Category Archives: Life Stuff

Chutzpah

You know those moments in life when something you’ve worked so hard for actually happens? When something you’ve thought endlessly about, something you’ve anticipated with a complex combination of excitement and apprehension, something you’ve hoped for and worked for and actually dreamed about comes true? Tomorrow is that day. Tomorrow, 8 years after graduating from college, I finally begin grad school.

photo (8)

Driving through horse country. Amenia, NY.

This entire blog has become an accidental journal (although I really hate referring to it that way) of a girl with a lot of wanderlust traveling through her twenties and around the world to find herself, or at least what she wants to do with herself. I always had a strong sense of who I am, but for many years, I found myself frustratingly positioned in-between so many careers. I felt tugged by many different curiosities, and pressured by an outside force to define myself by only one of them. On the first day of TwT (“Travels with Tavel Has Finally Arrived” – July 7, 2009), I began writing with a broken heart and a whole lot of chutzpah to drop the confused-twenty-something act (which was, well, far from an act), dig deep, and really make my career dreams come true — whatever they were. At the time, my dream was as simple as starting this blog. I soul-searched and wandered through foreign countries, spurred on by an insatiable sense of adventure, yet I was always anchored by a counter-desire to find those things that would eventually stabilize me — a career, a job, love… (Whoops! Did I accidentally become a total cliche!?)

At first, the wanderlust won. But through my travels, like the archaeology minor I was before all the pre-med “stuff” began, I slowly and carefully chiseled away at the wanderlust to find out what was really happening underneath. I began to realize that, while it was a completely real part of who I am (and still is), it was also a distraction from something else I really wanted in my life, but felt too overwhelmed by to pursue. After dream jobs that didn’t feel quite right and inspiring international volunteer experiences, that twenty-something veil of confusion (or really, inner-conflict over what to do) was slowly lifted. Eventually, it just became too obvious to ignore: I wanted to be in healthcare, and I wanted to become a Doctor of Physical Therapy, no matter how much hard work and money it might require.

Bird, beach, Mexico.

Bird, beach, Mexico.

If you’ve been paying any attention to TwT, you’ve heard it all before. This is that moment. Tomorrow, after two years of nonstop science classes just to get to this point, I start grad school. I might be older than most of my classmates, I might have had to work harder to get here, but tomorrow it’s an even playing field. Tomorrow, my new classmates and I start something together that I feel like I’ve been working towards all alone, for almost a decade.

Everyone learns their own lessons their own way. I couldn’t be more excited and more grateful for what I have learned during this eight-year post-college adventure to this place right now. As the curtain begins to shut on my twenties (not until September though — not there yet!!) I hope that this blog has succeeded in capturing the incredible journey that being twenty-something can be. As long as you’re willing to take chances, work hard, and not worry about your future for a little bit (a little responsible irresponsibility can get you surprisingly far sometimes!), it can be one of the most revealing decades of your life — if not the most revealing. It wasn’t always pretty, that’s for sure [let us not forget Juan the Amoeba (“Living the Dream (in the Fetal Position)“), a dislocated knee, travel disasters, and my initially humbling return to academia (“Hill Climb“)] but it was freeakin’ worth it. That’s all that matters now.

Driving through horse country. Amenia, NY.

Driving through horse country. Amenia, NY.

And yet, despite delaying and intensifying this already long process of beginning grad school, I am forever grateful that I know what it feels like to ride a horse up a volcano in Ecuador (and, well, it’s less comfortable in the gluteal-region than you might think — Read: “Pain in the Cotopaxi“), or how the heart skips a beat when a sea lion swims up next to you in the Galapagos Islands… I know how scary it is to have someone in another country try and slash your bag open with a razor blade (“Quito Slashed“) or to move to another country without knowing another soul (“And So It Begins…“). Now, to add to the list, I know exactly how it feels to work for something like you’ve never had to work before, and then to arrive at the beginning of that new story…

As I begin grad school, and surely prepare to be humbled all over again, I am taking with me almost a decade of valuable experiences. There is a lot further to go, but at least — after all my trips abroad — I made it here.

It’s a crazy thing when you finally arrive at your destination, but if I’ve learned anything from all my traveling, it’s that arriving is never the end of the road. It’s just another start to yet another sure to be wild adventure in life. So, here I go.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Life Stuff, School, Travel, Uncategorized

To Suzy Who (All) The Schools Rejected

It is rare for me to use TwT as a platform for responding to another article. For one thing, I don’t think my opinion is better than anyone else’s, so I try to avoid sounding like I do. Also, there are usually enough people discussing the things I want to discuss throughout social media, so I tend to just listen and keep my opinion to myself. However, this particular article, “To (All) the Schools That Rejected Me” written by Suzy Lee Weiss and published by the Wall Street Journal got my knickers in a twist. After all, I represent all that Suzy bemoans: I have volunteered at an orphanage in Costa Rica. I have taken photographs abroad with children in my lap, and yes — they actually affected my life. I was the captain of a couple sports teams in high school, I was a choreographer in a dance performance, and did I mention I played the flute for 10 years?! (Few people drive me to the point where I admit that last bit to the greater public — you win this round, Suzy!) I worked in admissions, I volunteered at a couple soup kitchens in Harlem, and I was a peer leader in high school. I also was a hard worker. While my high school offered very few AP classes, I took most of them, and I happened to have a very good GPA. To be honest, I freakin’ loved school. I ended up in a college full of people like me, only they were interested in totally different things. And I participated in these activities because I actually wanted to. Getting into a good college was a hopeful consequence of being true to myself.

In other words, Suzy might hate me.

I know, I know. This is not making me sound very likable… BUT WAIT! Before you think I am just using this as an opportunity to brag, would you believe me if I said that there is more to it all? Maybe I was a bit of an eager beaver, and maybe I wanted to try and do everything that I could because I loved people and loved how it felt to be able to help or make people comfortable or take on leadership roles when I was able to. I liked a challenge. I liked the feeling of running so hard I tasted blood in the back of my throat. It felt good to read a teacher’s positive comments on my essay and walk home with my gratification-tank completely full. I get it — the tasting blood and the self-cultivated desire to do well isn’t for everyone. Unlike Suzy, I have to give my parents some serious credit here. I actually applaud my parents for somehow never making me feel like I was doing this for anyone else but myself.

There were 57 people in my graduating class; my pond may have been small, but I wasn’t worried about what kind of fish I was trying to be — I just swam as hard as I could. Isn’t that what you do in ponds?

I have had the experience of being both the kid who got into her top choice colleges when I was in high school, and the adult who has gotten rejected by a grad school or two. But my finger doesn’t furiously point at the schools that rejected me. By now I know better than that. If anything, I felt incredibly lucky getting in anywhere this time around (although, I do believe I deserved it — don’t get me wrong!). Reading Suzy’s piece reminds me of what a privilege it is to be at any one of these competitive colleges or universities. Maybe Suzy is just missing the point.

If you haven’t read the article yet, go read it right now, and then come back to me.

[Obligatory pause.]

OK. Now that we have all read it…

Suzy begins her essay by stating that she has been lied to throughout her high school years. She thought all she had to do was be herself in order to get into college (what does that even mean to you, Suzy?!). Her interpretation of this advice is so far off and oversimplified that it seems almost unnecessary to break it down, but here we go. Suzy, let’s have a little chat…

Be yourself — assuming you are interesting. OK, so if you are a complete deadbeat with no aspirations, maybe being yourself isn’t the best strategy — but there is no alternative. Nobody should do things just to get into college. That said, hopefully you are doing interesting things (anything!) because you want to, and because you have the opportunity to do them — meaning you have interests, curiosities, passions. The high school years are when we first begin to really make choices about what we want to study and who we might want to become. Colleges are looking at your application for clues about the choices you make, the values you have, and the goals you are beginning to form. They want to see that you have a curiosity about the world, and a desire to explore what’s out there. In our teen years, we find ourselves fumbling around in a bigger world than we’re used to, awkwardly trying to place our hands and feet where they feel they might belong. We are finding our place, and sometimes finding that place involves exploration which, Suzy, you don’t seem to be doing much of.

Be Yourself? What this really means is that you should be true to yourself, to what you’re interested in, to your curiosities and your values. Most colleges aren’t just trying to choose the best — they are trying to find the best fit for their school, and not everyone is a fit. Don’t forget that there are also limited spots, so yes:  when you, Suzy-who-mocks-charity-and- those-of-us-with-a-desire-to-do-good, think that not doing anything makes you more eligible for one of the relatively small spots at a competitive college, remember that colleges are depending on the students they accept to facilitate learning environments both inside and outside of the classrooms; they are dependent on their students to become the life-blood of their campuses, and eventually a reflection of the establishment itself. Schools are taking a risk on you! Their reputations depend on their admitted students, both while they are attending the college/university and what those students do with their lives beyond college. No, these people are not better than you. However, the ones that are admitted have already proven that they are more likely to take full advantage of the opportunities a college may provide. If you are not participating in any of the activities you mentioned during high school, I think your article makes it safe to assume you are watching episodes of “The Real Housewives” instead. For that reason alone, those kids you speak of who are “doing it all” are a safer bet — perhaps a better investment. And believe it or not, they are “mere mortals” too — just the kind that actually care.

Sure, you absolutely must be yourself when you are applying to colleges. But don’t blame a school if “yourself” is someone who is completely uninterested in participating in the world beyond that “self.” You are simply doing each school a favor by taking the guesswork out of things. You did exactly what they needed you to do: you were yourself… and that’s your problem.

You are not likable. I hope there is a lot more to you than this article, Suzy, because you are not doing yourself any favors here. Did you really just ask for a closet to come out of and a head-dress to wear because you think either of those things may have bettered your chances of getting accepted? Could you be more offensive? The degree to which you degrade what other people value, struggle with, or are passionate about makes your sob story hard to relate to, and even harder to want to relate to. First of all, those things mean nothing to a college if they are not translated into action, self-reflection, learning or compassion. Sure, you’re making fun of me and people like me (or at least the high school version of me) for caring about others, for wanting to do well, and for trying our hardest to find some purpose in our little, perhaps privileged worlds… But worse than that (because, honestly, I am way too high on the goody-two-shoes meter to feel guilty about any of these things), you have successfully offended me by mocking the experiences of people I care about, and even those they have helped. Believe it or not, you can make a difference — even if it’s a small one. But if you don’t want to, that’s your M.O. I’m sure Kinto and his family would appreciate your spot at any college, by the way.

You might not like all the charities and volunteering, but can you imagine a world of Suzys? It would be pretty awful. Now scale that down to a college campus full of Suzys. BOOOORING.

I forgive you, because you are young. Here is the part when I feel a little bad for you — not because you didn’t get into your first choice schools, but because your strategy of “just being yourself” has led you to write this bitter, semi-toxic article that disregards the hard work and compassion that others are applauded for, and your words will be stuck with you for years. You are probably having the worst time of your life right now, but I take comfort in knowing that you are about to learn a LOT about life. If you ever do read this article, I can confirm that I don’t know anything about you beyond the one article I read, and I am totally open to you being great. You just have to work on presenting that side of yourself. The good news is: things will get better. The bad news is: they will also get worse — much worse. Welcome to the real world, baby.

I may have been a little hard on you. Afterall, you are in high school, and yes — it’s an extremely unforgiving and competitive world out there. I get it. I feel for you. Even though I disagree with just about every point you tried to make in that article, I think you are bold for writing it — and there is something to be said for that. Also, I do think it is unfair that so many deserving students (who, admittedly, haven’t faced much adversity, like you) don’t get into the colleges of their dreams, nor do those who lack the funding or even the opportunities to consider an education at one of the schools you may have applied to (one more shout-out to Kinto). But some of those people that got in this year were given a spot thanks to charities and gifts from do-gooders and volunteers like those kids you hate. And thanks to high school kids who decided not just to take, but to try and give a little, too — regardless of how much they had to give — those colleges you want to go to are better places.

Remind me, why should you have gotten accepted? While I sympathize with some of the points you made, despite a terrible delivery, one thing you failed to do is remind your readers why you should have been accepted. I know nothing about your grades or your ambitions, but I do know that if this is you being yourself, the responses to this article are an opportunity for you to re-evaluate who that is.

I suggest you get back in that swimming pool, and try going for that second lap. The first lap might be hard, but it’s in that second lap, when you decide you’re not getting out no matter how hard or uncomfortable it is, that you actually begin to learn who you really are. Maybe, after all, you still don’t know.

7 Comments

Filed under Life Stuff, Uncategorized

Boston Bucket List

A few days ago, I received an email with details about my upcoming graduate school orientation, and it hit me: this grad school thing is really happening (soon!!), and my time in Boston is running out.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

Winter Weeping Willow. Boston, MA.

I’m not quite done with Boston yet. In some ways, I feel like I am still just getting started. So, it’s time for a bucket list. I need help putting together a list of things to do, places to see (museums? landmarks? parks?), and food to eat (restaurant suggestions? outdoor eats?). What does Boston have to offer in the Spring? Who wants to get outside and explore with me? As winter slowly takes off its chilly armor, I look forward to seeing what’s been hidden underneath.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

Blue sky and buildings. Boston, MA.

But back to that orientation… My graduate school program is small. In a couple of weeks I am going to meet the 30 other people that I’ll be spending the next three years with, studying like I’ve never studied before and becoming a Doctor of something (whoa)… together. It’s going to be the very beginning of another adventure, one that will take me into a new decade of life. Sure, I wonder if I’m going to make new friends and who those friends are going to be, what we’ll go through together, how much this program is going to challenge me… But when you’re almost 30 and it’s your first day of school, you’re kind of past worrying about that stuff. At this point, I really just want to show up, kick the door down, walk in, and get this grad school party started. I spent nearly a decade waiting to get to this door — I sure as heck am not going to hesitate to walk in now!

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Snow piles. Blizzard 2013. Somerville, MA.

Ahh. As you can see, my mind is stuck between Boston and what I imagine will definitely be a hard place… But let’s keep the focus back on savoring the last few months in Beantown. Please tell me what I need to do/see before I leave. Winter made me a little less adventurous than I’d like to admit, so let’s get this show on the road before I once again hit the road myself.

2 Comments

Filed under Boston, Healthcare, Life Stuff, Massachusetts, New York City, Photography, School, Somerville, Uncategorized, Winter

Science and Shoes

It was the fall after I graduated college, and I was feeling lost in a corporate dream job that, rather than inspiring me, made me question myself and what I wanted. I tried to wear the pencil skirts and the pretty shoes that all the stylish women wore around me. I tried to play the part of the working twenty-something in the sexy NYC publishing job because, for many reasons, I actually thought I belonged there, in that role, in that chair, in that office, in that skirt… But the shoes felt awkward and, while I did feel sexy in my carefully selected business-casual ensembles, sitting at my desk made me feel like an extra in a mediocre movie. As grateful as I was to be there (and as cool as it often felt, don’t get me wrong!) I usually felt more lost in that chair than found. And I wasn’t the sort of girl who could stay sitting through that feeling.

Bird over Beach. Cancun, Mexico.

Bird over Beach. Cancun, Mexico.

Without telling anyone, I decided to attend an information session for a career I knew almost nothing about. I didn’t even know what schools offered the degree, so I googled “Top Physical Therapy Programs NYC” and ended up at the NYU Steinhardt School, listening intently as the Doctor of Physical Therapy curriculum and the future of the evolving field were explained to me. After spending the previous few months heartbroken and confused, the two hours I spent in that information session brought clarity I hadn’t had in a long time. But when I walked out, things went back to fuzzy.

As reality would have it, I was as far away as anyone could be from “qualified” for the program I wanted to attend. I had 1 out of 12 of the pre-requisites required, I had not taken the GRE, and I had absolutely no experience in the field of physical therapy. My only explanation for how I had “suddenly” gotten interested in PT was receiving treatment for a crew-related back injury my senior spring. But I think I had always been interested in the field, I just didn’t know it existed.

Serpent head. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

Serpent head. Chichen Itza, Mexico.

I walked out of that information session in 2005 excited, invigorated, hopeful and, yes, overwhelmed. Having to complete eleven pre-requisites, from Statistics to upper-level Biology courses, seemed like an impossible boulder I could not remove from my path (which was paved with Spanish, Art History, and Archaeology courses). I tried to talk myself out of the excitement I felt, and attempted to channel it into trips and adventures around the world. Science was like those fancy shoes I wore to work; it was uncomfortable, somewhat foreign, and even in my size I wasn’t sure it was the right fit.

Rainbow in the Yucatan. Mexico.

Rainbow in the Yucatan. Mexico.

Now, eight years later, I am about to walk back into that very same building where that information session took place. It is a crazy feeling to say that — eleven pre-requisites, 10 grad school applications, and many years later — I will be receiving my Doctor of Physical Therapy degree from that very school. Eight freakin’ years, a few broken hearts, a couple trips to the hospital, 14 different countries, an almost book deal, a lot of soul-searching, and some serious soul-finding later, I am now on the other side — of a decade, of a chapter, of a journey of some sort… And I am so ready to walk back in there! It’s going to be another challenge-and-a-half, but if I’ve learned anything in these last eight years, it’s that I can handle it.

The only remaining question is: what shoes will I wear?

4 Comments

Filed under Healthcare, Life Stuff, Mexico, Photography, Ruins, School, Travel, Uncategorized, wanderlust

Tourist in my Hometown

New York City can be a lot of things — cold, frustrating, exhausting, lonely, grey — but it never gets old, even to a native New Yorker. After spending decades living in Manhattan, a visit to my hometown can still feel exciting, invigorating, new, and perhaps above all, inspiring.

Over the past few weeks, during an unusually long break between classes, I have had the opportunity to explore my hometown in a new way. This time, I have been the visitor (complete with having to crash in other people’s apartments due to a renovation project at my parents’ place), and in many ways, I have felt like a tourist. When new opportunities enter your life in an old city, things get shaken up — it’s a good thing. A great thing, actually.

This shaken-up (not stirred) version of NYC that I am seeing is particularly well-timed, as I am pretty sure that I will be returning to Manhattan for graduate school this summer. I have mixed feelings about going home. As is usually the case, there are pros and cons to this move (I am really enjoying life in Boston! Maybe I’ll be back some day…). But, in the end, after evaluating the logistics and the life goals, attending this particular program in New York just feels like the right decision. All we can do is make “right” decisions to the best of our ability as we go, so that’s what I’m trying to do. Eventually, you just have to make them turn into right decisions.

While I want to list all the awesome new places I got to explore (including a bar built into an old NYC carriage house where I sampled the best Manhattan I have ever had — when in Rome, right?), and the cool things I have been doing during my visit (listening to The Moth storytelling in Williamsburg, and attending a five-course chef tastings in Soho, to name a couple highlights), I thought I’d just share a few images of NYC from my trip. Over the last few weeks, this uptown girl spent a lot of time in a downtown world, complete with multiple walks around the WTC site, sky-high views of the entire city, and an early morning stroll by the Hudson River, with the pink of a new day bouncing off a surprisingly pretty NJ backdrop.

My relationship with New York City has been long, and it has had its ups and downs. But I feel like we are now moving into a new phase of life together; we’ve both grown up a lot, survived our own trials and tribulations, weathered our own storms, and risen up from the wreckage of lessons-learned. NYC is an old friend — one I know so well that it sometimes frustrates me, but one that also knows exactly how to make me smile when I need it. And no matter how many times I go to New York, or how many years I live there, it still manages to take my breath away. So NYC, I guess you could say we’re still going strong. This post is for you.

Upper West Side Street

Upper West Side Street

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Manhattan view looking north from downtown.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Skyscrapers. NY, NY.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Southern tip of Manhattan, Freedom Tower to the right.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Freedom Tower up close. NY, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Totally Normal. West Village, NY.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

Spices. Chelsea Market, NYC.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

One Star and Sky. Time Warner Center window.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

Columbus Circle. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

South Street Seaport, post-Hurricane Sandy. NY, NY.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Early Morning Walk along the Hudson River.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

Foggy Night in Downtown NYC.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life Stuff, New York City, Photography, Uncategorized, Winter

Winter Smile

It’s an exciting time in the land of TwT. Usually, I associate “exciting” with travel, adventure, novelty… But for now, it takes on a different form. Something I’ve worked so many years to feel is finally settling into my system. A chaotic decade of exploration, both within myself and as far away from myself as I could get, is touching down on a runway and I’m peering out through a small oval window with a twinkle of excitement and anticipation. I am so grateful, so happy, so relieved, so… inspired, I guess you could say… to take on the challenge of grad school, and to have the opportunity to do so. I know that a lot of people say “now the real work begins,” but they have a different idea of what that “real work” is. For me, working hard is working hard — I can do that. I want to do that. What’s more difficult has been figuring out what, who, where I want to pour my heart and soul into in order to want to work that hard for something.

El Morro. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

El Morro. Old San Juan, Puerto Rico.

The “what” (as well as the who and where) is being constantly answered as things evolve in my life. But this moment that I am in right now is just full of hope, excitement, and humility for me. One year ago, this moment felt almost impossible to get to. Two years ago, I was sailing on a catamaran in the Galapagos Islands, as far away from school as I could get. Three years ago, I was horseback riding on the beach in the Dominican Republic. Four years ago, I was in physical therapy for a knee injury, and flying to Sint Maarten to live out my own personal romance novel (whew, and it was a good one!).

Ghost tree. Rome, Italy.

Ghost tree. Rome, Italy.

I know that having a blog and announcing acceptances to grad school probably doesn’t seem very humble (I think many of us struggle with this desire to share happy moments without “flaunting” them as Facebook so temptingly allows us to do), but it is really me just trying to wrap my head around the happiness I feel right now, and me hoping that my story somehow inspires someone else’s story (or perhaps that’s overly optimistic? I think NOT!). This is a time in my life that I have worked so hard to get to. It is a place that seemed farther away than any country I’ve ever visited. There has been so much beauty in the learning where I want to go, and also a lot of difficult confusion as I slowly untangled the lining of a hopeful quest to hook some answers. But now it’s time to feast on my catch. And, as always, I am a HUNGRY girl!

Galapagos Iguana. Ecuador.

Galapagos Iguana. Ecuador.

I know there are a lot of things throughout our lives that bring on this type of euphoria (engagement, marriage, promotions, babies, work achievements, awards, rewards, friends, travel, love, family, etc.), and I see them happening to other people all around me. So, as 2012 comes to an end, I hope you all have gotten to enjoy and experience this euphoria in some form over the past year. And if you haven’t, 2013 is about to begin. Based on what has happened to me over the past year, I can genuinely tell you that I believe anything is possible this upcoming year, especially if you’re willing to work hard for it. Half the battle is just deciding what we want.

Friends take pictures as we rise to the peak of Pichincha Volcano, thousands of feet above the second highest capital in the world, Quito, Ecuador.

Friends take pictures as we rise to the peak of Pichincha Volcano, a thousand feet above the second highest capital in the world, Quito, Ecuador.

Thank you for the continued support and for joining me on this freaky trip we call “being twenty-something,” through the motion sickness of getting tossed around by life (remember Juan the Amoeba? I DO!), and through the euphoria of seeing some of the most beautiful things I have ever seen (and felt). THIS right here — this smile, this hope, this satisfaction, this gratification that I feel — THIS Is what it’s all about. This is what we’re all living for. These moments don’t come along every day (sometimes they take years to go get to, echem) so cherish whatever form of it you have right now.

And before I get WAY too cheesy, happy freakin’ holidays, people.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life Stuff, School, Uncategorized

Grit

Well this is kind of crazy. I’ve been wanting to be right here since the day I decided to switch careers. I’m still processing the overwhelming happiness (and RELIEF) I feel now that I have officially been accepted to graduate school. I can honestly tell you that I have never worked so hard, been so humbled, been so discouraged and yet so determined to achieve something in my life. And now, after checking that email I’ve imagined and hoped to receive for years, the one that begins with:  “My warmest congratulations on your accepta…” it has all paid off. Folks, I’m doing this. It is FOR REAL now.

Pink church and limes. Salta, Argentina.

It is hard to express what this means to me but — well, obviously — I’m going to try. At 29, with my twenty-something journey coming to a perfect culmination and a new thirty-something journey beginning in a new place next fall, I can finally take that deep breath that I have wanted to take since the moment I graduated. I remember walking around the quad, sweating in the sun with my graduation gown dangling all around me. I was surrounded by best friends with the weight of that moment finally hitting me for the first time — the realization that I DID IT. I didn’t know the next time I’d feel that way, but knew it might be years — whatever those years would be. I drove away from college holding my boyfriend’s hand in the back of my parents’ minivan, trying not to get lost in a new world of unknowns, wondering where I was about to go with my life, and about to find out.

My journey to finding my career has been long, wild and challenging in every single way I can imagine and many twisted ways I could never have imagined. You all know the basic story — I graduated, got my heart broken, commenced soul-searching, listened to my gut and heart all along the way whether it led me to dark dangerous corners of third world countries or to unforgettable once-in-a-lifetime romances in the Caribbean. I almost moved to Holland. I almost moved to Chicago. I almost fell off a rocky cliff in Ecuador. I almost wrote a book. I almost went to graduate school for an MFA in creative nonfiction. I almost moved to Spain to do a Masters program through Middlebury College. I almost applied to get a MSW. I almost took a crash-course in architecture at Harvard (yeah – I bet you didn’t know that!). I almost did a lot of things. I almost didn’t take this risk… But then, I did.

Let’s backtrack.

In March 2010, I announced to the TwT world that I was going to pull a little switcheroo in the career department. (You can read the post “In Case You Were Curious…” here.) I won’t get into the whole story of why I decided to become a PT because I just wrote 13 personal statements about this subject, and frankly — I have run out of mojo. I remember writing this post, and feeling a little nervous to tell people about my decision to switch from travel writing to becoming a doctor of physical therapy, thinking people would assume I was in some sort of confused quarter-life-crisis when, really, I was finally less confused than I had ever been.

Two girls pose for me during a walk on the beach. Cabarete, Dominican Republic.

Making the decision was half the battle, as I had secretly struggled with my seemingly out-of-nowhere interest in PT since I strained a ligament in my back during one crew practice at Bowdoin. I had to miss the last races of my college “career” (yeah — the most fun ones) and ended up in PT instead. That is when I first learned about the field. By then, I was about to graduate without having taken a single science course and 12 courses were required to apply to DPT programs. I figured it was too late, but my interest in the field haunted me for years to come — through disasters like Katrina and the earthquake in Haiti. I felt the constant tug of healthcare, of wanting to help, of wanting to have a skill to offer others, and eventually became the patient myself (that really put me over the edge). I was literally living the dream: I went on just about every travel experience I had ever wanted, and exploring foreign places (and foreign people!) became my passion. Wanderlust filled all the crevices of uncertainty in my soul, and satisfied my curiosity indirectly — albeit, not completely.

Like I said, making the decision was the hardest part, but once I decided to commit to the two years of science pre-requisites just to be able to APPLY to graduate school, I knew there was no turning back. That is, until school started.

Look, I have always been a good student. I care about school, about doing well, about learning and feeling like I gave a class my all. In the past, this had always gotten me the grades I wanted, without really caring too much what they were (I mean — not in the pre-med sense of caring). But for the first time, much of my learning was about to become about the grades: I was in these pre-med classes to get good grades so that I could get INTO grad school. This was BUSINESS. And, for the first time in my life, that had never been so hard to achieve.

New Orleans, Louisiana.

After making the decision to pursue this academic adventure, I retaught myself some Algebra, took the GREs, and began classes that May. The first two pre-requisites I took were Statistics and Developmental Psychology. Those were fine. I did well, and they were a good warm-up for my brain since they were each one semester condensed into an intensive six weeks.

Then, the real challenge began in the fall with Biology and Chemistry — two subjects I knew absolutely nothing about. I remember sitting through the first few weeks of my Principles of Biology course (considered one of the weed-out classes at NYU) surrounded by 800 eager type A pre-med undergrads ready to prove they were better than me (see: Falling Into Science). I wasn’t just a fish out of water; I felt like a hipster in a 9-5 office job: this was just NOT my scene. While my friends were all getting married, I was getting homework — and not the kind that gets you a degree. It was rough, to say the least. The intensity, the pressure, the learning environment — there was nothing familiar about any of it, and I was completely knocked down within the first round of midterms.

For the first time in my life, my grades were everything. And for the first time in my life, they were the worst numbers I had ever seen. Luckily, all my med school friends assured me this was normal, and welcomed me into the pre-med world, which felt about as good as I imagine a fraternity/sorority hazing might feel. (And they were right — the grades didn’t mean what they looked like they meant before the curve.) Getting that first biology midterm back, and seeing the lowest grade of my life felt like getting my heart broken from a new angle. (See: Humble Pie Season.) This wasn’t how it was supposed to be! This wasn’t the direction I saw my “story” going!

Street in Brussels, Belgium.

I’ll tell you all a little secret. A few weeks into my dream-plan, I met with the post-bacc pre-med advisor at NYU because, if you got below a B on the first midterm, you had to. I had never ever HAD to meet with an advisor about anything. I was not that student. I was the other kind of student… the kind that met with his/her advisor and got lots of pats on the back for doing a great job!

I’m not going to lie: when I saw my first midterm grade, after sacrificing my whole life to do well in these courses, after putting more study time into these science classes than I had ever put into any course (or any semester) in my life (and don’t get me wrong — college was hard!)… I was crushed. It was one of those times when you realize that maybe you’re not who you thought you were, and maybe your dreams weren’t going to come true afterall. Maybe they were just a little too big. Failure is not something I do, or plan to do. But That first exam made me question everything. More than anything, it made me question who I thought I was.

I slept on it. When I woke up, I was determined. There was NO WAY I was giving up after coming this far. When I went to meet with my advisor, I was hyped up on adrenaline, determination, and confidence. I was in a hole I had never been in before, but I was going to claw my way out of it no matter what it took. I think that was the first time I really realized that there was not going to be anything easy about this journey to a new career — it was going to take more than “wanting it,” more than “working hard for it” — it was going to take blood and tears and true GRIT to get to the top of this hill (see: Hill Climb). Luckily, I had all those days of wishing I knew what I wanted, of feeling lost, of feeling driven but with nowhere to drive to help me suck it up and do this — for me, for what I had been through, for those days. I knew what I wanted now. It was hell getting here, so I was not going to turn around after one swift punch in the gut.

And the punches kept coming. I’ll never forget that meeting with the NYU pre-med advisor. I walked into her office, sat down, and couldn’t wait to tell her not to worry — that it had clicked! I had a steep learning curve, but that I learned the hard way that these classes were going to be unlike any other classes I ever took, and now I knew what I had to do in order to succeed. Before I had the chance to open my mouth, she told me she was concerned about me and that I should rethink this career change. I walked into her office oozing with optimism, and as I sat there I felt absolutely gutted. I felt worthless. I felt like the bug that thinks it’s about to get away when suddenly it gets squished under an old, ratty shoe. I didn’t tell anyone about that meeting. I didn’t want to believe it really happened.

She told me that this happens all of the time: people from other backgrounds think they can do the pre-med track later in life, and it is too hard for them or they just aren’t as smart as they thought. I’ll never forget when she said these words: “You know, maybe this just isn’t for you…I’d hate to see you waste the money. You should think long and hard about whether or not you’re cut out for this, because it’s only going to get harder.”

View from “home.” The island of Sint Maarten (Caribbean).

I looked at her in disbelief. Never, NEVER in my life, had I ever been on the receiving end of this talk. I tried to speak but she wasn’t listening to me. In that moment, I realized she didn’t know anything about me. She was wrong. The weak, scared, intimidated part of me worried she might be right, but the real me — the me I had gotten to know through ups and downs over the course of the last decade — that me knew how wrong she was. Right then and there, I decided that no matter what it took, I was going to prove her wrong. That was all that I could do.

The hits kept coming, but before I knew it, so did the achievements. It took a little bit of re-learning how to be a student, and learning for the first time how to be a pre-med student, but I figured it out. My standards changed from the humanities days, and I began to realize the beauty of a curve. As my intro science courses began weeding people out all around me, I clung like a freakin’ tick to my goal. One by one, I got through the pre-requisite courses. One by one, I improved until finally I felt like the student I had always been again. People can tell you whatever they want about who they think you are, but when you spend as much time as I had trying to figure that out, you know when a person couldn’t be more wrong.

Steps and homes. Sintra, Portugal.

By the second semester, having made the cut, I took on a different attitude (see: Bull in a Classroom). The classes got more challenging, but my fight got bigger. Just when I thought I had gotten through the hardest courses of my life, I signed up for one year of physics condensed into seven weeks at Harvard. We had three hours of lecture every single day, a midterm or final exam every Monday, long labs every Wednesday, and mandatory two-hr review sessions every Tuesday and Thursday. The nightly homework took anywhere from two to five hours, in addition to the lectures, labs and study sessions. By week three, my brain was so burnt out I didn’t know how I would make it. What I thought would be a sprint turned into a marathon in the pouring rain. I think the class average for our second midterm (two weeks into the course, mind you) was a 52. This course covered exactly the same material that a normal Harvard student would cover over 9 months, and we were doing it in 7 weeks… and it was PHYSICS, for crying out loud! (Not a cake walk, lemme tell ya…) But somehow I made it through that, too (see: Finish Line).

As you can see, this post-baccalaureate pre-med thing has sort of blown my mind. I knew it would be hard, but I never imagined it would be this hard. Luckily, I didn’t know what I was really getting myself into or it could have scared me away (maaaybe, but doubtful). With challenges this big, the joy of success is even bigger. There were many moments when I wondered how I would get here, how I would pull this off — every weekly quiz, every beast of a midterm, every humbling, soul-crushing step of the way. I took many steps backwards, but more steps forwards until ultimately, I pulled it off. I didn’t give up (I couldn’t!), I didn’t listen when someone told me I should rethink this career-change, and I didn’t let the moments of self-doubt become bigger than the overriding stop-at-nothing-to-get-where-I’m-trying-to-go determination. And I can barely believe it, but… It worked.

Gladiator. Rome, Italy.

I tell you this story because I don’t want anyone to think this has been a easy, or that they can’t do this too. During my first graduate school interview, one of the kids next to me was asked what is the greatest challenge he has faced. The boy is 20, a senior in college, and on paper, he is as qualified to become a physical therapist as I am (or more). His response: “Calculus…” And he had every right to say this, as I totally respect and understand that being a challenge when you’re graduating from a good college and you’re 20 years old. The four other applicants in my group interview cringed at the thought of calculus, and commiserated saying “Oh god, YES! Calculus was rough.” In that moment, in my suit with my twenties almost completely behind me, I just smiled. Ah yes, calculus. I took two semesters of it in 2001/2002 — and I loved it. To be honest (and I already told you how hard science was for me, so I am allowed to say this): Calculus was easy for me. EASY compared to the courses I am taking now. What they didn’t know, bless their hearts, was that life was about to get much harder than calculus.

So, here we are. The challenges are by no means behind me, in fact, now the real challenge is about to begin. But I’m going to become a Doctor of Physical therapy. I actually feel like I’m already becoming one. I am so incredibly excited about this career. I’m so incredibly proud of myself, and every single person who takes on the challenge of switching to a medical field later in life — or to any field, for that matter. This is not the easy path. This is not the instant-gratification many want. This is the biggest, baddest academic beast you will ever conquer, and it’s not dead yet for me, but I just aimed a spear at its heart.

Lava rock beach. Kona, Hawaii.

It turns out that after all that soul searching, after all those long solo flights around the world, after all the uncertainty and the cold hard desire to find what I wanted to be and who I was trying to become in my crazy twenty-something journey, this right here is where I was trying to get. This — how I feel now — was where I was trying to go the whole time.

I emailed the admissions director to thank him profusely for the opportunity. In his response, he said to please not thank him: it was my determination, my hard work and intelligence (his words!), and my “grit” that got me here, not him. Unlike the NYU advisor I spoke with, I felt like someone finally understood what it took. Someone finally gave me the pat on the back that I worked so hard for, and yes — it was all worth it.

This is just one pitstop during a long journey, but pardon me as I take a quick swig of champagne and one ENORMOUS hard-earned deep breath. Finally, I can. Then, it’s time to get back on the road because another leg of the journey awaits me.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

9 Comments

Filed under Life Stuff, Physical Therapy, School, Uncategorized