It has been 21 years and a few months since I began my first job as an Occupational Therapist. I am so grateful to the young woman I was then. She worked ridiculously hard in college. There were hundreds of flashcards as study aides for most of my classes floating around my apartment. I had not yet discovered my intolerance to gluten and my body was having such difficulty with food then. I thought it was dairy, which I do have a threshold for tolerance, but that was not it. So here, I was a young woman in college from 18 to 22 years old trying to grow up so fast with 3 dogs, a boyfriend and an apartment all the while suffering from food allergies that made me sick. The last two years of college, I was in OT school at VCU/MCV studying the majority of my waking hours. I would love to meet that younger version of myself out on Monument Ave where she would walk all of her dogs, and tell her how her hard work would pay off and to give her a tip to give up gluten.
I was determined to succeed and thrive in my future career. I knew I was in the right line of study when we started classes using wood working equipment, weaving, painting and ceramics in addition to human anatomy and statistics. I loved what I was learning and delighted with using my hands to create something. That evolved into working with people to bring purpose and independence back to their lives. I was always that child who wanted to do things herself, or so my mother tells me. This line of work awarded me with the opportunity to be independent while coaching others to reach their dreams.
It is amazing how our dreams and goals change throughout life. Depending on the time in my life and physical health, my goals changed drastically. At 22 I so desperately wanted to be financially independent and be a grown up. In the 12 months that I was 22 years old I married my college sweetheart, acquired my first job, moved to the town I still call home today, and bought my first home which proved to be the biggest project outside of child rearing to date; it was a home built in 1880. Those goals evolved into desiring a promotion, and wanting to help team leaders succeed. I remember wanting my pregnancy to last long enough to deliver a healthy baby girl, since my daughter wanted to join the world too soon with contractions starting at 18 weeks pregnant. With 6 months of bed rest, my goals were to stay sane and have a healthy baby. My goal was achieved and Mackenzie is now 19 years old and thriving. Other goals were to be able to return to exercise post knee surgery in my 30s. Most recent goal was to find a way to purposeful interact with people in order to return to their desired independence while I write my book.
My new career as an OT started in behavioral health at the age of 22. I loved this environment. I created some of the most amazing friendships during that year, which still thrive today. The skills I acquired during the time I worked in the behavioral health department continue to serve me to this day. Emotional health or lack thereof, has a great impact on a person’s ability to achieve independence. Actually, the skills I learned that first year of my career as an OT proved to be helpful in every aspect of my life since then, from communication with coworkers, to raising a child and finally navigating new life after relationships end.
Here is my message to my 22-year-old self. “Thank you, Kristin! You were a badass that did not recognize her value, spark for life, and tenacious drive. Your sacrifice to study rather than party your face off proved to be the best thing you could have done for your future self and future family. Rest assured that your current self is still striving to live a grand life and she is now returning to her roots of providing purpose and independence to the lives of individuals in need of OT. More people than you can possibly imagine love you. Just keep writing and smiling. Oh, your quirky way of life is most loved by others, so relax and keep being you!”