Careers for the driven are much like riding a freight train. They are alarmingly fast, to the point that you miss the details when you look out the window as everything is a blur. The goal is to get to the finish line, yet the ending changes as the ride can go on for eternity. There is always another level to achieve.
As a new professional on the health care scene 22 years ago, I imagined one day I would have an office to myself. In that office I would have important meetings, make tough decisions, and make the lives of people I worked with better. My professional ascension provided exactly that, it just looked a little different than I imagined. Oh, and I forgot to pay attention to the important details of my leaders while blasting forward on the freight train to the top of a corporate ladder.
My upward trajectory includes four significant rungs: staff therapist, lead therapist, center manager and regional manager. I did have a big office at my career top. It was my home, as I worked there when I was not traveling to the buildings I was responsible for. I did have important meetings at company head quarters. That was one of the best parts of the climb. It was where I could spend time with my coworkers on the same rung as well as visiting the ones above me. I made plenty of tough decisions. Hiring, firing, reworking systems, implementation of unpopular practices graced a lot of time while at my career top. The making lives of people better that I worked with part, I do feel I did some of the time. My goal was to make the shitty stuff more fun. I wanted to connect with people in order to remember that we are all on the same side even though some of the key players and practices may change along the way.
I stopped my upward trajectory there, as a Regional Manager. Looking around at the positions above me, I recognized the exchange required for further that level ascension was not for me. The expectations for rank, hours and dollars did not add up for me in a way that made sense. While at the top for me, I basically burned out and jumped off the train. The next career train that I wanted to get on did not show up for seven months.
Actually it was not a freight train at all. It is more like a leisurely and joyful visit to a state park. You know, that park where there are places designed for you to stop and do something. Maybe it is an exercise station or a park bench to sit and talk. It’s a calm environment where people move at their own pace. This place is known as the bottom for me, a staff therapist. You know what? I love it. This time I pay attention to the details I missed the first time I was here.
My focus is on the patient or team I am working with at the moment. My office is huge this time around. It is in a facility, a home, and in the hearts of those I spend my time with. I do have important meetings. They are now directly with the person I am working with, and sometimes the people who love them, to reach their personal goal. I make tough decisions. This time those decisions are identifying what areas to push people to work harder on. I continue to believe I make lives better for people I work with. Sometimes that is in the form of a smile, holding a hand, a suggestion to push through something scary, or honoring their choice to stop therapy.
Because I have been at a version of the top, I bring something different to the bottom rung; compassion, trust and understanding. I understand the struggles of my managers and leaders. I trust their efforts. I realize there is more to the story than they are allowed to share. I remember with compassion, the challenge of being friendly but not friends, being honest but not blabbing, being firm but not an asshole, and being available but not a doormat. I am grateful they are at the top and I am at the bottom. What I love most is having the privilege of clocking out. At the bottom there are no crisis to solve, no fires to put out and no one to fire in the morning! I get to hold myself accountable for a work balance.