, but my sanity and health were eroding at a terrifying rate.
I realized I couldn’t take it any more and began desperately trying to figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. I took career assessment tests, and I read tons of books about identifying your perfect career. I figured out that what I ultimately wanted to do was to help people in a meaningful way, to never have to work for/with companies whose practices did not meet my own ethical and environmental standards, to be my own boss, and to be able to be me – my wisecracking, spiritual, quirky, hippie self.
After a great deal of research, much soul searching, and a lot of praying (though I would say begging is the more apt word), I figured out that I was being called to be an acupuncturist.
Suddenly, I had a goal. I knew what I wanted to do. I had told so many people that I wouldn’t let anything stand in the way of my dreams (if I only knew what they were) that it never even occurred to me that I had a choice. I was going to become an acupuncturist.
Doing so meant quitting my job and finding a new one that didn’t suck all of my energy and vitality. It meant taking prerequisites at community college. It meant applying to school, and contacting undergraduate professors from what seemed like a million years ago to get letters of recommendation. It meant waiting in agony to find out if I was accepted, and then it meant the joys of filling out FAFSA forms. It also meant quitting the new job I had after a year so that I could devote myself to taking classes full time. All of these were scary, but come hell or high water, I was going to become an acupuncturist. And I did.
What have been the high points and the low points?
I need to preface this question by saying that there are a lot more low points than high, but the high points were/are so amazing that they more than make up for the low points, and that’s how I have known that I’m on the right path.
For the first two years of school, I was barely able to have a life outside of school. I typically had between 20-24 credits each quarter, and 8-11 midterm and final exams. I spent an obscene amount of time studying. I went from having a decent job with money and benefits, to living on financial aid. I had to learn a completely different world-view in order to understand Chinese medicine, but at the same time, I was also immersed in the western world-view in my science classes. I had to learn two completely different vernaculars – Chinese medicine, and western medicine. Because it was so challenging, huge numbers of people dropped out of the program in the first year, and I’ll admit that I thought about it myself. At times it felt like grad school was just one vast hazing ritual designed to make us prove our devotion to the medicine.
The first time I got to put a needle in someone else was both terrifying and amazing, and it continues to be amazing, even though I have now put thousands of needles in people (fortunately, the terror is gone). Every time a patient reports that they’re improving and feeling better, I feel such an incredible rush of joy that I sometimes feel like my heart is going to explode.
The entire process of going through school and starting my own business has led me to unexpected self-discovery, and a huge amount of personal growth. I am, without question, a different person than I was when I started – or rather, I’m the same person, but I’ve shed a lot of the masks I used to wear, and I’ve stopped trying to conform to what society expects of me, so I’m a truer, better version of myself than I was. After I treat patients, I feel like I’ve done something that I can be proud of and happy with because I am making a concrete difference in their lives, and that is what I want most out of life.
What obstacles have you encountered, and how did you push past them?
The biggest obstacle I had to deal with was the initial lack of support from my parents. My mom kept asking me why I wanted to become an acupuncturist, and maybe I should be a naturopath instead (which in retrospect is funny because acupuncture is far more widely accepted in this country than naturopathy). Fortunately, she came around pretty quickly, for which I am eternally grateful.
My father, on the other hand, was much slower to support my decision. He initially called it “Voodoo, witchdoctor bullshit.” Pursuing a career that was frowned upon by my dad was emotionally difficult, but I had already made the decision. I had my mom’s support, which sustained me, and my own stubborn refusal to let anything stand in my way was also a big help. Over the years, my dad has done a complete 180, and now he’s quite supportive. He made the change mostly on his own by looking into the research done on acupuncture (he’s a scientist), and discovering that the research overwhelmingly shows that acupuncture works. Now when he comes across a particularly interesting study, he sends it my way.
The biggest obstacle I am currently dealing with (aside from all the challenges of starting my own business, which I think I could write an entire book on at this point) is a massive case of imposter syndrome. When I was in grad school, if a patient asked me a question, I knew I had a supervisor to fall back on who would have the answer if I didn’t. Over time, I needed them less and less, but when I got my license, people were still asking me questions, and I didn’t have that safety net. My initial thought when someone asks me a question about their health is, “Why are you asking me?”
Fortunately, I push the inner voice aside, and I usually find that I have an answer. It turns out that I really do know a lot about health and Chinese medicine. When I don’t have an answer, I tell people. It’s not uncommon for people to ask me about western medications, herbs I’ve never heard of, and alternative healing techniques I’m not familiar with. Rather than pretending I know everything, I tell people relevant information that I do have and then research what they’ve asked for. I’ve found that being honest about what I do and don’t know is the best way for me to overcome my imposter syndrome. Plus it really helps when people come back to me and say things like, “My doctor/PT/therapist/etc. said the same thing you did!”
Do you have a support network and/or personal cheerleaders who have helped you in this process? What have they done to encourage you and help you move forward?
The majority of my friends have been extremely supportive. My friends from before school were so amazingly patient with me, even though I disappeared off the face of the earth for weeks at a time. They let me practice feeling their pulses and looking at their tongues (important diagnostic techniques in Chinese medicine), and they stood by me through everything. The friends I made in school have also been a tremendous help. My class was a very supportive one, and we didn’t tend to compete with each other, rather, we helped each other to study, edit each others’ papers, and commiserate. Now that we’re all going off on our own, we’re sharing the tips and tricks we’re learning for business growth.
Now I have friends who are coming to see me as patients, and they’re telling others about me, which is the best support I can possibly get. I truly feel blessed to know such amazing people.
I also want to give a big shout out to Lillian, the writer of this blog, and my best friend in the world, who has probably been my biggest cheerleader. She has been supporting me and encouraging me throughout my entire process since before I even knew what I wanted to do with my life.
If you could give advice to women who are either trying to find the courage to pursue their dreams or are at the beginning of their own journey, what would it be?
Surround yourself with cheerleaders. What you’re doing (or want to do) is wonderful and amazing, and the journey is beautiful but terrifying. You don’t need any help convincing yourself not to do it or that it’s going to be hard – you’re going to do all of that just fine on your own. What you need are people who think you’re great, that you can accomplish what you set out to do, and who will stand by you while you do it.
If there are people in your life who try to convince you not to do it or only talk about the possible negatives, they are just going to pull you down. It’s ok to say to them, “Look, I’m making this scary change, and I need encouragement. I know that what you’re saying comes from a place of love, but if I can’t get support from you, then I need to ask you to not say anything about it at all. If you can’t do that, then I think we need to take a little break.” I know, it’s easier said than done, but seriously, separating yourself from the negative people in your life is the best thing you can do. It’s harder when it’s a family member or significant other, but at the very least, telling them that you need support is the most likely way you’re going to get it.
Every time I’ve had doubts or second thoughts, I’ve turned to this quote by Howard Thurman to help me get back on track:
“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive and then go do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”