Quarter-Century Crisis – Choosing Career or Family

Julia and Gavin BW

This blog post may seem a little outside the scope of my regular blog posts that usually consist of Peace Corps experiences or creative writing pieces, However, if you’ve ever taken a gander at the About Me description to the right you’ll find that when I return to the States I plan to pursue my passion for science and medicine by going to medical school. Say what? I have a life outside of living in a rural village? Well, yes, and as my service wraps up its last six months the future starts to come into picture. Not so close that I need to make a single decision today, but close enough to start wistfully thinking about when I want to torture myself.

Today, I’m writing to reach out to the internet community in hopes that they’ll stumble upon this blog post and offer insight or personal experiences, or maybe even just to share my own thoughts so that people out there know others think about these things. A great place to start reading about these things is the insightful blog Mothers in Medicine aka MiM. For now, this is my story.

I turned 25 in May and my life started to shift greatly. Somewhere over the next couple months many of the things I thought were most important in life: education, career, financial stability, settling down with a partner, started to change. It’s not that they became unimportant, it’s that they hopped about my order of priorities and importance like jumping jelly beans. Here I am: living in another country, single, 6 months away from closing my Peace Corps service, with an English degree, and no real career or graduate school education under my belt. Fair enough. That’s a pretty standard place to be at my age. However, it doesn’t jive with the reality that blindsided me one day: “Holy moly, Batman. The thing I want most in life is to fall in love, get married and have children.”

Okay, so you say that’s a pretty normal thought for a 25-year old woman. No, not this woman. If you’d met me 1 ½ years ago at the beginning of my service you would have laughed hysterically if I told you that. I ran out of rooms full of children with an ice pack on my head and aspirin in hand. Not really, but I ran into hiding. Before you call me an evil monster, read on.

Maybe because my uterus has a mind of its own that nature bestowed it with, or maybe there are actually hormones in my body that function normally, or maybe Darwin was on to something when he talked about our biological drive to carry on the human race, I don’t know, but suddenly the only certainty I knew about my future was that I wanted a settled-down life that involved family, children, and a loving supportive wife. For years I had been in this mechanically-like driven determination to get to medical school. And here I am now reduced to smiles and tears in a classroom of adorable first-graders.

As a side note, other life influences surrounded this quarter-century crisis. At the beginning of June I went through a painful breakup with a woman I thought I was going to marry and settle down with. We dated for 3 years. I naively assumed it was a certainty because we’d planned our lives together and done everything short of propose. Many nights, what got me through each difficult day away from home was knowing that she’d be there waiting for me at the end of my service and we could start a family together. We were each others family. However, life and whatever Higher Power there is other than ourselves has a funny plan for us, so I had no choice to let go of all that when she decided I wasn’t the one for her. At first I felt devastated because I thought what I lost was this woman I loved more than anything and my hopes and dreams of settling down, getting married, and having children until one day it dawned on me: I haven’t lost the chance to get married and have children, it just means it isn’t with her. It’s at that exact point that I realized how incredibly important it is for me have that life for myself. I want those things, for me. Ladies and gentlemen, this was just short of a miracle (Dramatic you say? Talk to me about what I used to think about these things. Better yet, talk to my friends).

And then, I do believe, the first-grade girls I teach changed my life. Please do read about the full story here in my blog titled “My Greatest Peace Corps Accomplishment: It Isn’t Mine At All.” Every morning I walked into the classroom and these young, 5-year old girls screamed my name, walked up to me and wrapped their arms around my legs. My heart felt pretty raw and bare on those days and their sweet, simple love for me caused me to tear up a bit. Here I am, a foreign teacher they barely know, we hardly speak the same language (culturally or natively), and yet they are so eager to have me in their lives. All they want is to love and be loved. Yes, that sounds cliché, but its true. We try to over-complicate things in life when that’s what it all comes down to. I found myself just as eager to receive Monday morning hugs from these girls every week. They brightened up my life. I thought to myself, “I want this. Why did I resist so much before? What was I afraid of?”

Fast forward to today. I’m successfully 3 months and 3 days into my 25th birthday and life is strange. One day, after pursuing medical school since I was a junior in high school, I asked myself, “Is this what I want?” Ever since I can remember I have written the ending to things far before they even happened. I had a burning desire to figure everything out light-years before it actually happened. We call this living in the future. Part of me was afraid of living with the uncertainty of everyday life and seeing where it takes me, part of it was feeling the need to control everything so it doesn’t fall apart or fail, part of me was afraid that if I didn’t plan then I wasn’t headed anywhere in life. Until one day I realized that I MUST live with the uncertainties of everyday life because the present is where life happens. I also realized that I have to let go. Let go of control, let go of trying to fix things and settle into the way things are at this moment. As far as the last one, I have enough years of life under my belt to know that I never need to plan a thing and I’ll never allow myself to fail, no matter what. “If you can dream it you can do it,” may as well be my philosophy. However, this notion calls into question one small thing: the dream.

I reconsidered my final decision to go to medical school and turned it into an option instead of an absolute. I realized that I’d do myself justice to pursue experience in the healthcare field, seek out shadowing opportunities, and volunteer with hospice to see if this really was the life I still wanted for myself. The one big looming question, “Can you do it? Can you go to medical school, be a doctor, a wife, a mother?” Or maybe the real question is, “Can I do it?”

You know what, actually, I take that back. The question is not CAN I go to medical school. The question is not doubt. Of course I can; there are thousands of women before me who have shown us that it’s possible. The pivotal question, and the more terrifying one is, “Do I want to?” That’s what I’m struggling with. It’s “Do I want to be a doctor, a wife, and a mother? Is that the life I want for myself: being pulled in so many directions?” To answer this question begs me to let go of whatever plan I may have for the future. No really, Julia, let go. To take each experience everyday and let it shape me on its own. To live in the moment and follow what my heart says to me when the time is right. When it’s time to act, I’ll know it. If I don’t know it yet, I’m not there yet and I’d do myself a favor to keep enjoying the little things and following the path (as blindly as it may be).

I’m the only one who can answer this question. And maybe even then, there’s a bigger plan for me out there. I better just breathe, take a look around and enjoy this quarter-century moment. That big stuff? Careers, family, children, love, it will all turn out as it supposed to. I just have to have a little faith. For now, if you need me, you can find me in the present.

**For those of you new to my blog, I’m Julia. I am 1 year and 8 months into my Peace Corps service in Thailand. I admittedly have no more answers to life than anyone else. Each day I wake up, go to one of two village schools and teach a mix of elementary kids and high school kids. They’ve taught me more about life than I have them. Follow along with me on my blog here or on Twitter @JuliaSchulkers

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2 responses to “Quarter-Century Crisis – Choosing Career or Family

  1. Julia, that was beautiful. It reminded me a quote, which I hope you don’t mind if I post:

    ” For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which our Enemy has of reality as a whole; in it alone freedom and actuality are offered them… To be sure, the Enemy wants
    men to think of the Future too – just so much as is necessary for now planning the acts of justice or charity which will probably be their duty tomorrow. The duty of planning the morrow’s work is today’s duty; though its material is borrowed from the future, the duty, like all duties, is in the Present.”

    C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters, Chapter 15

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