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Quick summary: Melissa Welker, MD MPH writes about how achieving her student loan repayment made her reevaluate life.

I have been thinking a lot recently about the ways we pivot or do not in life.

I am fascinated with how each of us comes to the decision point that looking back we point to as the day we knew something had to change.

Similar to Joseph Cambell’s “Hero’s Journey,” I think of this journey as a story with many messy and challenging points that we transform in our memory into a seamless Disney movie with the corresponding characters to match.

My fascination does not come from this rendition, but from the more vulnerable ones filled with dirt, falls, bruises, and uncertainty.

 

For me, one of the many messy starts to my pivot journey came in 2018.

I was postpartum with a one month old who had just given the meaning of both exhaustion and new depths of love.

For the last 2.5yrs my husband and I had been deep in the journey of student loan debt repayment and the time of month came for us to assess our next payment.

It was at that time I realized both that I could pay off the remaining balance and that my life no longer made sense.

Looking back, I could have guessed that no one would throw a party for you when you pay your student loans off and send you a life script full of meaning and purpose in return. I just had not thought about the next step, at least not completely.

 

Looking back, I could have guessed that no one would throw a party for you when you pay your student loans off and send you a life script full of meaning and purpose in return. Click To Tweet

 

In 2016 two big events happened:

I graduated from residency and started a full time anesthesiology job and the summer olympics featured the last olympic races from the swimmer Michael Phelps. I identify with Phelps for two man reasons, we both swim (I’ll let you decide who is faster) and are the same age. I started on my journey as an attending and a financial advocate with a goal of paying off $360,000 of student loans.

Flash forward to 2018, it’s no wonder that both of us, financial and olympic medals in hand, at the same age, were having difficulty transitioning.

 

See I think this weird thing happens to us all.

We get stuck in the version of our life we created several life stages back.

That version that got us to this point but is stuck in our past thinking.

 

I identify with Phelps for two man reasons, we both swim (I’ll let you decide who is faster) and are the same age.

 

And we keep thinking, if I can only get to this place, accomplish this, have this much money or finish this training I will be complete.

And just like you might have asked yourself, I have no idea what “this” means and why I think it has the power to bring me to completion or even that I want to be complete already.

 

See I think this weird thing happens to us all. We get stuck in the version of our life we created several life stages back. Click To Tweet

 

Maybe this is where I lose you.

Maybe you haven’t searched for so long for something that when you find it you realize you forgot to bring yourself on the search.

Maybe.

All I know is I have, and when I hit that point in 2018 I began the second stage of the hero’s journey, the empire strikes back, the trials.

I was Luke Skywalker going into the cave of his fears, Frodo when he separates from the rest of the company to do what he must, or Mirabelle as she climbs into Bruno’s tower.

The point where you find what was, must be questioned, truly seen, and you now must enter the cave.

 

I was Luke Skywalker going into the cave of his fears, Frodo when he separates from the rest of the company to do what he must, or Mirabelle as she climbs into Bruno’s tower. Click To Tweet

 

As an anesthesiologist I see this point often;

when someone receives a cancer diagnosis, is being rushed in for an emergency cesarian section, or after a loss.

The world has shifted, it seems nothing can be the same again, we cannot be the same again.

Now it was me, I wasn’t the same anymore.

 

Maybe this is why I love the pivot.

I love someone recounting the courage, the pain, the indecision, that builds to the joy of rediscovery.

When we hear the story on the backend we know the outcome will soon be revealed.

We see that person sitting across from us, on the screen or on the podcast and we know already, the pivot was golden.

We cheer, we cannot wait until we see them in their glory.

 

Maybe this is why I love the pivot. I love someone recounting the courage, the pain, the indecision, that builds to the joy of rediscovery. Click To Tweet

 

In our own lives it’s so much harder, the end isn’t clear and all we see is our own face covered with sweat, tears and insecurity staring back at us.

We see what we often fear the most, our own imperfections.

And what if we are not enough?

What if we stumble and cannot get up?

What if we aren’t enough?

What if?

 

But here is the good stuff, the stuff Disney leaves out; the cave.

It’s only in the cave, the arena that the messy reality of our perfectly imperfect humanity is revealed.

If we can get to the point where we can truly see ourselves as we are, instead of how we wish we were, we are free, free to pivot, free to thrive!

At the end of Encanto (spoiler alert), there is this point where Mirabelle is standing in the river with her grandmother.

They are finally taking the painful steps beyond their past into the future with butterflies surrounding them in a beautiful uplifting swirl with the background music setting the scene of the butterflies having to first separate and push past their pupa to emerge in their new glory.

I love this part. The rebirth to authentic self. When the character realizes she is enough, stripped down to her essence of being.

 

But here is the good stuff, the stuff Disney leaves out; the cave. It’s only in the cave, the arena that the messy reality of our perfectly imperfect humanity is revealed. Click To Tweet

 

So here I am; pivoting, searching, reinventing and finding myself again.

I have found that the only way I know to pivot is by going into the cave or the arena and wrestling in life’s uncertainty.

You don’t need to wait for that cancer diagnosis or the disappointment of unmet expectations to start down that path.

You can start finding that authentic self today and embrace life’s uncertainty.

And fortunately for those mired in sweat and dirt, or unfortunately for those still on the sidelines of their lives, I haven’t found a way to pivot without getting dirty. So…grab some soap, you’re going to need it, and dive in!

Let me know how you have pivoted, how you got through, and how your journey is going.

Stay curious and kind,

Melissa

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Melissa Welker, MD MPH

Anesthesiologist, physician entrepreneur and mother

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