My education and career thus far has focused on service to others, with an emphasis on public health. I spent the early part of my twenties doing service programs, which means I chose stipend-based work in the field rather than an actual paying career-level job. I preferred it that way, as I wasn’t particularly money motivated but rather searched for meaning in the work that I did.
I didn’t get my first ‘real’ job until after cancer, and honestly I probably wouldn’t have done so yet had it not been for cancer, but that’s a longer story. In that first job I supported, and eventually managed, public health laboratory strengthening programs in various countries. It was fascinating, meaningful work where I learned a lot but it was also complex and challenging. I loved that organization, my team and most of the programs I worked on but I eventually burnt out. I had one particularly toxic program that really took its toll on me. Between the work itself and all the effort I was putting into my health after cancer, I hit a wall and needed some time off.
I pushed myself as long as I could but realized that I was only hurting myself by not honoring where I was mentally and emotionally. Unrelated to my burnout, my (now) husband and I decided to move to North Carolina, so I used that opportunity to take a few months off work. I needed a break, which was unexpectedly perfect timing since Covid-19 was about to turn our world upside down. I wouldn’t have been able to handle it all at once.
Just 3 months after I left that job, I started a new, remote position as a Covid-19 contact tracer for Massachusetts. Over the next 14 months, I held a variety of positions for the Partners in Health Community Tracing Collaborative. While I was incredibly grateful to be working from the safety of my own home, I was inundated with the realities of Covid with the work that I was doing. I loved the organization, my teams and the work but it was exhausting! Living during Covid (especially as a scared cancer survivor) while working on Covid was a lot to handle. Sprinkle in fertility concerns and IVF and I hit my limit.
I decided to listen to my mind and body and take some time off…again. I feel like my ability to cope has lessened since cancer, and I can’t quite identify how or why but I just know that I need to accept and honor that. I’ve had enough breakdowns to know that pushing through it really isn’t an option for me.
Over the first 5 months being unemployed and focusing on my health and IVF, I identified one particular pattern that I wanted to break. That is, working incredibly hard at a meaningful yet demanding office job resulting in unhealthy habits and burnout. The end result has been the same each time: a breakdown followed by months off work to recover. It’s simply not sustainable for me. While I struggle with feelings of inadequacy because of this cycle, I know that every person is different and our limits are as well. It may not come naturally, but I am choosing to give myself grace and listen to my needs.
Prior to cancer, I never wanted a traditional 9-5 office job. I preferred field work, in whatever capacity, even if it paid significantly less. Cancer changed a lot for me though, and I ended up in a more traditional work environment. Some people thrive in this environment but I haven’t thus far. As much as I loved many aspects of my previous jobs, it was still a struggle when I’d prefer more face-to-face interaction. That’s why, when I started looking for jobs again this time, I decided to broaden my search and consider what I’d prefer in a work environment.
- Less computer work
- Hands on, face-to-face
- More time flexibility or control over my schedule
- Uplifting rather than draining (i.e. not fighting an uphill battle with everything on fire)
- Healthy work-life balance
I don’t have a clinical degree so many of those career options are off the table unless I wanted to go back to school, which I wouldn’t be opposed to, except for the expense and time commitment. We’re prioritizing building our family and I just didn’t feel it would be the right time. Plus clinical work during Covid didn’t seem like the best idea for someone trying to avoid burnout.
So, I looked elsewhere. I spent plenty of time on job boards and any time I came across a more traditional public health role, I felt overwhelmed. The thought of being back in an office setting, doing administrative or programmatic work and putting out metaphorical fires all day was enough to trigger me. It’s not like my previous positions were traumatic or anything but burnout is weird and my ability to cope simply isn’t what it used to be.
Instead of stressing myself out at the prospect of these types of jobs, I decided to start from scratch. What is it that I enjoy doing? What type of environment would I enjoy working in? What would fill my cup rather than drain it? What would pay enough to adequately contribute to our household income? What doesn’t require going back to school and spending thousands of dollars?
I could only think of one thing. The gym. Over the past few months I had started to love the gym, my gym in particular. I loved the small group personal training aspect. I loved the social aspect. I loved the music and upbeat atmosphere. I loved that it made me feel healthier. I loved that it improved my confidence. I loved that it made me want to be stronger. The list goes on and on.
So I thought, what does it take to become a personal trainer? The National Academy of Sports Medicine Certified Personal Trainer guided program is a 10-week course that you can take at your own pace. It’s relatively affordable and is preparation for the certification exam. In addition to a CPR/AED certification, that’s all you need to get started. Within a week of thinking about this career path, I signed up for the course in November 2021 and went all in!
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