Who Am I
I am a woman in middle adulthood and according to the social clock I should be married with children, living in a home that I own, enjoying a prosperous career and looking forward to retirement. That is not, however, who I am. I am a childfree, single, personal trainer living paycheck to paycheck in a rented apartment and according to leading economists my dreams of retirement will never come to fruition unless I win the lottery. Erikson and Levinson would expect me to be in the Generativity vs. Stagnation stage of my life. For me I find that life has not developed in stages so much as spirals. I find myself circling back and forth through issues of career and relationships.
Most of my friends are in similar situations and we find comfort in each other as we stand outside of societies norms together. This is the age when the routine doctor visit turns into “maybe we should take a closer look at that.” When conversations with my friends shift from what you want to be when you grow up to saving for retirement and who is having symptoms’ of menopause. While our parents are turning into our children and our fluid intelligence seems to have sprung a leak. We are questioning our choices as we are losing our options and wonder what will our legacy be?
After seven years of personal training I find myself craving a more profound contribution to society. I’ve always enjoyed training, it’s been very satisfying to watch my clients metamorphose both mentally and physically, as they realize a potential they never knew they had. However, because what I do is so cost prohibitive I have only been able to work with a very specific population of privileged people. Last year I was given the opportunity to deliver a presentation on women’s health to a group of city employees. The audience was diverse. They came from different neighborhoods around the city. Most of them were struggling to pay the bills; many were suffering from high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. This was not a crowd I was used to. Their issues were different from my clients and their resources limited and I was surprised by the lack of information they had about their own health. They asked a lot of questions and I answered what questions I could to the best of my knowledge. However, I realized that I lacked the formal education and credentials to give them all of the help and information they needed. It was a pivotal moment for me. I realized the issue with my career wasn’t what I was doing; it was who I was serving. Offering a service to those with the greatest resources wasn’t satisfying my desire to serve those most in need.
Later that day I was at work discussing this with a client, when a women nearby interrupted. She had overheard our conversation and said she had a friend that I should talk to. The friend, Ellen True, was a public health professional who ran programs around the world to educate women in health and childcare. The next day I spoke to Ellen and she laid my future out for me. Her advice was to get my associates degree in nursing so I could start working and learning about healthcare as soon as possible. With my associates degree I could then continue to a bachelors degree while earning a decent paycheck and gaining valuable experience. Then of course go for a master’s in public health nursing to reach my final goal, to bring healthcare education to underserved communities. After that phone call I was so relieved. It was as if she had finally put into words everything I was trying to sort out in my head. Now I could focus on taking action to put the plan in motion. At 44 years old I enrolled at Borough of Manhattan Community College as a freshman and began my studies.
The most surprising part of this is that I am actually enjoying school and doing well considering I nearly flunked out of high school. Adolescence was a very confusing and lonely time for me. This was when I experienced my first bout of severe depression. I sought refuge in the theater, acting my way through high school. It was easier to hide behind the characters I played and I found comfort in the camaraderie of my fellow thespians. However, low self esteem eventually led me to abandon my first passion. By the time I was a senior in high school my grades had dropped tremendously and I barely graduated. I decided against college since I hated high school so much and went to work instead. Losing out on that precious time in early adulthood to socialize with people my own age made the transition from adolescence all the more difficult. At work I found myself in an adult environment I was not prepared for. My coworkers were ten to twenty years older than me and in very different stages of life. Socially I did not fit in with this group and also struggled to relate to my friends who were in college. Convinced that college was out of the question for me I meandered through jobs in dozens of industries, from Wall Street to not for profit, from film to herbal tea manufacturing. Because of a strong work ethic instilled in me by my parents, I always managed to work my way up to middle management, but because of my lack of education the glass ceiling always kept me down and my options were limited.
Entering college was a major step in my development. I worked hard, with the help of a great therapist, to overcome my phobia of school and to learn to accept risk as part of the process of success. In my family we were taught not to rock the boat, to seek mediocrity in order to avoid disappointment, that risk should be avoided at all costs and that happiness is a privilege and not a right. My ideal self will be able to recover from failure instead of using it as an excuse to quit. I will view my successes as deserved and give myself credit for the hard work I put in to achieve that success. Most importantly I will claim my right to happiness.