My first job after graduation was assisting surgeons in an operating room and intensive care unit. Each time someone entered the surgical suite and stepped towards an operating room, set up for a procedure inside, they saw a sink with faucets for warm water as well as soap and a scrub brush to clean their hands. I became familiar with the routine and after repeating this ritual day after day, began to feel like a surgical assistant, a real professional. Unfortunately, there were several nurses who did not believe I was qualified to be in the operating room (they also targeted first year residents, the least experienced of the training doctors) and would deliberately “contaminate” me as I entered the room by touching my freshly scrubbed hands. At first, I thought it was mistake, but when it happened again and again, I knew that it was no coincidence. I WAS NOT welcome in their workspace, but no one ever really explained why.
I could have taken this message and decided that my career as a PA was over. My graduation, certificate and license not withstanding, I suddenly felt like a big fake! Maybe the nurses were right. Not only did I not belong in “their” operating room, maybe I didn’t belong in the surgical ward, the hospital or the profession. I struggled with my identity for many months and it wasn’t until I took a second job working for cardiothoracic surgeons that I really believed I was a physician assistant. Their practice consisted of 5 PA’s, in which I was the only woman. Our duties were extensive, demanding and highly technical. I spent every free moment learning the workings of the heart and lungs, the medications used in post op care and eventually gained the experience to step confidently into an operating room once again as an assistant. I was accepted and encouraged. I believed I was who I said I was and it continued to motivate me to do more! The people I worked with, the patients I helped and the accomplishments of my daily hard work were proof that I was BECOMING the person I wanted to be, achieving my goals through daily positive habits and processes.
I continued to work in health care until just 5 years ago, when my identity changed. No, I’m not talking about plastic surgery, facial reconstruction or gender re-assignment. Nothing quite so dramatic. Interestingly, my goal in starting a second career after retirement from health care was to once again help others live a longer, happier and healthier life, this time as a coach, facilitator and teacher of equine experiential education. For some reason, even though the goal was the same, I did not feel comfortable in my new identity, not welcome in this new realm. I was in the operating room all over again, being called out by the nurses. SHE’S A FAKE!
The horses have taught me that the individual nature of each person does not reflect what they know, but simply who they are from birth with their innate qualities. Each horse I worked with shared with me this nature from the beginning and since horses don’t lie, there was never any worry that they would ‘fake’ being something they were not. What really mattered was how well suited they were for the task I was about to give them and how much they were willing to accept my guidance. I could affect their “identity” if I gave them the impression that there response to me was working, by rewarding them immediately.
BELIEVE IN THE TRUE YOU!
It’s been my understanding, (and now I see the error in this explanation) that in order to become what we want to be , that we start with the goal in mind. If my goal is to be a physician assistant, then going to school and passing the certification exam and getting a job meant I was now a PA. But, that’s not true. I was a PA on paper, but what really made me BELIEVE I was a professional health care provider was the daily steps I took toward acting like it and spending time with people whose approach and attitude were similar to mine. It meant being someone who was caring, compassionate, dedicated, hard working, a good listener, a lifelong student. I tried to stay true to my nature and my temperament, exploring the ways in which I was best suited to the work. I looked up to others in my profession as well as teachers and adults in my life that embodied these characteristics. I continuously added and subtracted the information contained in my beliefs, upgrading and expanding the description of my professional identity, until I felt like it truly fit me. I was always working towards being the best version of me!
MY NEW CAREER
In my work at Life Lessons with Horses, my partners, the horses, come from all different backgrounds. Some have been gaming and barrel racers, some have been competitive eventers or dressage horses. Some have been backyard pets or trail horses. Each has had a particular “job” in their life, a role they played as a partner to the human. Deep down, though, they bring to their new life, in equine experiential education, the same innate characteristics they’ve always had. Some are more sensitive, some less. Some are more outgoing, curious and adventurous. Some are more patient and willing to give their partner time to discover their own truth. And each horse has the unique ability to interact with people without judgment, without criticism and without words, offering immediate feedback and giving insight into a person’s own beliefs, attitudes and behaviors.
Now as I begin life in my new career, I am constantly reminding myself that although my role has changed, the important aspects of my identity remain. I am no longer a health professional with patients and office hours and a salary, recognition in my profession and the community. I am working independently, starting a business that requires me to market and promote myself and create new ways to offer my services. It means I have to tap into the skills of my previous role, as the type of person who is disciplined, reliable, mentally tough and loves a challenge. I have to be flexible!
I no longer feel like a fake, but I am not completely comfortable in my new career. It’s going to take time to discover what works and what doesn’t. Recently, I began playing with my horse Wave by tapping into his innate sense of adventure and interest in new things. As upbeat music plays, we move together at liberty, trotting up to a pallet. I point to the pallet and with his two front feet upon it, he raises his head triumphantly. Immediately he gets a treat. He steps off and we trot together again, a large ball rolling in front of him as he kicks it down to the arena to his next reward at the blue barrel. Then it’s off cantering in circles around me as I playfully charge at him rounding the corner, swinging his gorgeous Arab head in mock irritation. It works because I understand his nature and play with it to find what excites him, what challenges him just enough and most of all what is FUN !
I believe that whatever we decide to do in life, whatever identity we choose, it’s necessary to first explore and discover our own innate characteristics. Determine how they can give an advantage to the choices we make for our life and our work. It doesn’t make sense to put an energetic, adventurous, curious Arab in a boring, repetitive circle around the arena, forcing him to become resistant and difficult. I wanted to help people become healthier and happier and there are a lot of ways to do that. I’m willing to challenge myself by starting agaiin in a more challenging environment, but that’s just me. We gain mastery in our skills by choosing those we know we will stick to-those that energize and excite us, challenge us JUST ENOUGH and most of all, bring us joy, sending us back out there even in the most boring and difficult moments.
Explore and discover your identity and master the skills to become the best version of you! When you BELIEVE it, you will LIVE it!
Learn more about how Life Lessons with Horses can change your life through the way of the horse!