“I have arrived. I am home. My destination is in each step.” -Nhat Hanh
When I was young I thought when I get my drivers license I’m going to be flying, I’m going to have gotten somewhere with my life. Well that happened, of course- first my learners license and then my full license. Next it was, when I get a job and make a bit of money boy am I going to be the bon-diggity! Well, in highschool I worked in retail, I was a lifeguard, I taught swimming lessons, and over subsequent years worked at many other places. Then it became, when I get through high school then I’ll be somewhere! Well I did that, with top marks and all the while avoiding the poofy dress parade (Yeah, I didn’t go to grad, or walk across a stage and receive a diploma. Not to say the poofy dress parade isn’t wonderful, it’s just not me).
Throughout this I never thought of these things as goals, or milestones but as destinations where I could settle in and relax. Now you guys might think I am a bit of a dunce at this point, especially when I admit that until this year, at the age of twenty-three, I still had destinations and not goals in my head. This perspective was never an acknowledged part of my psyche but just an attitude that happened to exist upon examination.
So why the examination? Well, I got into the professional college of my choice.
This was a destination I had dreamed about since the age of six. I can say that specifically because at five, based on a kindergarten work sheet in my memory book, I wanted to be a paleontologist (because it was a cool, long word and dinosaurs were involved). At six my dad (my favourite vet in the world) had taken me to the clinic more, and on calls more and I realized… Cows are AWESOME! As are dogs, cats, flying squirrels, horses, and any other animal that might let me touch it and refrain from biting me most of the time. I mean heck, raccoons are pretty freaking great too.
Midway through the summer last year, after the application and interview process, I received the dreaded/much anticipated email: Hello Erika, Congratulations on your acceptance into the _______ College of Veterinary Medicine!
This was a destination seventeen years in the making.
I said I would only do two years of undergrad before I got in. I insisted that I would be good enough. I decided. That. I. Would. Attain. This. and I. Did.
Reading that email you expect a certain feeling. I expected elation; I expected to be on top of the world. I even tried to force those feelings. I did the whole girly squeal, I jumped around, and I tried to convince myself I was excited. Finally, I said to myself: you’re just in shock.
So, I called my parents and my sister and let them know. I mentioned it to my employer, and I posted it on Facebook. And I waited.
Now I know, the feeling never came. I was hollow, I couldn’t make it feel that exciting. Other people were more excited about it than I was. I may have felt a bit of relief or maybe mild pride, but nothing over the top.
Then off I went into vet med classes and events, and still no elation, just nervousness, and a bit of confusion.
Now, first year (knock on wood, since marks aren’t back) done, I’m still all nervousness, with a bit of resentment, a bit of excitement, a bit of anticipation, and a newly developing consciousness that it was a GOAL, a step on my path that I really wanted to reach, and never thought past.
I have found out that I didn’t plan past this, because this is when I imagined the chapters of my book would run out and the reader would sit back and say, “My gosh, wasn’t that exhilarating. For a while I didn’t think she was going to get in, but she did!” and then put down the book, no sequel to be written.
Obviously my book isn’t over, but for a long while it felt like it ought to be. I had reached my greatest aspiration, now what?
I’m still wrestling with this. I mean obviously I’m going to become a vet, I’m going to work, I’m going to do things in life that I want to do, but where is it all going?
My faith says—super long term? Heaven. My head says—well that does shit all for me now.
Midway through my year in vet med a moment occurred that really made me sit back and ask: why are you so miserable right now? You’re where you wanted to be. So, I decided to see what I could do about my personal elephant, not the one in the room but the one in my head.
I went and saw a counselor, and we chatted, and I went back every three weeks for three months. I had nothing particular to say, I had no idea what I might get from it, and I didn’t really think I had a diagnosable mental health issue, I just needed to get what was in my head out and sort through it with someone who could be impartial.
Obviously I wasn’t there super frequently, and I did most of the talking but having someone who would sit and listen and offer perspective when I was hitting a wall was one of the most helpful things I think I could have done. Having someone who had “nothing better to do” than listen to me ramble for a bit, every so often did me good.
Let me be clear: I still am not diagnosed with anything that would require a counselor (I mean I have health stuff, asthma for example, but not mental health stuff). I’m not saying that to give the impression of “Oh, no, not me, I’m not a headcase”, I’m saying that because I don’t want to self diagnose, or claim to have something I don’t. What I did get from going to a counselor was a sounding board, and an outside perspective on my thought processes—one that could point to some of them and say “do you think that’s healthy?” or “do you think that is fair to yourself, or kind to yourself?” or “what if you thought of it from this perspective…”.
Now I’m working on new goals, smaller ones, which will be accomplished more quickly, that I won’t be able to build up in my mind. I remind myself occasionally that not feeling isn’t a problem and neither is feeling. Many things have happened this year, some bad, some good, some pretty neutral. Between all these happenings I have changed, learned, freaked out, and continued on. Much of this has occurred with a bit less purpose than normal, and a good proportion of it has resulted in what I would call some of my… less graceful moments, and less impressive results.
I no longer have a destination (other than an ultimate one), and I have a bit more self awareness (which oddly enough makes me a more pleasant to other people), and I am content but not complacent. So a toast: to you, to the journey, may we move ever upwards!
“A good traveller has no fixed plans and is not intent on arriving.” –Lao Tzu