But the restlessness was handed down,
and its getting very hard to stay.
I have not stumbled into this life of an itinerant doctor through some accident.
Ever since Cain and Abel, humans have been telling stories to try and understand why some sew and harvest while others roam with the seasons.
We all lie somewhere on this continuum.
On one end are the constant roamers, the nomads. Those whose breath is the very wind over the plains, constant motion. On the other end are the sewers, reapers, and builders. Those settled ones who grow deep roots.
Most of us are in middle, but we all lean one way or the other. I am center-nomad. From the top of a far bluff, I look down at riverside settlements and envy the apparent stability and contentment. Nonetheless, despite my longing, I am not of townsfolk blood.
I envy that life until I have it, then I quickly feel a deep need to move, to travel over the next hill, to see new country. 35% settled, 65% nomad. These are impetuses difficult to resolve within one’s soul, let alone with the outside world.
Who Was I Kidding?
During medical school and residency I read a lot of the “happiness” literature. A consistent theme in the happiness literature is community and connectedness. As I started to make plans for a future practice, I folded in the importance of connectedness into my plans and landed on family medicine for a specialty.
I thought putting down roots and developing deep, long relationships with my patients would be satisfying and fulfilling. In retrospect, this seems a little foolish – knowing who I am. From graduating high school until residency, I never lived in one city longer than 9-10 months. Even in medical school, I figured out ways to spend months away from the city my medical school was in.
I spent 2-3 times longer in one place during residency than I had in the ten years prior. What made me think I was going to suddenly want to settle down and become the “town doc” for 20 years?
I even thrived on the rotational nature of residency. I loved having something new to learn and focus on every 2-8 weeks. I probably would have gone crazy without it.
Indeed, family medicine is the nomad of medical specialties. The variation in family medicine was also a huge pull for me. We are not confined to an organ system, an age group, a location of practice, we can go where the wind of medicine takes us.
Pretty much immediately upon starting practice after residency, the sense of permanency began to suffocate me. I couldn’t shake the idea of “this is it?” Was this really the end point in the long journey towards becoming a doctor?
A nomad cannot be fenced.
I Know the Grass Isn’t Greener
Some may scoff at my acceptance of my rolling stone nature. “Sure,” they say, “we all fall into the trap of thinking the grass is greener on the other side of the fence – but it isn’t.”
I agree. I do not think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence. In fact, experiencing different places has helped me know this more definitely. Rather, I seem to possess a deep desire to simply experience the grass on the other side of the fence.
I don’t feel the pull to roam because I am looking for something or somewhere better. I simply have this greedy urge to experience everything I can. Life is so short and there is so much out to feel, know, and experience in this world.
How can I say no?
There is so much to learn about the other side of the fence I could not have known until I was there. Up on crossing a fence, I have realized the grass may be the same, but the fence is totally different from the other side.
I may not have crossed the fence to experience this, but it was a new experience all the same. An experience which I could not have anticipated.
To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld, the world is full of unknown unknowns. We can only experience them if we go new places, if we challenge ourselves, if we allow ourselves to be uncomfortable. Discomfort is where growth happens.
This change in perspective, when repeated, is vivifying. I am constantly learning to see the world through new eyes, which has added value to my life, if not wealth.
Some of us build monuments and harvest crops, others roam and explore. We only thrive when we embrace who we are.