Being the youngest of four kids with nine years between my older sister and I, the (almost) youngest of a large extended family, and a December baby to boot, I am in the unique position of having a long period of observation of others celebrating birthday milestones before it is my own turn. This year in particular has seen high school friends one after another celebrate / bemoan / shrug off / enthusiastically embrace the big 3-0.
30 seems to strike more significantly than 20. At 30, many people around me have long graduated from post-secondary training, are more settled in long-term relationships, are starting to gain confidence in their current career… and sometimes more importantly, are truly starting to question if they are comfortable where they are and what they want to do about it if not. At 30, we are in the unique position of having gained some essential life perspectives, and are now wanting to go back and apply that needed perspective to all the important decisions we made during our 20s!
For myself, I am still in school (and damn Med still makes me call it an “undergrad”), having taken a number of years between my first undergraduate degree and entering Medicine. I have already had one life-changing career as a biochemical technician in an interdisciplinary research lab, but even at the time, I knew it was a career that would not be permanent. I am in a relationship with the same individual I have been with since I was 20 (!!!), but both him and I have changed so much and spent just as many intense days living our individual lives apart from each other as together that it sometimes seems as though we have had a number of different unique and life-changing relationships with each other. And through everything, I have never stopped questioning if I am comfortable where I am at, and what I should do about it.
My difficulty in making decisions is a running family joke, whether it’s ordering ice cream at BDI or choosing a university degree. I’m often tempted to succumb to the general mantra that I should be done university already / have a permanent career already / have bought a house already / have kids already / spend more time with my husband already. But I am thankful that I was raised with a joy of pursuing the unique and the unknown.
I grew up with a conservative small-town Ukrainian Baptist mom… who eschewed all norms and moved to Flin Flon on her own for her first nursing job. A cousin who, when I wistfully talked about wanting to take a trip after graduation, asked, “Well, where are we going?” and sent me an email the next day with flight itineraries to Rome. Inspiring preceptors who see their role as physicians to recognize inequity and take action now to address it, no matter how unpopular it makes them with more mainstream medical colleagues. A best friend I met at camp when I was just 14, who also loved spontaneous road trips and was willing to move to Argentina for a year to live in a tent and wanted to learn firsthand from Northern Manitoba populations and threw himself wholeheartedly into recording an album when he already had a full-time job.
As I sat down on the eve of my 30th birthday to contemplate life and things (as I felt one should do on the last day of their 20s), I realized just how thankful I am to have surrounded myself with people who not only recognize the life-shaping value in pursuing the unique and unknown, but have embraced it for themselves.
With pursuit of the unique and unknown as my guiding philosophy for the last 3 decades, it seemed very fitting to celebrate this decade turnover in Nunavut, living with an Inuit family, learning a craft that inspires and terrifies me (aka Medicine), and surrounded by one of the most beautiful landscapes in the world.
The morning of my birthday, I heard my host yelling to her 9-year old son, “Run to annanaqa’s (auntie’s) and grab the maqtaq for tonight!” After a busy day at the health centre, I walked home and found cardboard already spread on the ground, graced by 2 massive chunks of frozen meat: maqtaq (beluga) & tuktu (caribou). My host busily laid the cardboard table: uluit at the ready for slicing thin strips of tuktu, small dishes of soy sauce and hot butter and onions for dipping, Greenlandic Aromat spice. It was enlightening chatting with my host’s sister the other night, who told me, “I hate it when Southerners assume we’re all poor because we eat on the ground. We always eat on the ground for certain foods, even if we have a table. You can’t cut maqtaq on a table.” Or as my host put it, “People with food on the floor are rich.”
“These Pampered Chef knives have a lifetime warranty. I’ve already had 3 replaced. The last time, the customer service rep asked me what I did to the knife, and I told him I was trying to cut a caribou head open. He told me, ‘Ma’am, you probably shouldn’t do that again.’”
I still catch myself looking for a restart button on my decisions. Yes, I could have been graduated from Med at this point and been an attending physician already for 3 years. But then I wouldn’t have toured Great Britain with my chamber choir while at Prov for a year, igniting my passion for music and travel. I wouldn’t have built on my French at CUSB. If I didn’t work at camp all those summers, sacrificing some connections in the city, I never would have been on the drama team, wouldn’t have been at FRBC that night, wouldn’t have asked Josh for a ride or Michelle for her mom’s contact information for a lab job. If not at the lab, then I wouldn’t have learned about social determinants of health or interdisciplinary collaboration, or first been challenged by my own racism. If not for those 2 years in Nursing, I wouldn’t have built my interviewing skills, wouldn’t have taken Economics or Native Studies. If not for all my university wanderings, I wouldn’t have run into Josh again at Fort Garry campus – so no band, no Argentina, likely no learning a third language, definitely a lot less love. I wouldn’t be me, with all the experiences and empathy I can offer to my future patients.
I also struggle with the trap of worrying about how much time I’m ‘wasting’ before getting to start living my life. The only thing that is a waste of time is that thought. A life does not start once I start receiving a regular paycheque or making regular down payments or having a regular address that my bills can be sent to. All these things that I’m doing or have done – studying, arguing with MPs, putting my thoughts in order on this blog, exploring new locations for a week or for 8 months or for 10 years, putting in sutures for the 1st time and the 50th time, going to my mom’s for supper, going to Nunavut for supper – This is my life and I’m living it right now!
While hard to see in the moment, it was an incredible exercise to sit down on December 4 and trace the path where my decisions have led me thus far, all I would have missed if I had chosen differently, and all the unknown opportunities still open before me. I am so thankful for this life, shaped by the pursuit of the unique and unknown!
* “Quviahuktunga” (ᖁᕕᐊᓱᒃᑐᖓ) = Happy (I am…)