“Peace is your home, integrity is the way to it, and everything you long for will meet you there.”
– Martha Beck
In 2017, the blueprint I had crafted for my life evaporated before my eyes.
Up until that point, I had systematically checked off the steps to becoming an Air Force oral and maxillofacial surgeon. I was in the Air Force, and I was in oral and maxillofacial surgery (OMFS) residency. I had signed an initial contract with the Air Force for 13 years, thinking, “Clearly, I’ll stay at least 20 years.” My life was set. Until it wasn’t.
By 2017, I had realized that OMFS was not the right path for me and the toll of trying to live a life that was not in alignment with my essential self took a toll mentally and physically. The impact would lead to a medical discharge from the military, 4 years into my initial 13-year commitment.
My slate was blank. My professional identities gone. What the heck do I do? Been there?
When reflecting on what led me to OMFS, I realized I lost myself in much of the pressure of external advice and societal influence. I ignored internal alarm sirens and prioritized what others thought I should do over my own opinion. I solicited a vast array of advice, and then chose not to sit with myself and listen to what my mind, body, and soul all had to say. Instead, I gave external influence and my pride the power to carve the path, even when my body and soul were rebelling.
Thankfully, I have learned a lot since then, but the lessons sure were costly.
I learned that there is great value in hearing about opportunities and opinions from other people. I appreciate all of the perspectives I was given. However, what I missed is the importance of cultivating connection with our essential selves and using the information from within to help guide our decisions. I let external pressures have way too much authority, and I know I am not alone.
By the time I lifted my head up, I thought: I am completely lost. How did I get here? I don’t want to be here. I am not sure I ever wanted this for me … but I did it because X. Sound familiar?
While there are many questions that we can ask ourselves as we explore next steps, I will walk you through two insight-provoking questions that I find extremely helpful.
So here we are. Blank slate. What should I do?
To gain clarity, I love to take all of the information and advice I have gathered from experiences in life to date and then sit alone while considering these two questions:
1. What would I do if no one knew what I was doing? Not family, not friends, not social media. (Removes external pressures.)
2. What things have I tended to do when my mind was free to do whatever it wanted? (Exposes internal interests, values, talents, gifts.)
If you’ve been out of touch with yourself for a while, it may be hard to tease apart internal and external influences and voices. I highly recommend Martha Beck’s book, The Way of Integrity: Finding the Path to Your True Self, and partnering with a coach that may help you seek the answers you have deep within yourselves.
If you feel lost, you may be looking for yourself in the wrong places. Look within.
Jillian Rigert is an oral medicine specialist and radiation oncology research fellow.
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