“You are not your job, you’re not how much money you have in the bank. You are not the car you drive. You’re not the contents of your wallet.”
― Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club
I’d like to add to that list, “You are not your grad program.” My choice to enter PT school came after a brief career in engineering, so I had a sense of “this is it, I’ve gotta make this work” when I started PT school. During my first summer in gross anatomy, school was the sole focus of my life. I socialized very little. I did almost everything in relation to school-I focused on quality sleep, exercise and good nutrition to enhance academic performance. I had no real hobbies outside of school. During that summer, I occasionally visited my family to recharge but would otherwise go days without calling because I was “too busy” with studying and needed to focus. As I became more focused on school, my performance on each test became of utmost importance. Doing well on a test, meant it was a great day. Performing poorly, would mean frustration and angrily analyzing why I didn’t perform well.
Once anatomy was finished I picked my head up and realized how much I had missed that summer. I hadn’t really explored the new city I found myself in. I had missed great social opportunities. I had made no progress in the gym. Most concerning of all was when I visited friends back home. In conversation, I mostly just talked about PT school. Of course, grad school is a big investment of time, money, and emotional energy-but my identity had become centered around grad school. I looked ahead to the next 3 years of grad school and thought “I cannot just be a PT student for the next 3 years”.
So over the next year I started building up a life again. I actually said “yes” to social opportunities. I started strength training. I picked up sports like volleyball. And somehow my grades stayed about the same (and no I didn’t sacrifice sleep). I realized a few crucial things:
1. The difference between an 89.5% as a B and getting a 90.0% as an A really wouldn’t matter in the clinic after graduating.
2. Diversifying my identity put school in perspective and dramatically reduced the stress of each test, quiz, or project. Which ironically improved my grades, but with less time studying.
3. PT school and my career are long term commitments, so the only sustainable option to thrive long term is to maintain the other areas of life.
Going to grad school and/or having a career I care about is rewarding and an opportunity I am incredibly grateful for. However, career is only a single dimension of a meaningful life-there are parts of us that our careers will never fulfill.