It has been missing for so long. I forgot what it feels like, to be so excited about something you literally cannot wait to get started. Perhaps the last time I felt like that was when I started studying midwifery…8 years ago. Inspiration came out of the blue yesterday, through a fairly unlikely source. Dad. My tax agent dad. Don’t get me wrong, I love and adore my father. He is always supportive, always loving, doesn’t always say the right thing at the right time but never for want of trying.
This particular morning after dropping the girls off at school I met him as usual for coffee at the regular haunt before he started work. My parents are creatures of habit and they do this every weekday, a ritual I find so charming after 40 plus years of marriage. One of the perks of hospital shift work is that I often have the chance to join them in the morning. I crave a life where I never work weekends or nights, but I know I’d miss those free mornings.
Mum was missing this morning, enjoying a luxurious solo birthday retreat at the coast with R and R her only obligation- Thou Shalt Do Nothing and Thou Shalt Enjoy It. Dad and I settled in for a chat. I shared that I am tired of feeling anxious in the lead up to my shifts. Yes I get through the shift fine, but it does feel like just surviving, not thriving. It’s not quite an underlying feeling of dread, but almost. I dread being asked to explain something I cannot, or can do, but inadequately. Yes, I’m a perfectionist. Obviously. I dread obstetric emergencies; I dread poor outcomes. I dread unpleasant encounters, particularly between colleagues and women…
Okay time out. Clearly, I come across as a basket case right now, a big ball of fear and anxiety. How do I even get up in the morning, you may ask. I actually don’t come across this way in reality, and I do feel more and more calm at work regardless of the scenario thrown at me. I always put my best foot forward and objectively I know my performance is always adequate and safe, at the very least. But I do want to do better than that, and I don’t want the dread. I want to love what I do and I want to feel confident doing it. Is that too much to ask?
Probably. The answer always seems to be “No, but…”. For example, my husband’s response was, “Honey, when you say ‘Hi, how are you?’ to someone at work, what do they say?” You know what they say? They say, ‘I’m here’. Far too often. A very experienced, amazing midwife bustled into the tea room at work and announced to everyone, quite uninvited, that she’s changed the way she thinks about work. Throwing open the fridge she said, “I tell myself now it’s just 8 hours. That’s nothing! It’s so much easier to deal with now.” Lunch bag safely stowed, her wisdom shared, she strode back out of the room, leaving us to ponder this. It seems Obviously I’m not alone in my struggle to enjoy work. This formidable woman has been working as a midwife about 20 years. She must love her job, right? …Right?? Yet she too struggles to enjoy it.
There are elements of the work I love, and I deeply appreciate the fact that I have a permanent position working part time and earning enough. I love the interaction with the women, mostly. I love looking after them. I love supporting them and their partners at such a pivotal moment in their lives. Certainly, it’s what drew me to the profession, a profession I wasn’t even aware of until I had Miss M almost 9 years ago. I had followed my mother’s advice when I fell pregnant unexpectedly and engaged a private obstetrician, because that, I thought, is what one does. I was completely ignorant of any other model of care. My birth experiences were wonderful and I loved my obstetricians, but knowing what I know now, I would choose a midwifery group practice (MGP) any day. The benefits of continuity of care and carer are now well documented and indisputable – but that’s a rant for another day.
So yes, I had been drawn to the profession after witnessing first hand the difference a good midwife could make to the whole experience, how a good midwife could empower you to feel strong, safe and supported while navigating the childbearing haze. I wanted to help people too. The education, counselling and advocacy elements of midwifery really appealed to me. This is not surprising considering I had initially wanted to be a counsellor or a psychologist, something my accountant dad successfully talked me out of at age 17. “No way, don’t do that,” he insisted. “You’ll be with sad, depressed people all the time, and you won’t be able to help them all…then you’ll be sad and depressed…” and so it continued. I believe I was deemed “too soft” for such a profession. Personally I prefer “empathic” but whatever, I got the gist. It’s true, I am pretty much a marshmallow. I went straight into an arts/law degree instead. “Do law,” dad urged, “because you can, you’ll never have to worry about money, and you’ll be happy.”
I lasted 6 months in law. I hated it. I hated the arrogant, elitist, competitive nature of the School and those in it. I also hated that I worked my butt off to just pass. I sucked at this! I was not used to academic mediocrity and I did not like it. On the other hand, it seemed I could merely wave my eyes over my French and Spanish studies and consistently romped in high distinctions. And oh, how I loved studying languages, especially French. Studying languages was pure joy. So I quit law and stuck to languages instead. Never looked back. Dad was scandalised as I struggled to explain to him that no, I did not want to become a teacher (that was what everyone assumed), and no, I did not actually know what I wanted to do with languages. I just knew I loved it, I was good at it, and if I followed what I loved I would be on the right path- even if I didn’t know the destination just yet.
Imagine my surprise then, when, 20 years later, my very practical father says to me, “You need to follow your passion.”
What now? I was not expecting that. Could it be? Perhaps dad has learnt something from me?
“What you need,” he continued, “is to find something you enjoy doing that makes you lots of money.”
Right. Maybe not.
“Yes, that would be ideal dad, but I can’t just enjoy it, I need it to feel meaningful, like what I’m doing is worthwhile, has some value.”
I am met with a blank expression. “Why?”
“That’s just me, that’s how I am.”
“You are my daughter aren’t you?”
Apparently. Ancestry DNA seems to think so.
“Seriously, there’s a whole online world out there that you’ve just missed, you’re just a little too old to have grown up with it. But bloggers, influencers, youtubers….The days of getting the Courier Mail, circling the job ads in red and posting your resume, those days are long gone. You have to start thinking outside your life experience. Do what you love, share it…and when it gets big enough, dial back the day job. But not before then.”
Sounds like good advice, right? Sounds like my kind of advice. So I might just follow it and see where it leads me.
There’s just one tiny question to answer first.
What’s my passion?
Hmm. Might have to sleep on that one and get back to you.