“How long have you been a PT?” my patient asked as we started to wrap up her initial evaluation.
“Almost two years” I answered.
“Do you like it?” she continued.
“I do.” I raised my voice slightly and repeated, “Yeah, I do.” I added a reassuring smile and a slight head nod at the end of the statement.
We finished chatting, she walked away to schedule her next appointment, and I went to the back office to sit down. My elbows met the desk and my hands found my forehead immediately. I was tired after a long day, and now I also felt uneasy. Could she tell? No, I think I sold it.
I looked around to see if anyone had overheard our conversation or had sensed any of my insincerity. Nope, everyone seemed busy. I exhaled in relief. My secret was still safe.
The last thing I wanted my co-workers to know was that I didn’t like physical therapy. Really, I didn’t want anyone to know. Who spends seven years in school and thousands of dollars in tuition to work in a job they don’t like? Even worse, who leaves a job teaching PE, a job they love, to pursue a career they can’t stand?
This feeling had started small. It began as a few tough days, a couple recurring doubts, some uneasiness and uncertainty, and a few daydreams of teaching PE instead of working with patients. At first, those thoughts and feelings had been fleeting and they disappeared as quickly as they surfaced.
But, as I sat at my desk, I knew what I was feeling was different. It wasn’t a bad day or a bad week. I was exhausted from keeping up my false appearance of happiness. I tried, but I couldn’t stop the thought from forming- I hate physical therapy. I bit my lip and swallowed hard to stop myself from crying. How did I get here? Less than two years ago I was so hopeful, excited, and ready to start my career. And now, I was fighting tears on a Friday evening.
I wanted to be as happy and as successful as the people around me. I wanted to wake up eager to see patients. I wanted to achieve greatness in the field. But, the more I tried to convince myself that I liked being a physical therapist, the worse I felt. I felt miserable and vowed to ‘get myself together’ over the weekend. I just needed to recharge and some time away. I’d get some perspective and refocus. Monday would be different.
By Sunday night, I realized nothing had changed. In fact, I felt worse. I spent the whole weekend trying to reignite a passion for physical therapy that I wasn’t sure ever existed.
Unsure what to do, I put on sneakers and went outside. I had no idea why I was about to go for a run, but it was the only thing I could come up with. Jogging wasn’t doing anything to stop the negative thoughts so I ran harder and harder. I sprinted until I couldn’t sprint anymore. I collapsed dry heaving onto the pavement. I rolled onto my back and looked up at the sky. With gravel now embedded in my arms and legs, I realized I had just hit my figurative and literal rock bottom.
I wish I could go back to that moment. I wouldn’t change anything, but I wish I could tell myself that it was about to get better. I wish I could tell myself that while was burnt out, stuck, and feeling like I had no control…I didn’t actually hate physical therapy. I could have helped myself up and reassured myself that a few years later I’d get to relive the same, but very different conversation with another patient.
…… I finished the evaluation and my patient asked, “How long have you been a PT?”
“Almost four years,” I smiled as I handed over her home exercise program.
“I can tell that you love it,” she stated as fact.
“I do,” I replied confidently.
She went to the front desk to make her next appointment and I went to the back office. Who would’ve guessed. Two years later and I love physical therapy. So much has changed, but my job is not one of them. I went and sat down in the same office I did two years earlier and I leaned back in that same chair. I stretched my arms back as if to make room for the growing fulfillment I felt. I shook my head smiling, I love physical therapy.
I can’t go back and tell myself that it is going to get better. I can’t convince my past self that I don’t hate physical therapy, but instead need to overcome burnout, get unstuck, and find the things I can control. But, I can use my story to give hope to others feeling something similar right now. I’m incredibly passionate about physical therapy now, but even more so, I’m passionate about helping others carve their path to their ideal career.
A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed that I could love physical therapy like I do now. So, if you don’t believe me, that’s okay. Phil and I plan to convince you. So, step one- Take the Free Three Day Challenge: What's Next.