Here's my story. So, as most of you know, I've been a Physician Assistant for almost 20 years. I first worked in internal medicine and then dermatology for the last 12 years. I loved it. And then I went through a rough patch of burnout 5 yrs ago with being unhappy with where I was working. I blamed the toxic work environment, the doctor, the lack of support staff until I finally realized it was up to me to leave if I was unhappy. I took control of the situation and made the decision to leave. After 8 years of pouring myself into that place, leaving felt like getting a divorce. It was intensely traumatic for a people pleaser like me.
I changed offices and settled into my new dermatology job, counting my blessings that I had the most amazing coworkers, a great supervisor, and a job I enjoyed.
And then something happened about 3 or 4 years into my new job. It felt like a combination of overwhelm and discontentment. Burnout is a sneaky thief of contentment, but this time I recognized it. It was a Sunday after a lovely vacation out west. I was laying on my yoga mat, spread over the cold cement floor of our porch watching the ceiling fan spin around and around and stressing over how we were going to function with schools being closed for two weeks for this thing they were calling a pandemic. My boss called my cell phone at that exact moment and offered me a chance to take a voluntary furlough for a few months. I recognize manna from heaven when I see it. I jumped at the chance.
It was rough trying to be a teacher and a mom, but magical things started happening. My creative side woke up and my brain felt like it was literally sparkling with new ideas. I woke up without an alarm clock, excited for what the day might hold. I have zero techy know-how, but I took a class on designing a website and I did it. I went on walks, I cooked new things, I started writing seriously, joined a writing group, and got published (ironically it was about my burnout). Most importantly, I started listening to my inner wise person again. We all have an inner wise person. Mine had been trying to get my attention for a while. She’d given me nudges and shoves and finally loss of a paycheck.
Now I could hear her loud and clear. It felt like I’d blinked, opened my eyes, and the whole world looked different.
Life felt different. My priorities shifted. Making money no longer felt like a goal. Turns out we were fine with less. I started thinking outside the box. I taught yoga online. I reached out to two amazing PAs in other parts of the country who were doing work with burned-out PAs. I got a chance to try my hand at coaching those with burnout and decided it suited me. I started writing a book, which continues to be a slow work in progress. I wrote children’s stories and essays about being a mom during the pandemic. I became a podcast listening fanatic a few years earlier and had toyed with the idea of starting one. This, too, felt like a nudge from my inner wise woman. I figured it wouldn't hurt to order the mic and try recording something. I reassured myself I never had to make it public.
Another nudge was to join an online accountability group for one of my favorite podcasts. I joined a group with 15 other women, all of whom dropped out except 4 of us. We’ve met 1-2 times a month for over a year now. One of the women was from Hawaii. She longed to be a business coach for new entrepreneurs. She asked if I'd let her try her hand at coaching me for free. I initally balked, saying I wasn't an entrepreneur or someone who wanted a business, but she persisted and I agreed. That’s how I ended up actually hitting publish on my podcast. She insisted I publish my first few episodes while we were on a call together. Otherwise, I wouldn't have had the courage to share those stories.
So this was all last summer. August was quickly approaching and I was scheduled to start back to work on the same day the kids returned to school. Except they didn’t. School got delayed and then switched to virtual. But at work, my coworkers were feeling the strain of having me and two other providers out on furlough. I was raised to prioritize work ethic above my own feelings and desires, so of course, I went back. And I was surprised. It was fine. I enjoyed getting dressed in scrubs again, feeling like I was needed and appreciated.
I thought, “Okay, Hope, you were being dramatic. See, it’s fine. Your patients are glad to see you, you’re part of a team. Making money again” I had to admit, not having to watch my bank account was a big relief. I could hire a nanny to help with virtual school, I could re-hire a housecleaner.
It’s like I forgot who I was again. I turned off the channel to my inner wise person and stopped listening.
Except, I’d started this podcast. and each week I’d interview women who were each offering bits of wisdom and advice. It’s like when you don’t realize you didn’t hang up your phone and you realize you're hearing a tiny little voice. You look around, not sure what’s going on. That was like me while I was interviewing these women. I began to notice something. It felt like they were my wise women, each giving me little nuggets of wisdom and nudges to move forward.
A few months went by. 2021 was right around the corner. I took a big step and asked if I could cut back to 3 days a week. No other providers worked 3 days. I was shocked when they let me! For a few months, I was on cloud 9 again. I used my two days off to oversee my kids’ school and I squeezed in time to write and work on creative stuff.
As spring of this year rolled around, I felt a growing discontent with something in my life but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. I kept thinking, “Hope, you should be happy. You’re allowed to work part-time, you have a good salary, you have a job. so many people don’t right now. And you have a career you enjoy. ” and this cycle repeated itself at least once a week. I’d go to work, see patients, and something felt off.
I wasn’t unhappy, but I felt this dis-ease, this discomfort. My migraines have always been my barometer for inner dis-ease and they ramped up. Uh oh, something was up. I've also found those around us often know before we do.
In hindsight, I was sighing a lot, which my daughter helpfully pointed out, I had a snappish attitude after work, ready to bite someone's head off at the slightest infraction. I started having the Sunday blues, I began getting to work at the last minute instead of early, I found excuses to leave during lunch instead of visiting with my coworkers. The most telling was how I felt at the end of the day. Instead of feeling good about helping patients, I felt drained and depleted These were all ways my inner wise woman was trying to speak to me.
I did what any overachiever would do. I exercised harder, I signed up for an intensive functional medicine course, hoping it would reignite excitement for medicine. I tried harder to be the best PA I could be, then felt burned out again. , I took a two-week vacation thinking it would cure whatever ailed me. tried to control my eating by starting to count calories, something I haven't done in years. I'm not overweight and didn't need to count calories for any reason other than I wanted to control something in my life. One day, I was sitting on the steps eating lunch on my day off, my husband was also home and joined me. "So when are you going to quit?" We've been married for 18 years, but I was still surprised he knew me this well. He continued, "I know you don’t want to be doing this 10 years from now, so why not leave now and figure out your next step?" I was floored. This was my fiscally responsible husband talking about me quitting? I’m the breadwinner, so this would be a huge financial hit to our income, as in, like 2/3 of our income gone.
But here’s the thing, y’all, I felt immense relief that he’d say that and mean it. I was too nervous to entertain the idea. I tried to brush him off with, “It’s fine, I mean, it’s a great place to work, and my patients like me and I like them" and blah blah blah. He wasn’t going to let me off that easy. "Hope, you’re burned out again and you’re ready to try something else." and then the real kicker, "What if there’s another PA out there who needs your job and can take care of your patients even better than you can?"
I told him I’d think about it. The next day I got notice that we were having a provider retreat for an entire weekend a couple of months later. Oh crap. If I’m thinking about leaving, how can I go on a provider retreat? I don’t deserve it and I’m not really a team player b/c I’m thinking about leaving. I felt HUGE guilt. But my therapist said, “as long as you’re working there, you are part of the team. Why don’t you go and just see”.
So I agreed to go. I think I knew I was going to leave at some point, but I didn’t have an end date, we hadn’t done a budget, and it was easier not to think about it. I had a vague idea that it might be nice to quit in the next year. Ironically, I got asked to give a talk on burnout at our retreat.
I felt like I was pregnant, birthing something new, but I was still early enough that I could hide it.
I went to the retreat and for about 24 hours, I thought, “I think I’ll stay. This is probably the best job with the nicest people I’ll ever get. I’d be absolutely stupid to quit." But in the back of my mind, I knew I had to leave. This pull was like a magnetic energy force. To go back to the birthing analogy, it was like I was trying to not birth this thing but it was coming whether I wanted it to or not. The pain of trying to ignore it was getting to be too much. Not sleeping, a tightness in my throat, migraines. In my functional medicine course, every time I heard lectures that mentioned stress and cortisol and how bad it was for your body, I knew. I knew I was pumping out cortisol, aka stress hormones because I was fighting this “thing”.
But the weird thing was, I wasn’t sure what this "thing" was I was being pulled towards. I wasn’t thinking I wanted to make podcasting my career, or teaching yoga. What I did know was I liked helping women live their best lives. I loved helping women get clarity on what they’re here for on earth and to take steps towards doing it.
And meanwhile, functional medicine studies made it harder and harder to practice conventional medicine. I felt torn, I didn’t want to switch over to FM or internal medicine, but I also felt restless with my current way of doing medicine. I wanted to talk to patients about wellness, but I didn’t see myself prescribing supplements and ordering weird stool tests, either. I prayed, I went to silent retreats, I decided to sign up for a life coaching program, thinking, well, if nothing else, I’ll have more tools to help people along their path.
My ah-ha moment came one day as I was leaving our satellite office, which is usually my easiest day of seeing patients. We always have a full schedule, but it’s mostly retired patients coming in for skin checks. And I'd been seeing the same ones for 5 years. So I enjoyed it. Except I felt miserable. It was the pull, the nudge, whatever you want to call it. It was getting worse. I felt more and more out of sorts. I describe it as feeling like I was wearing the same pair of shoes I'd always worn, but now they felt like I was wearing them on the wrong feet. They felt like they no longer fit.
So I got in my car and started driving the one hour back to our house. I normally use the time to listen to podcasts, but today my mind was in a tangled jumble. I turned off the podcast and rode in silence. I was so out of sorts. I was thinking "What’s wrong with me?" Then all the “shoulds” about why I should be grateful and should be happy. Then the tears. Here I was driving down the road crying and feeling horribly guilty and ashamed of myself for crying about a perfectly good job with a perfectly good day seeing perfectly nice patients.
I remember saying out loud, “God, I don’t know what do to do!” and immediately, before the words finished leaving my mouth, l felt the answer. "Yes, you do."
And I knew. In that precise moment, I knew what the answer was. It had been there all along. I hadn’t wanted to accept it. I needed to quit my job. The rest of the ride was a combination of relief for having admitted it to myself and gripping fear with runaway thoughts of how scary it would be to have the conversation with my boss, what we’d do about money, what exactly was I going to DO?
I felt like I needed to have an answer to tell people what my new job was going to be. My ego said you can’t just quit. I had a smidge of embarrassment about announcing I was going to be a life coach and writer full time for a year or two to test the waters. But I kept reminding myself of my why. My why is to wake women up to their soul’s divine assignments and to encourage them to start down that path. Here was my own path and here I was taking my first step.
Talking to my boss was hard, but I was honest and told him I didn’t have a clear plan, but that God was pulling me towards something new and that the discomfort of staying was wearing on me and starting to affect my home life. I promised to stay until we could hire someone. He surprised me when he said he wasn’t surprised. I guess he’d known I was birthing something new. He knew how passionate I was about burnout, self-help, personal development, and he knew I was signing up for a life coaching class.
But what he said next blew my mind. He asked if I’d be interested in doing my coaching for our employees, for helping improve their lives in all areas of wellness: mental health, physical health, etc. As we talked, I got more and more excited. I could still work with my coworkers but be the resident life and wellness coach? And I’d been prepared to quit and go without income, but here was a chance to still make some money.
So my baby was born. We hired two new providers, my schedule will shift down to one day a week in January. I decided I love my patients too much to quit cold turkey. It might be too much, but this time I listened to my inner wise person and she agreed it’d be fine to still see patients as long as I have time to coach. My coworkers seem excited about this new thing. I’ve planned out ideas for the next months. I’ve started doing a little coaching already.
If you’re feeling pulled/nudged, whatever, in a new direction but find it terrifying and overwhelming, send me a DM. I’d love to help you navigate how to discern your next right step. If you’ve already taken a big leap and you’re walking down a new path that feels more in alignment, I’d love to interview you. Please reach out!