By Dr. Amisha Singh
As I type this, I am currently coasting at 477 mph at a breathtaking 38,000 feet in my first flight since the pandemic started. As someone who once considered Denver International Airport a second home, this is a little bit like a step back into another life, complete with equal parts excitement and anxiety. I look out over the patchwork landscape of beautiful Colorado, my forever home, taking in a familiar sight which I hope I will not take for granted again. And I think about perspective.
I spent the weekend at a family wedding in Atlanta and there we had numerous conversations about life over the past two years. Two years is a fairly long time for my large, extended, Indian family to go without seeing each other, so there was plenty to catch up on. One of my cousins decided to leave a career in healthcare. Another is moving across state lines and leaving a newborn niece she thinks of as a daughter.
As I heard about life trajectories of cousin after cousin, job changes and moves and weddings and transitions, I could not help but think how unexpected some changes are. Changes like the pandemic, changes like your favorite dental assistant quitting over lunch, changes like family illnesses, changes like acceptance to dental school, changes like buying a practice, changes filled with joy and sorrow alike, often come out of nowhere. They feel like an accost to your life, to your balance, to all the places you knew you were destined to be. They can feel like a win wrapped up in a loss, or vice versa. They are unexpected and emotionally turbulent … and sometimes a dichotomy. That’s OK. Life turns aren’t binary. They aren’t good or bad, happy or sad. They are amalgamations of a multitude of emotions and, sometimes, as humans, we do not know where to place them. Humans like buckets. Buckets feel safe and reliable and predictable and we want to compartmentalize and categorize to gain access to that stability. But changes are, by their very definition, unstable.
I think about my own life paths and how I had no idea that academic medicine would be my ideal work. I think about the journey I took to get here and how I did not always willingly cross the paths on that journey. Sometimes life had to force my hand. But now, with this perspective, looking back with my 20-20 hindsight, I see all the paths that had to align to bring me to this joy I have now. And some of the paths were amazing (I will remember the December 1call accepting me to my dream school for the rest of my life). But others felt like losses at the time. I remember grieving those losses and wondering “why?”
I type this to remind you (and myself), the why may not be evident in the moment, but it shows itself later. So far, this has not failed. I am standing on the mountain with complete visibility so I can say that easily now. I am joyous now. But, in my sorrow, it was not always easy to trust the universe, to trust that I would know the why behind what felt like an unmeasurable loss.
When I mentor students and younger dentists, so often, I hear them lament over the length of their journey. They ask “why?” too.
Why did I have to take that gap year?
Why did I major in engineering first?
Why did that practice fall through?
Why did it take me so long to realize that I love public health?
And as I hear them, I think of all the times I asked myself these questions. It brings me right back to this plane. See, when I travel from ATL to DEN, I do not complain about the three hours of my day I spent on this flight. I do not see this as a waste of my time. I recognize that I need the time to travel the miles. I need the time to travel the miles. I need to spend this time on a flight, traveling the journey, to return home. In fact, I trust that a plane is flying the quickest route possible to get me home. So why can we not trust the same of the journey of our lives? Every path we travel, every turn we take, is necessary to give us an important piece of ourselves, to bring us home. This path will wind and sometimes meander, but it will always bring us home … to our dream jobs, to the best version of who we are, to who we will eventually become.
So as we start the descent into DIA, and I take in the patchwork quilt of land which lies beneath me, watching tufts of clouds cast shadows and glide past, I want to anchor this memory. I want to remember what it feels like to see all the whys, and trust the universe, and feel like home is approaching. May we never forget this feeling of coming home.
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Note: “WHY?” by annnna_ is licensed with CC BY-ND 2.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/