What Have I Gotten Myself Into?

"When I find myself asking what have I gotten myself into, that's when I know I'm on the right path."
My wife said this the other day while we were talking with some friends.

I often felt this way when I was in nursing school. Quitting my job and going to nursing school was a major change of course for our family. I was the sole breadwinner with an established career. I had with two other mouths to feed and another on the way.  It was an economic gamble as well as incredibly stressful event in our lives.

It was a challenge, and we need to have challenges. 

Getting in over your head is how you learn to swim, and learning to swim is how you discover that other two-thirds of the world are covered in water. Learning and doing new things is how we grow.  It is not always filled with sweetness and light. Moreover, it is by necessity less comforting that staying in your rut and on your couch. 

The biggest confrontation I faced in nursing school was one of identity. 

I was a Writer (note the capital "W") for more than a decade. My words and creativity provided my sole source of a meager income. I edited and taught other young writers how to hone their craft of reporting and writing clearly and effectively. I appearing on talk shows and live gabfests as a pundit. I was good at my job and derived egotistical pleasure from the praise I received.

Giving all that up was hard. It wasn't just a different work schedule and routine. It was a major change in who I thought I was and what I thought I was capable of accomplishing. It was a direct challenge to the stories I told about myself. I even found myself rewriting my personal history - not inventing fiction, but noticing and emphasizing events in my life that reinforced the new "who I am" story. I reached back in my life for stories to reassure me that this was a path that I should be on.  

For when we leave our comfort zones, we are often confronted with how much of who we think we are is an artificial construct. 

Throughout our lives we make up stories about who we are. Things happen and we create a shorthand explanation for the path on which we find ourselves. We are constantly asking and answering the question "how did I get here." I am someone who can't do math - and that's why I didn't become an astronaut. I went into journalism because no one would hire me to do anything else. 

 It is the simplistic story we tell others, but if repeated often enough, our story is a big part of who we are. Our identity. 

As we grow older we create our identity through stories. The labile emotions of teenagers and young adults are lives that lack such stories as anchor points. We drift. We experiment. We substitute affectation -- trends clothes, and tribes of culture. Even our addictions become entwined with how we view ourselves. Notice how often people say "I am a smoker" rather than "I smoke cigarettes." We become what we say we are - to ourselves as well as others. Eventually we gather enough things that feel right and call it our story. 

That's fine, until you throw in a plot twist. 

Changing direction is a challenge to who you think you are. 

Facing a challenge in life -- doing or learning a new thing once your story is set -- requires us to overcome the narrative inertia that has taking the dear reader along a certain path for as long as you've been alive. It is hard to starting thinking of yourself as a new person, an alternate protagonist sowing chaos amid the predictable plot points thus far established. 

Those new plot developments are often for the better. The protagonist grows and sees-feels-learns something new about themselves, and the world. 

As such, it can be frustrating, but thrilling as well. 

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