You know that Garth Brooks song “Unanswered Prayers?” If you haven’t heard of it, I’m going to assume you’re not a country music fan. Which is fine. Except that Garth Brooks is an amazing musical talent everyone should recognize regardless of their preferred genre, but I digress. The essence of the song is that something that was so desperately wished and prayed for in the past, which did not come to fruition, turned out to be a blessing not to have happened.
There is something in my life that for a long time I’ve considered a failure. I went to school for Human Physiology, always with the intention of doing something in medicine. The plan was initially to become a physician assistant (PA), then I set my sights on medical school to become an MD, then returned to the idea of becoming a PA. After I graduated with my bachelor’s degree I returned to school for more courses to meet all of the pre-requisites to apply to graduate programs. At the time I applied to PA programs, the recession was in full downturn and masses of talented but jobless people returned to academia. I was applying to programs with only 35 available spots alongside 2000 other applicants. When you have that many applicants, the weed-out process becomes about the numbers. And my numbers weren’t that impressive. My GPA was good, but not impressive. My work and volunteer experiences were good, but again, not impressive. I was not accepted.
Adding to the disappointment, the human anatomy and physiology classes I took were now “expired” as I needed to have attended them within 5 years of getting into a program. I had just passed the 5 year mark. Meaning that if I wanted to re-apply to programs the next year, I would need to retake the equivalent of 4 classes for two terms each and pay cold, hard, cash (no loans). I didn’t have the money. And even more importantly, I didn’t have the drive. I was tired. I was disappointed. I felt terrible that I hadn’t been accepted to a program. The only thing that softened the blow of repeat rejection letters was that I had a little health-scare at the exact same time. The health-scare ended up being nothing and I was thankful to be healthy. If I had to pick between getting into a PA program or being healthy, I knew healthy was the way to go. Every time.
But for years I felt bad about this chapter. I said I would consider re-applying, but I wanted time to rest. It’s been 5 years and I never reapplied. I work in healthcare, I make less money than I would as a brand new PA grad coming out of school. But I also don’t have another $100K of student loan debt. My view of that “failure” has also shifted in the last few years. For a long time I was embarrassed that I didn’t get in. I didn’t even tell people I applied and that had been my life plan. I came up with a quick and positive answer when people who did know inquired about school, in order to answer their question and move the conversation along. Lest I reveal how disappointed I really felt.
But now, I look back, and I am so thankful that my path took the unexpected turn it did. I am not where I thought I would be, but I’m going somewhere that I want to go. Had I gone to PA school, it is unlikely I would be editing my book. There likely wouldn’t even be a book. And the blog would for sure not exist. I probably wouldn’t even own a horse. That is how massive a shift in my path I believe not attending a graduate program had on my life. I might have owned a horse someday, but seeing how much medical providers work, and the emotional toll their work takes, it’s unlikely that even if I had the money to buy a horse, that I would have had the emotional energy to own and care for one.
I probably won’t work in healthcare forever. Especially if you all buy my book and I become a best-selling author. (Seriously though, you’re going to buy it right? Just out of sheer, blind support?) Joking aside, my writing, the blogging, has reminded me of just how many possibilities exist in the world. There’s no reason that I couldn’t continue to use my knowledge and love for physiology in assisting riders, or equine wellness, or any number of avenues.
Life isn’t a Pinterest quote. Sometimes the goals you set turn out to be the catalyst for a journey, and the destination is far different than you originally understood. The changes in the journey don’t have to mean failure. As long as you’re working toward something that you love, you’re on the right path. Allow the universe, God, whatever your belief, to expand your creativity.
I distinctly remember that at the same time I was applying for PA programs, there was an opportunity for me to manage a clinical research department. I immediately dismissed the idea when a few people came to me to discuss it. The joke was on me. Eighteen months later, I had all my rejection letters stuffed in a drawer and a corner office managing the clinical research department. I can’t explain it, that’s just the way it was meant to unfold. And I recall marveling at the time at who incredibly close-minded I had been about the whole thing.
No excuses. Goals, ambitions, dreams, they all take work. One setback, even ten setbacks, is not a reason to give up and say “it wasn’t meant to be”. But those challenges are points at which you should look at where you’re headed, the feasibility of what you’re doing, and if the things that are out of your control are guiding you in a different direction.
Surely there’s at least one other person out there like me, who looks back at a little painful point and thinks they could have (should have!) done better/worked harder/muscled through. If you’re still beating yourself up, stop. The work to be done is in the future. Like the Pinterest quote says “Don’t look back. You’re not going that way.”
What “failure” have you endured that you’re now so thankful happened?
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