Lessons from Switching Careers


Phil:  All right, Jenna. I know a lot of people are really dissatisfied in their career.  It's hard, it's frustrating, and it's an awful feeling, quite frankly.  But we've had discussions before about how you've been at that place in physical therapy. But not only have you been at that as a physical therapist, you had a previous career that you kind of had the same feelings.  Can you tell me a little bit about that?

Jenna:  Yeah, so before I was a physical therapist, I was a PE teacher, health and PE for middle school students. And it was a great job, and I loved the people that I was working with, and I even loved what I was doing for the most part. But when I took a step back from it, I distinctly remember this because it was at the time where I was like, "Am I going to go to PT school?  Am I going to apply or not?"  And when I took a step back and I looked at it, I'm like, yeah, this is good.  But I can't see myself just doing this day in and day out, and I don't think I was probably, what, 23 at the time.  I'm like, I can't see this being fulfilling in even, like, ten years, let alone 40, 50 years kind of thing.  I will go back to PT school, and I will go a different route with my career.  I think I can do a lot more if I go into physical therapy.  And I made that change, and I went through three years of school and came out, did a residency, was, like, super excited.  There were so many times where I was like, okay, this is perfect.  This is where I'm supposed to be.  I made the right decision. Because even during PT school, I asked, "Should I have left? Should I not?"  And I remember the first time I got to the point where I was like, man, I don't know if I can do PT for the rest of my life. I was frustrated with one or multiple things, and I was like, how am I here again? How did this happen? This is the exact same thing I felt when I was teaching, but now I'm in a completely different profession that I perceived was going to solve that problem for me. 

Phil: So you get to this point . . . I can't even imagine that feeling. You spent essentially five years solving the problem of not liking your PE job or being able to be long-term fulfilled in it. Spent five years solving that problem, and then you come to the same point. What do you learn from that?

Jenna:  I came to the same point and even in a worse way, because I gave up three years to go to grad school and however much money, and that was the solution.  And obviously, I didn't solve the problem. I just kind of pushed it off. And it's so nice, they say hindsight is 2020 kind of thing, and it's 100% true, but  obviously I love physical therapy now.  I had a patient ask me today, "Do you love your job? Not do you like your job? Do you love your job?" My answer was a resounding yes.  But at the same time, I feel like if in physical therapy something wasn't working, I feel like I could be an awesome PE teacher right now, and I could be crazy fulfilled with that because of all the things that I've learned and all of the other opportunities that I see that there are. And I think now, looking at it in both scenarios, I just felt like there were no opportunities.  I felt like there was only one door, and I went through it, and it was llike it's either this or it's nothing. And now sitting where I am, I'm like, oh, man, if I was a PE teacher, I could be using the functional movement systems.  I could be doing all the things I wanted to do.  I would have these movement clubs, and I'd do a100 different things, and it excites me even to think about it as, like, a PE teacher, right? 

Phil:  Yeah, you could see how excited that you are with it.

Jenna:  And I feel the same way in physical therapy.  So I think having that experience as I talk about it now . . .

Phil:  No big deal. I went to school for three years and spent a gob load of money on it.

Jenna: It was like one of those where I was mad at myself, mad at physical therapy because it was supposed to be the answer and just really I wanted to say grumpy, but that's not even the right word because it's like a level up above that . . . dissatisfaction and almost like regret.  And now I'm like, man, I was so wrong.

Phil:  So you're articulating a couple of really important things that I think I've seen in myself, I've seen in tons of people that we've coached, and the general physical therapy population is you work really, really hard for something, pay a lot of money for something, get to it, and it's not what you expected. And it's a weird combination of frustration, anger, regret. I don't know if self-doubt is the right word or self-loathing, of why did I do this? And then maybe even some embarrassment llike in your case, here I am again, but in everyone else's case, why did I do that? So I think those feelings are really well articulated there and I think are rampant in our healthcare professions. What's the message, though, for the person who is sitting there where you felt . . . so you had a nice comparison, you go like, oh, crap, here I go again . . . which, like you said, was a worse feeling, but what's the message for getting out of that? Or what is the strategy for getting out of that?

Jenna:  There could be a lot of different strategies. I think one of the core things of the problem, though, is that you have almost tunnel vision of this is what physical therapy can be, or this is what my job in physical therapy can be, and it's something so much bigger than that. So when I think about what's the solution to feeling like, oh, my gosh, how can I do this every day for the rest of my life? It's like, well, it doesn't have to just be what's in front of you right now. There are so many other areas you can get into.  What are you passionate about?  What do you love? I think for me, when everything really turned around was I got into some public speaking and some writing. Nothing changed in physical therapy. Physical therapy, I've had a great caseload.  I've had great experiences throughout, but I started tapping into other things that were really exciting, and that made me better in physical therapy, too. I can educate patients way better since I started writing and started speaking.  I think for most people, maybe there are other skills and other passions that are not fulfilled by your physical therapy job. That doesn't mean it can't be fulfilled in physical therapy, but it's not fulfilled within your role currently. So what are those things that you're so passionate about?

Phil:  To say that a different way, and I want to see what you think about this.  If you don't have clarity in what you want, what better actually is, what dreams are . . . If you don't have that clarity, there is no way you can actually be satisfied. Sometimes I think we think, oh, I want this, I can't get that, so therefore I am stuck.  And so you really need to have some clarity and then some coaching to be able to have someone to go alongside you and go, well, you want this type of thing, but maybe you can get it in a different way. What do you think about that?

Jenna:  I think, like, you're saying, I didn't wake up one day, and I'm like, okay, physical therapy.  I can make this work.  It was through mentoring.  It was through talking it through with people and other people being like, what else do you like to do?  Where else do you want to spend some time? And that's when it really started rolling. Because again, when you're in that place, you're like, I messed up. Why did I do this to myself?  This stinks.  I have to just get up and go to work every day.  And you can't see an opportunity if it's right here. So I think getting another perspective is huge.

Phil:  Awesome. Well, I think this is a really great perspective to show someone through two different career transitions, about what you feel, what you experience, and then maybe a little bit about how to get out of it. So I just encourage you . . . don't feel like you have to go and completely jump ship in order to be happy in your healthcare career, whether it's physical therapy, athletic training, OT, whatever it is, you don't have to completely jump ship.



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