finding beauty in each dangerous opportunity

This week turned my life upside down. Literally. My work days stretched from a 10-hour up to a 14-hour day. I didn’t know I could work that long. Seriously.  This week I had two deadlines: 1. To get a manuscript out for final edits before resubmission, and 2. a revised aims page and research strategy.

Those deadlines fucked with my bedtime (which became mostly after midnight). My hours of sleep (usually 5 or less hours). My meals (I mostly forgot to eat, or ate too late).

Those deadlines fucked with my feelings. At times I felt elated: My scientific writing has improved tremendously, which was present in my mentor’s edits [much fewer than even 6 months ago]. I have creative, cutting edge, public health science ideas, which emerged before and during the grant writing process (and were reinforced by my mentor and an emerging mentor who I’ve been able to collaborate with thanks to my primary mentor). I also felt frustrated – because scientific writing still takes me ages. Because there are still things I don’t know how to do, nor describe. Mostly, these are methodological skills. I need to learn how to develop and psychometrically test surveys. I need to learn the lingo of the theory that underlines qualitative research (even though I know how to “do” qualitative research, I don’t know how to write about it like a scientist yet).

This week, I realized that this process of becoming a public health scientist is iterative. Twelve months ago,  I felt incompetent. I had ridiculous imposter syndrome. i hated that I had research ideas that I didn’t know how to describe. I hated that I didn’t have the methodological and analysis skills to answer the questions I wanted to address. I felt stupid. I wondered if I fit a PhD program.

But I muddled through it. I fucked up my methods. I fucked up my analysis. And then I corrected it. I got funded for summer research. I got accepted to present the research I’d previously not known how to approach. I received a scholarship to go to the conference I’d be presenting that research at. I improved.

That I don’t know how to talk the right theory or run the analysis I want to makes sense. I’m only 15 months into this “becoming a public health researcher” thing. Now, I didn’t feel this way in the midst of this past week. I felt annoyed at how much time I was taking to write and think and create. But, by Friday, i realized that I’m exactly where I want to be. Where I should be. I’m learning and growing and moving towards that dissertation.

That realization helped me to push through Friday (on 5 hours of sleep, once again). I managed to complete all the tasks I needed to just in time to go get my haircut. I opted not to got to a fundraiser so I could spend the night at home, packing my suitcase for the conference I’m attending this week.

Today I find myself in Denver. This day has been the foil of last week.

My mantra today has been, “Slow down”.  Since arriving in Denver at 9am, I have:

  • shopped for groceries (so i could eat today and also have breakfast this week)
  • mindfully eaten lunch (no work/social media/reading)
  • taken a 2-hour nap (from which I allowed myself to wake without an alarm)
  • taken a 3-hour alk through Denver’s Cheeseman Park and Botanical Gardens
  • enjoyed a mani/pedi
  • taken a LONG, HOT shower
  • mindfully eaten dinner (no work/social media/reading)
  • listened to “The Moth” podcasts
  • written this post

Throughout the day, I’ve taken time to check in to all of my senses. I’ve stopped to smell herbs, flowers, bread and cheese. I’ve stopped to feel the sun on my face and cool cotton sheets on my skin. I’ve tasted my food. I’ve listened to conversations, to the leaves rustling in the wind, to music and the water falling. I’ve slowed down.

Being able to come to Denver for this conference is a privilege. I have funding to support my travel. I have a loved one who will look after Bryce. I have the ability to take time away from the office; I’m even expected to do these things. It reflects well on my progress.

Coming to Denver is also a risk. A dangerous opportunity.

This is the first time I feel like I’ve truly traveled “by myself”. Even when I went to D.C. (twice) earlier this year for conferences, I was staying with family. I was guaranteed a safe space. A loving person to spend time with, share a meal with, talk to. This trip, I found an AirBnB. I traveled alone. I arrived alone. I’m staying in this space alone. I spent the day alone. For an extrovert, this is risky. For an extrovert who has been locked in an office for a week writing, being alone for an extended period feels risky.

And yet.

And yet.

I’ve slowed down.

I’m in a beautiful apartment with pictures of Paris all over the walls (which feels like a message from the Universe; Paris is one of my favorite places). I’m in a beautiful apartment in a neighborhood that feels like Boston. Boston is my favorite place.  I’m in an apartment a mile away from a beautiful park and botanical gardens. I thrive on time spent outside.

While in many ways this travel feels like a risk-a dangerous opportunity- it is also the most beautiful privilege. It’s already reminding me to make choices for me. That I am my own best friend- if I let myself be. That I am an extrovert, but I also need time along to re-charge. This trip is reminding me that I have the capacity to go places (literally and figuratively) but first I need to be sure to feed my soul before I fuel my work. Rinse and repeat.

Oh Denver, you are already a most beautiful dangerous opportunity, and I’m thrilled to see how the rest of the week will unfold.


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