What I Learned from my Leap of Faith

I ran, and I ran, and I ran, until I could run no more. I was at the edge of a cliff, and the only way forward was down. The waves roared below but I had no choice. Down, down, down I went. I felt the ocean breeze spray my face. Yet I did not hit the rocks. That’s when I realized, I could fly!

In fantasy terms, that largely summarizes the last year or so of my life. After struggling with a bad fibromyalgia flare all of my last semester at graduate school, I was at the end of my tether. I realized I needed to take a break before continuing on to any new work in order to prevent a complete collapse.

It was a tough decision for me at the time. It had been nearly a decade since I was on any vacation longer than a few weeks. I was concerned that while my body might feel better during a period of sustained rest, my brain would feel “wasted” without any brainy-work to do. At the same time, I was facing a lot of judgement from my professors who were not privy to my physical problems, and were convinced the break would ruin any prospects of a career. I was also worried that without something substantial to occupy my mind, I may be too focused on the pain and feel the worse for it.

Not knowing how I was going to react to an indefinite period of unemployment, it was largely taking a leap of faith. But as it turned out, most of my worries never came to pass. And in the process, I even learned a thing or two about myself!

So here are five things I learned about myself when I stepped off a ledge into the dreaded unknown:

1. I can actually enjoy taking a complete break from work for a while!

It certainly took a while — at first I was just very stressed about not having a career direction — but then slowly, I was able to embrace the lack of all absolute obligations, deadlines and requirements! Instead of feeling wasted, as I feared I would, I felt more open. Once I got comfortable with not having anything particular to do, I felt my brain slowly creep out of its “lefty” mode and start spreading its wings! I felt more creative and free, and thoughts and ideas flowed in and out of my mind more easily. I loved the peace and quiet, the serenity of the guilt-free time to think and write. Now that all of my energy wasn’t spent working, I had more energy for other things (like, as silly as this might sound, washing my hair!).

2. It is impossible for me to be bored.

I know when I first floated the idea of the break, many well-meaning people thought I might get bored. I wondered about it too. But as it turns out, my mind is too full of things to ever be bored! I always have something going on in there — perhaps a new idea for a painting, or a blog post, or even a future book! Most of the time my mind is full of reflective, meditative thoughts about both the world inside of me and that which surrounds me. My home is practically a library, so I always have a stack of books I am working through next to my bed. My capacity for imagination may be endless when I choose to engage in it. And I am surrounded by both instant access to knowledge (thanks to the internet) and a mind that voraciously craves new and varied information about a diverse set of topics. So, as I learned, it is impossible for me to get bored as I am engaged in too many activities at any one time, even if I don’t move a limb!

3. I can get too inward-focused for my own good.

Truth be told, given a choice of living in the “outer” world and the “inner” world, I would choose the “inner” one any day. And as I got all comfortable living in that “inner” world last few months, I realized that is also a problem. As someone who has always suffered from social anxiety, it has taken me years of practice at being around people to learn how to function properly in the world. It is never comfortable, but it is an important life skill. Yet now, I seem to be using fibromyalgia as an excuse to get more and more away from the outside world and turn back inwards. Without any definite obligations to attend to, I feel especially free now to just give in to the regular ups and downs of the condition, and just stay in and recoil into my own world even more. This can begin to feel too comfortable after a while, something which, ironically enough, makes me quite uncomfortable! So I learned that I need things that push me against my instincts and challenge me, so life stays fresh, interesting, and even a little challenging all the time!

(Besides, neck strain from too much reading is contributing to some killer headaches last couple of weeks, so it is clearly time I got out and did something else!)

4. I am more OK with leaping into the unknown than I had thought I was!

When I was first offered my current job with the state government, I was not sure about it at all. I was afraid it will take me too far away from biology proper. But ultimately, after a lot of deliberation on other potential options, I decided to take the plunge. One of the things that appealed to me about the job was that I knew nothing of the specifics of what I was about to do! That was a good thing, because I did not know enough to know what to be stressed about! And I realized that I love this feeling of the “beginner’s mind” that can only be accessed when exploring the complete unknown. This is how I felt when I first walked into the research lab as an undergraduate that I eventually graduated with a Ph.D. from! I knew nothing about doing science, so I was eager to learn all I could. With an open mind, I was able to think about what I was learning without the restrictions that come with expertise. It was a feeling of freedom, of possibilities, of growth, and of accumulating life experiences — all of which I dearly cherish. Now I feel ready to inhabit the “beginner’s mind” once more. I have no real clue where this unexpected path will take me in the future, but I am in for the ride with an open mind.

5. I was ready for a major change.

After spending several years working as a bench biologist in academia, I will be a data scientist for a government agency. That is about as different as different can get, and I remain surprised the opportunity even came by me! But, I feel ready for it. I feel I am too young to cage myself into a narrow realm of possibilities. I had stayed long enough in academia to recognize the good, the bad and the ugly in it. It was time for me to explore a different setting now, a different field. My interests are too widespread to be constrained into the narrow niche that a standard academic career demands. So if I am going to play outside of the academic playbook, I would have to create my own paths into a non-standard career. I feel like this job out in left field is the first step in that direction.

For a fiercely analytical person, who likes to weigh the pros and cons of everything, taking a leap of faith can be very difficult. This was especially true of me in the case of my break from employment, because it conventionally bodes ill so early in one’s career. But at the time I had few other choices, and luckily, everything turned out just fine in the end! Plus I really appreciated having the time to exclusively manage the nasty flares that have gripped me most of this year. So I wanted to write this post not just as a future reminder to myself to not be so afraid of doing the crazy “unthinkable” thing, but also as an encouragement to anyone else who may be in a similar spot as I was back then.

If you’re feeling iffy about the jump but it’s edge of your cliff, close your eyes, and trust your wings.



12 thoughts on “What I Learned from my Leap of Faith

    1. Thank you Terri! I am so glad you could relate with this post. And I am relieved someone else feels the same way I do about staying connected with people! It sounds strange that it would take such conscious effort to socialize, something that comes so naturally to so many. But it’s been that way for me since childhood, when I was really awkward and my social interactions were none too pleasant affairs. But I’ve managed to train myself to get better at it as I got older, so I see halfway normal around other people now, haha!

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  1. It is so important to take a break, and glad you did. It sounded like you enjoyed every bit of it. I can certainly emphatise when you say you enjoy having more time to wash my hair. I do too…there is a nice feeling about not having to rush simple, mundane task – do them at your own pace, and do them with commitment and effort 🙂

    The in-ward focused point was really interesting to me. Getting out of our comfort zone can do us a lot of good, like how you are taking that new gig to look forward too. However, unlike you when I just let things be and get comfortable, I have a tendency to stay there. Call me lazy, and I probably am, lol. And also I find it hard to find things that challenge or rather, excite me 😀 Being spontaneous are usually the times that will stand out in our lives and they are the times when we will look back on and think, ‘Oh, so we are capable of that and so much more’ 🙂

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    1. Thank you so much for always being so encouraging and supportive Mabel!! It means the world to me to have understanding friends like you. ❤ The thing about washing my hair is so complicated. I've always enjoyed warm showers, so it was kind of sad when they started tiring me out too much with fibro. A nice hair wash can feel like a head massage, but for a while, it was painful for me to hold up my arms for long enough to shampoo my generous mass of hair. And because I have so much hair, it takes a long time, and that tired me out as well. The whole hair-washing affair is quite an ordeal on me most of the time. So it was really nice when I felt like I had enough energy to take my showers and do my hair washes without feeling wiped out! 😀

      I know what you mean about getting comfortable in a cozy spot and not seeking to leave. I have this inner struggle every time something new and different comes up. One part of me wants to stay put and be comfortable in its happy place, while another part of me wants to get out there for an adventure. I usually have to call some kind of a truce mid-way (if possible). I feel like since I developed FM I feel less confident than ever about leaving my comfort zone. That's kind of why I was so glad to be able to taste the "different" through a change in work, without having to move away from home and my husband. 🙂


      1. Didn’t know fibro made washing your hair so difficult at times 😞 Good to hear it’s more manageable now, and it’s times like these when you really are greatful for the smallest things you don’t think about that go right.

        Step by step sometimes is the way to go. No rush 😊

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  2. I am a data scientist instead of the planned academic career now, too, albeit mine is still corporate. I have thought eventually about trying to get into government, as the demands are too intense still for hours and things in corporate.

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  3. I need to eventually look for a job that is more understanding of chronic illness – my current boss just isn’t. Too often I feel like I am still in academia, but I think it’s the work culture, not the job itself. I have, at least, also embraced my time away from work being truly disconnected like you talked about.

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    1. My husband works for the state too, and from his experience, work demands in government are generally lower than in private companies. They are also more open to providing disability accommodations and other benefits, more so than companies. But that is a generalization. Ultimately it depends on your immediate boss and colleagues I think, and how they react to your condition. And that can be really hard to gauge until you are already working with them! I tried to tell my immediate supervisor that I may need certain accommodations before I accepted the job, and though she said she would be OK with it, I still feel like the real test of her reaction would be when I actually have to ask to work from home or something. I really hope she will be understanding then, and treat me well.


  4. Self-care is so important with fibro. I’ve become a master at it! As for your washing your hair comment, it doesn’t sound funny to me at all! I can totally relate being so tired & in too much pain to wash hair. When all else fails, I put my hair in a messy bun! Haha.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Messy buns used to be my go-to until the strain at the hair roots started to become serious headache triggers. I still give in sometimes when it gets too hideously gross to wear it any other way! I am both sorry and grateful that you could relate to our woes, but glad that you’re taking self-care seriously. I have had to learn how to be better at it too, and I think it has served me well. 💜 Thank you for your very kind comment, Casey. I am sorry it took me a while to write back. Unfortunately I am going through a rough phase at the moment. Thanks for injecting some love and cheer into my day! Sending you love and hugs!

      Liked by 1 person

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