The Joys of Remote Work: a Life Update
Updated: Jan 9
The past 10 months have been challenging. Any and all writing dwindled to mostly angsty journal entries before bedtime, while I was reeling over thoughts of What am I doing with my life? Should we buy a house? How do I get happy, fast? The source of most of my unpleasantness came from the fact that I was utterly miserable at work. Every worknight, I would go to bed with a deep pain in my stomach and fantasize that I might get sick and have to call out. I would turn on my work computer each morning in a panic as I scrolled through my schedule hoping that my patients would cancel or no show. My anxiety would reach new highs whenever the purple Microsoft Teams box pinged at the bottom of my screen, notifying me that my patient was on their way back to a room. At a certain point, I realized this wasn’t fair to myself, my company, or most importantly, my patients.
I’ve known for quite some time that I didn’t want to be a physical therapist. Fresh out of college and confused at what the future might hold, Nick and I were incredibly fortunate to be employed by an innovative company set on changing the landscape of musculoskeletal care through standardization and quality assurance of its clinicians. The headquarters was a local, Tallahassee physical therapy clinic, but there was so much excitement going on behind the scenes. I would participate in every meeting I could, soaking in the all the new business jargon and concepts. Nick and I both went through immense growth during this period, listening to Masters of Business and Planet Money religiously and reading books about ambition, goal setting, and building wealth. I was incredibly passionate about the mission of this company. I thought that I could change the way physical therapy was delivered and be part of a team offering a revolutionary service. Finding such a passion was especially comforting after walking away from ballet, which had been my identity for so long. I had let go of my dreams of being a professional dancer soon after being hired by this company. In retrospect, this emotional high was likely consequential to leaving an activity that for so long I had also thought was my end goal.
As I looked around me, most of my mentors at that company were physical therapists. From a place that I can only assume was 21-year-old naivety, I decided that I would also become a clinician; I wanted to belong to this community. I figured after 3 years, I could return to Tallahassee, gain my clinical chops, and finally move into a more strategic position. I was constantly told the value of having clinical experience, despite knowing in my heart that treating patients seemed like an awful way to spend the next potentially decade of my life.
I entered my program with optimism. Maybe I can make this work and create my own path. However, with each passing year in school, I became more miserable. PT school definitely isn’t a walk in the park either. I would watch my classmates study and recite their notes for hours. Their faces were always exhausted after long nights in the library, but more so like a runner just finishing a marathon under their goal time: tired, but fully satisfied. I still did well in school, but instead I toiled away so as not to embarrass myself by failing, or disappoint those who were supporting me…Nick and my parents.
During my second year in the program, I had an uncomfortable conversation with Nick while we were driving to dinner.
“I think I want to drop out of school,” I said. “You know, cut my losses. I’m miserable.”
Nick stared ahead at the road. I held my breath in anticipation, hoping for some type of validation that would allow me to leave. I made a mistake! I wanted to yell. After what felt like an eternity, Nick asked whether he thought I really didn’t want to be a physical therapist or if school itself that was the issue.
“Things might change when you’re working autonomously,” he said keeping his eyes glued to the road. “You also only have a year and a half left and are guaranteed to make a good salary.”
At the time, I couldn’t argue. Only a year and a half earlier, I was yelling from the rooftops that this was my life’s purpose. Although Nick would have of course supported me if I had chosen to leave school (as would my parents), I couldn’t help but feel guilty…like I owed it to them as well. All of us had invested so much.
Graduation came at a weird time: April 2020. My classmates and I returned from our last clinical rotation to find out that we would never return for our final quarter of classes. In a sad way, it was a relief. There wasn’t any grand finale, just a quiet Zoom webinar from my program telling us, “Congrats, now leave.” I had come back to Florida feeling rejuvenated after temporarily living in Salt Lake City for the previous 2 months. Nick and I fell in love with Utah and had decided to make it our home just weeks before the pandemic struck. Despite the uncertainty of the times, we continued forward with our plans to make our move out West. I was able to find PRN work in Salt Lake initially, until finally landing a job with the organization for which I had completed my clinical.
“Okay, time to be happy,” I thought. And I was…sort of. I was living in an absolutely beautiful location; skiing, climbing, and trail running every day. My Instagram was filled with messages of jealousy and admiration. I felt like I was beginning to craft the type of life I wanted for myself.
I never would have thought to call it anxiety until the intermittent stomach pain became a daily occurrence and soon developed into chronic diarrhea. I saw a GI specialist after a scary bout of bloody stool, but was told not to worry. I felt uncomfortable explaining that this only happened before I went into work.
Finally, in August I decided I needed to do something about my situation. I quickly jumped to the idea of getting a PhD. From the outside this made a lot of sense. I had been intrigued by my company’s internal process control team and quickly fell into the similar trap of Look, all of them have PhDs, I should get one too. I’ve found it’s hard to know at the time when you’re jumping into something for which you are a wrong fit. I was drowning and searching for any sort of lifeline. Plus, the idea of having a PhD certainly stroked my ego as well. See! This wasn’t a waste of your money, guys! I’m not going to be a PT, but I’m going one step further! The idea of such prestige created a heavy fog around my judgement.
Nearly every Friday morning from August until December I spent in meetings regarding PhD programs. Every conversation seemed to lead to someone new to meet until I was finally left with 2 calls, each with a potential faculty mentor.
“I’m hearing a lot of why you don’t want to be a physical therapist, not why you want a PhD,” said a prominent member of the University of Utah’s faculty. “I know you wanted some sense of resolution to all of this, but I just can’t provide that for you.”
My heart sank. Her words were true, and they hurt. I cannot always discern if an obstacle exists to serve as adversity to overcome, or if it’s a blatant sign that this is not the best path forward. I’ve concluded that it’s probably both depending on which choice we make and how we want to justify the decision in the future. I took this particular obstacle as a sign to reassess.
The faculty mentor’s words sent me into a deep depression. I couldn’t sleep. Whenever Nick wasn’t home to distract me, I would lay on the couch for hours intermittently crying. I was scared and desperate, but I was so afraid to talk with others about what I was going through. On the outside, I had a pretty sweet deal. I made a decent salary, worked reasonable hours, was off on Fridays, spent every weekend doing something rad. Anytime I brought up my job dissatisfaction with friends, I could feel their quiet judgement.
That December, Nick and I flew to Portland for a quick weekend to celebrate my birthday. We were tipsy off of delicious craft beers, and were halfway through a buttery pretzel at Deschutes Brewery. We dove deeper into conversation regarding what the next few years might hold for us. A house…maybe a baby? Then Nick hesitantly admitted a secret fear of his relating to my mental health and emotional stability, which instantaneously broke my heart. The next few moments silently passed while I awkwardly dipped a piece of pretzel into some beer cheese.
From then on, my focus began to change. I needed to reframe the negative PhD conversations of the past few months into something productive. The faculty member was correct; I know I don’t like being a clinician, but what do I like? Changing careers to a non-clinical role was always a consideration, but it felt very unattainable. Job posts on LinkedIn showed hundreds of applicants for a single utilization review position. The pandemic had certainly changed the thoughts of healthcare workers. Most of my colleagues seemed to be thinking of leaving their jobs to find remote work as well. Although my chances of finding fulfilling non-clinical work felt slim, I decided that this could be a goal worth working toward.
It began with an investment in the Non-Clinical PT course from Meredith Castin. I started religiously reading her website, trying to piece together every free resource until I finally decided to purchase her full course. I was ultimately hooked when I learned there were free resume templates for various non-clinical positions, but perhaps the most helpful resource was her “Step 1: Learning What Makes You Tick.” Step 1 consisted of several videos filled with visual mapping, thought experiments, and personality quizzes all aimed at trying to identify what do I actually want from a career. I read What Color is Your Parachute shortly after, which was full of the similar concepts. With the help of these resources, I finally started to create an idea of a where my skill set, desired compensation, and interests could potentially overlap.
Customer Success Management seemed like the perfect fit. The aspect of physical therapy I always enjoyed the most was building meaningful relationships with my patients. I loved developing strong rapport and had become a strong communicator through my time as a clinician. Customer Success involved both of these factors, without the burden of feeling like I had to fix people to feel validated each day. The journey of actually figuring out how I went about finding a job is likely better suited for its own blog post…(Hint: it was chaotic and stressful as well). However, the most important thing I learned was that I was never going to find a job, unless I had a clear understanding of where I came from and where I wanted to go, or at least where I wanted to begin again.
It’s Monday morning and my alarm goes off at 6:15am. I wake up with a hint of pain in my stomach that quickly dissolves when I realize I now work from home. I get up, eat breakfast, and scroll through the New York Times morning newsletter. Nick offers to make me tea. I brush my teeth, get dressed and head to work, which is a comfy office chair in the guest room of our new house. The chair was gifted by a friend who offered me continuous encouragement throughout my job hunting process. I sip my tea as I wait for my computer to turn on. I’m eager to see what challenges await me today.