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Faded Shapes

Dear scared non PA Paige

For some context, I learned several years ago the value of journaling and even writing yourself notes or letters that you can reflect on. Often when we are going through change, we are learning things about ourselves. When we face challenges, we often can have deep internal growth. I saw this first hand as I wrote letters in a very transparent and raw way when I went through culture shock during my time in Africa. I still read those daily journals every year on the anniversary that I was there. I cry when I read those letters and I revisit the culture shock and deep questioning of life that I had there. For me, as I embark on new changes, I want to remember “The Why” in this decision and have full confidence on the days that I have doubt. Maybe there’s people out there that never experience doubt or worry or even fear, but that’s not me. I’m a thinker; it’s just how my brain is wired and I’ve learned how to use my own thoughts to make me stronger. So yes, I wrote a letter to my future self. I’ve done this before and it’s always been helpful for me - either in the immediate time frame to help process my thoughts but also in the future when the social pressures of this world make me doubt my decision. At the root of all things, we must turn to ourselves if we want the most peace. You can’t buy that internal peace from amazon prime or take the easy way to that…

You’ll see I usually add in some context and thoughts at the top of the letter as a reference later for myself. When I read this in 5 years, I won’t remember where my head was at the moment of the decision.

Date of Letter: 11/16/2022

Context: 6 weeks left in my PA job, quitting my job to instead race bikes full time starting in January 2023

Personal Mood: Happy, elated about the decision

Family/Close Friend Group: All in favor of this decision, have not had any negative input

Dear Future Self,

If you are reading this you are probably struggling with missing your PA work, or you’ve made it to November 2023 and the yearly calendar alert to read this went off. Either way, before proceeding with reading this letter, write down WHY you are reading it. If you are struggling, really dig deep to understand why and what emotions fueled you to turn to this letter. As you already know, you wrote this letter in the fall of 2022 when you had a little over a month left in your PA career. At that time, you didn’t really know what to expect but you were confident of your decision. As your sister always told you, the best investment is in yourself. You can give any company, business or person 100% of your time and energy but you can’t guarantee you’ll get that in return. But when you invest in yourself, the return is almost always more than what you put in and you control that return.

As I write this, I also just came off a shift of seeing 32 patients in a 10 hour shift. It’s like factory work. Except my mind is a machine where I’m expected to see, diagnose and manage any complaint that comes through the door. It’s exhausting. Medicine has changed SO MUCH over the last several years. I’ve been practicing medicine for nearly 8 years. I’ve been assaulted twice. I’ve had patients die in my arms. I’ve had patients berate me and yell at me for long waits, despite me skipping a meal and sacrificing my own personal health to see them faster. I’ve been manipulated by patients. I’ve been hit on inappropriately by male patients. I’ve had to tell someone about a new mass or cancer more than I’d like to remember. I’ve had to tell young girls they have permanent STDs. I’ve had to listen to patients tell their story about rape, abuse or assault. That’s a lot of burden to carry. Although I’d like to admit I’m not burned out (a form of defeat), I think I’m pretty darn close. Pretty much most of my colleagues are burned out from what I have observed, especially at my previous job. Morale is down. Our empathy tanks are empty. If I’m being honest I’m thankful for the change. A lot of my colleagues have expressed some form of jealousy as if I “have an out” as some call it. Maybe they are right. Our medical system is broken. So don’t regret this choice. It’s an opportunity for a break. I need it. It’s okay to feel that way. When I miss the chaos, think back to all the rough days. It’s not as glamorous as you remember…And who knows, when I pick the stethoscope back up I might be a better provider because of the break.

I recently talked with mom last week and she reminded me of a story. I was an early teenager at this time and my sisters and I used to sing at shows. Remember those Brittney Spears microphones we had on our ears? Man, we thought we were so cool. Megan and Jess have incredible voices, like the kind of singers that you are in awe of if they really let it rip. I would classify myself as having a good voice, but in comparison to them it was pretty mediocre. I was also a school nerd; a lanky late bloomer who went to band camps. I really didn’t know my “place” nor did I think I was “cool.” So I sat in the car as a young socially awkward teenager and I looked up to my mom in despair and said, “Mom, what am I going to be good at in life?” My mom reminded me that even at a young age I had this deep yearning to be the best, to have excellence in all that I did.

I’ve worked hard for my career. I went to college for 7.5 years and paid for that education on my own - either by grades or by performance as a runner - all of which required a lot of discipline and hard work. I worked jobs during college, even during PA school, which was not recommended due to the rigorous schedule. Once I became a PA, I dedicated myself to a lifelong career of learning, always emerging myself in new experiences to grow and practice the most up to date and evidence based medicine that I could access. As I grew in my career, I excelled in leadership positions and was often on numerous committees. For me, those were fun and I enjoyed and craved involvement - this was both personally fulfilling and professionally fulfilling. I felt I had a purpose for myself in my career, but more importantly I felt I was making differences for my patients and even colleagues. This often required additional time out of the clinic. Many of those who know me may classify me as a workaholic, but I never viewed it that way. I loved what I was doing so it was easy for me to be involved. But with that type of involvement, it does consume you and you can’t have it all. When I started to race in 2021, I quickly learned that I had a lot of potential. At that time, I was the APP Lead at Spectrum for my department and with our division chief recently stepping down I was taking on more of that role. I was “climbing the ladder” in healthcare administration as some would say. But after my first mass start gravel race last year, I made the decision to drop my leadership position to dedicate more time and energy to training. I also reduced my clinical hours, on a gradual basis, over the next 5 months. What happened as a result? Well, my first full year of IRL racing in 2022 resulted in numerous podium finishes and I had more time to dedicate to learning, racing, recovering and traveling for those race experiences. I’d say the risk I took in dropping my hours and admin roles certainly paid off. More than the success, I had fun. I learned a lot about myself. I met INCREDIBLE people. In a year where I had a lot of personal pain and suffering that only those closest to me know about, I found myself discovering great joy and peace.

So why the hell am I afraid to bet on myself for racing bikes? Truth be told, I’m really not afraid of this decision. I know this is the right call, and even before I won Big Sugar this decision was already made. I don’t want to be 60 years old and ask, “What if?” Anyone that knows me will attest that when I commit to something I fully commit and will bring passion- which some view as intensity. But if you see past that intensity, you’ll see a heart that is big and full, regardless of the results. It would be really easy to end with that and say I’m not afraid. But….when you are left alone on a Friday night to yourself and your own thoughts is that really true? When I’m on the road over 50% of the time next year questioning my life decisions, where will my mind go in those moments? When I see the success of my medical colleagues, will I question my own decision after a bad race? If my season goes poorly, or I fall short of my performance goals, will I regret not working full time as a PA?

Racing bikes full time sounds great, but at the end of the day it’s a rather selfish pursuit if you are solely focused on the results. Most of your day centers around your training, your equipment and recovery. This amount of selfish pursuit is actually necessary at the pointy end of the racing. And to be honest, that’s the part of racing bikes that has me worried. If you invest that much energy and time into yourself, that’s kind of selfish in my mind. That really doesn’t appeal to me. If you find yourself struggling with this in the future - then remember the main reason you are doing this. I didn’t stop working to train more. I already train a heck of a lot. I made this decision to maybe recover more - this is an area that may be somewhat selfish. But you’ll be happier when you are more rested and you have time for other things, rather than just working 3 jobs and training. You barely survived this past year’s schedule; you need more rest. Don’t feel guilty about that and don’t apologize for making that decision. Yes, you’ll dedicate a lot of time to training for yourself and your racing but you are going to use those results and your career as a cyclist to make a difference. Through my own success I can inspire other women to try racing bikes that may have a similar story. Stay authentic and transparent. At the end of the day, I want to win because I’m just a competitive person. I can’t change that. But use that success to make a difference in the world you live in - that’s what I tried to do as a PA. That brings a much deeper joy than a race win. Start that nonprofit you’ve always dreamt of to fund other women to ride bikes and empower them with resources you’ll have access to. If you find disappointment after a race, share that. Because maybe you can impact someone else in a positive way by sharing that story. It doesn't have to be a win to make the difference. Don’t put that pressure on yourself Paige.

Additionally, you’ll see that money is not really discussed here in the letter. I would say prior to Big Sugar that was listed as a small concern or fear but I will be getting a salary from racing bikes. I’ve had incredible opportunities and these people see my potential and believe in what I can accomplish, which really does reduce a large burden to make this happen. Don’t take that for granted. This is a rare opportunity. Make those contract decisions and future decisions on WHO the people are, not the dollar value they represent. Does the company share the same values as me? This is what matters the most. And don’t forget, money is just green paper. We need it to pay bills and get through life - no doubt about that, nor do I dismiss the importance of it.

What I do fear is this: I’ve always had a home and I just sold my house so that I can be more mobile next year. Part of that decision was financial, but most of it was the reality that it’s impossible to upkeep a home on my own when I'm traveling as much as I am. I’ve been blessed with the ability to have a nice home and I’ve always tried to use that home to create a community around my friends and family. I love to cook, bake and entertain. It brings me joy to host a dinner party and make a tasty dinner and smile as my dining room is full of friends and family. I won’t exactly be able to host a dinner in my camper van or really have much of a homebase with the amount of traveling I’m doing. So if I find myself struggling with this next year, I’ll have to be creative with how this looks. At the root of it, it’s the community that is important here. You can have that still without a homebase or a home to host at. Maybe I’ll meet others that offer their home in this way and I can be a receiver. Just know that if I’m struggling with this, then I need to ask myself what is really missing? Is it the home or the people? Ask a friend to take over their kitchen and make a nice dinner. Volunteer at a food kitchen or Ronald McDonald house for a meal. Get to the root of why it is bothering you - but I doubt it will be the house itself. It’s the community that is in the house. Don’t forget that; nothing takes that away from you, it just looks different with this new life.

So why are you afraid? When something bothers you - dig deeper. Not the surface shit that we write about on Instagram. Pour yourself that glass of Pinot Noir and let the fears flow girl. You know your values and purpose in life; no amount of change can remove that from you internally. Racing is fun and rewarding, but my career as a PA has a deeper meaning. I view myself as a healer. It brings me joy to connect with my patients. No job change can take away the ability to connect with others. Volunteer - use those skills to impact the community you are in. Read medical journals while on the road, keep my mind and skills sharp even outside of the clinic. You can always return to practicing medicine. My license will always be there. That option isn’t removed. I’m just CHOOSING not to practice medicine right now. That choice was made because I believe there is a larger impact I can develop and create through cycling. Medicine isn’t going away. Just the vessel for impact is changing and that is okay.

So, scared Paige, what’s the worst that could happen? Even the worst case scenario isn’t that bad. I’m still the same Paige with or without the stethoscope and you know that.

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