I turn 24 today. Two years ago I was fresh out of nursing school and two days into my first nursing job. One year ago I was living in Cambodia celebrating with Khmer friends over a dinner of bun xeo. This year I'm laying in my Cambodian hammock at a park in Waco, sipping Dr Pepper and crunching on baked Lays chips (don't judge. I exercised...sometime this week...). So much has happened and I've learned so muchin the past two years! Here are 12 reflections on the past 24 months:
1. Therapy is not for the faint of heart. I used to think asking for help was weak, but now I know it's one of the wisest things we can do. It's also one of the hardest things. I mean, who wants to spend an hour with someone pushing you to exit your comfort zone (even if it is the healthier thing to do)?
2. Switching cultures can trigger my depression. It's no secret I've struggled with depression overseas, in the workplace, and just in general. I've learned a lot about coping mechanisms and mental health, and I've also learned about triggers. Switching cultures between the States and Cambodia is one of the most thrilling and life changing experiences, but it's also extremely stressful and can trigger unhealthy habits and thinking patterns in me, leading to depression.
3. Nursing is hard. Every nurse I've met had said they didn't know what nursing was like until they were in the middle of it. I didn't really know what to expect, but it's certainly up there on the list of physically and emotionally demanding jobs.
4. Boundaries are also hard (but necessary). "Part of being an adult," my friend Jena recently told me, "is knowing what you need and asking for it." I hate causing others inconvenience, but I'm learning doing what's best for me doesn't just benefit me - it benefits all those around me too. A prime example is quitting full time nursing because that’s what benefits me, my patients, and my coworkers most.
5. It’s okay not to be okay. Nursing, along with some rough experiences in a Cambodian hospital, brought out my belief I could be a superhuman (and super nurse). In the past couple years, I've had to face the reality of my humanity and begin to embrace it, leaving people pleasing and HCAHPS scores behind.
6. Khmer language. I've learned lots and lots of Khmer language. I've learned how to make new sounds that aren't in the English language, and I've been stretched to acquire vocabulary because I love the people of Cambodia, and I want to be able to communicate with them.
7. Life as an expat is hard, and so is life in the States. It's all hard because I will always be missing someone. Yet, it's worth it, and it's the people around me who help me make it through the hard parts.
8. I’m not meant to do any of this (life) alone. My friend Erin told me that a long time ago, and it took me a couple years to figure out it's actually true. Jesus wasn't messing around when he prioritized community, and even He allowed Simon of Cyrene to carry his cross part of the way to Golgatha. Life isn't just harder if I do it on my own; it's impossible.
9. I’m beautiful. The past couple years I've come to peace with insecurities about my ethnicity, culture, and heritage I didn't even realize I had. This has made me more confident and allowed me to relate to others a little more from a place of love and a little less from a place of fear.
10. Rejection. I applied for a job last fall working with students in an after school program, and they never called me back. This program was one of the reasons I felt God has called me back to the US, so it was s pretty big disappointment (ok, also rage-inducer and self-esteem-crusher) not to get the job. However, in lieu of the job I started volunteering at the Cove with high school students, which had been incredibly rewarding and one of the best experiences I've ever had with students!
11. Loving and investing in people is always worth it. I wondered if it was worth loving others when I experienced the pain of leaving and the grief that came with moving back to the United States. I wondered if it was worth loving myself when I was in the pits of depression. In the end, though, it’s worth it. Because loving others (and myself) is only possible through Jesus, and practicing love brings me closer to Jesus. And knowing Jesus more? Knowing Jesus more is always worth it.
12. Fulfillment and meaning aren’t found in a job or a community or a relationship. As “millennials,” we’re often stereotyped as job-hopping to find meaning in the workplace. I wonder though if a cultural shift away from spirituality is the culprit behind what appears to be an enigma. I know it’s true for me—when depression and doubts cloud my view of Jesus, I look to other things (including switching jobs), trying to figure out what needs to change for me to find meaning in life. But when I know I have Jesus, nothing else matters; as long as He’s here, I have everything I need and more, regardless of job, geographical location, culture, or financial status. With Him, I have everything I need and more.