How I Realised Career Isn't Everything
‘It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.’ This has been the blessed story of my life. Ever since I was a teenager, God has used pain to reign in my pride.' (Psalm 119:71)
This has been the blessed story of my life. Ever since I was a teenager, God has used pain to reign in my pride.
I always knew I wanted to be a Christian stay-at-home mother because I loved my homeschooling education. But, career beckoned and I listened to its call for some time before I woke up to myself. When I was 17, God afflicted me with a thorn in my side. I injured myself while doing my hospital nursing traineeship. I took a month off for two bulging disks. My doctor told me it would get better in three weeks. At the time, I was drugged up with painkillers. Nine years later, I’m still on them.
However, the pain did not keep me from my ambition. I was going to conquer the world. After I had finished my nurse training, I went to study a Bachelor of Medical Science. I was a keen student and got good marks. At first I wanted to study physiotherapy or pharmacy. I never dreamed of medicine. That was for smart people. But, as my degree progressed, people began to talk more about postgraduate options. Medicine was the option with the most money and prestige. People who got the marks went on to do medicine. Medicine was a challenge – and I was ambitious.
Throughout this time, I was unsociable. I was a veritable hermit at times. I enjoyed being alone and found other people, especially strangers, irritating. I didn’t feel like spending time getting to know others. After all, I’d grown up in a wonderful Christian family and felt I was equipped far more than the average Christian at University.
However, at the end of my degree – while waiting to find out if I’d succeeded in my bid to enter medicine – I went through an explosive growth in my Christianity. After reading Confessions by Saint Augustine, for the first time in my life, I was convicted of my sin. I remember telling my father how guilty I felt. I figured God should not save me. I was too sinful. My Dad said to me, “You know Beccy, God took our guilt on the cross too, so you shouldn’t feel guilty.”
I began reading my ESV Study Bible like a drug. It was like a drug because I spent every spare moment praying, reading the Bible and listening to sermons. I could talk about nothing else. I began to question my life. Was I living the way God wanted me to live? I read the gospels. I found Jesus socialised extensively. He was rarely alone – except when he was praying. I realised being by myself all the time was not glorifying God. Proverbs 18:1 says ‘Whoever isolates himself seeks his own desire; he breaks out against all sound judgment.’ That was me. I decided I would seek out other people.
Soon I heard back from Wollongong Medical School. After a nerve-racking four-month wait, I learned that I’d been accepted! I was overjoyed and rang my parents, my hands shaking, to tell them the news.
The preparation to move to Wollongong began. After settling into a Christian home with three other girls, my intense study began. During our first lesson, the teacher looked at us and said, “Well done! You are the cream of the crop! Out of 2,000 applicants, only 87 succeeded in getting in. And that’s you.” If the students in that room were not full of pride before the lecture, they were after it. I found most of my colleague’s nice people – but many of them were arrogant and I felt they wouldn’t care much for their patients. However, I couldn’t say I wasn’t one of them. Indeed, I got a tremendous boost from just telling people I was studying medicine.
We usually studied for 70 hour weeks. Every few weeks I would have a day off. Most other days I would start my day with a Pilates session by the beach at 6 am. At 7, I would be showered, dressed and at Uni. I usually studied until 11 pm and then went home. Often I would come home to rest my back for half an hour at lunch time. Medical school was tough going…and competitive! Everyone compared scores like we were in kindergarten again. We soon knew who the smart ones were. I was an average student.
Two months into the course, I began attending my housemates Bible study in an old weatherboard house in East Wollongong. When I walked into the living room for our first study, I noticed a surfie boy. He wore dorky skater shoes and sat on a stool with terrible posture! I was fascinated by him immediately because he was gorgeous! He was a blonde-haired, blue-eyed surfie boy. Soon we began to bond over the Bible at Bible Study. Then we started bonding through godly conversations outside Bible study…
But, my plan for life didn’t include a boyfriend because boyfriends, as thoroughly exciting as they were, didn’t help me get where I was going. Or so I foolishly thought. For four months, I deliberated about whether I wanted a boyfriend. I came treacherously close to throwing away one of the biggest blessing God had given me, for my career. I knew boyfriends meant commitment and commitment meant marriage and marriage meant children. But I couldn’t do the nine remaining years of study I’d signed on to do with a husband!
Time was an issue. During the day, I had limited time. I thought I only had enough time to read my Bible quickly and utter a 2-minute prayer (besides the times I was begging God to pass me in a practical). My course demanded so much from me so that I had little time to invest in others around me. This included Tristan and this included God. I put myself before both, because ‘I had to.’
Eventually though, I decided to make a commitment to my boyfriend and at this point that I began loving him. He had always loved me and decided on our first date he wanted to marry me. And he kept praying for it.
As my commitment to Tristan and a future family became stronger, my commitment to my course became weaker. I soon went from a 70-hours week to a 60-hour week. Rather than spending my weekends trawling through textbooks, I started spending more hours with Tristan. After good advice from my parents, I decided Tristan should be first in my life and my studies would just have to be second. But how could I fit everything in? What if I had a family…where were they going to fit into my plan?
About 9 months into the course, my back became almost unbearably sore. My whole frame began hurting. Although I’d always had a backache sitting in chairs, the stress of doing so continually made the pain even worse. I started taking more painkillers. Soon I was unable to sit in a chair for more than five minutes.
This was a problem, because, although I could skip lectures and listen to the audio at home, we had to sit in practicals and tutorials. Soon I had to stand up in everything. My final tutorial was the last straw. After spending a week in tears because of the pain and worry, I remember looking at the board as my peers scribbled something about how the renal system interacted with the endocrine system. I remember thinking to myself, “I’m so behind…and I’m not going to catch up.”
I’d had enough, so I spoke to the people in charge and they were incredibly sympathetic. They said to take a few months off and find out what was wrong. After that, I could come back and repeat the year. At the time, this sounded good. Tristan was incredibly understanding and helped me with perspective around everything.
During this time, I spoke with my auntie and mother, who were both homeschool mothers. I knew I couldn’t have everything. I couldn’t be a full-time stay-at-home Mum and still be a doctor. So I asked my Mum, saying, “Did you like being a stay-at-home Mum?” My mother (who wanted me to continue my Medical degree at the time), said with a sigh, “I didn’t want to tell you this, but I think you’ll have far more fun being a stay-at-home Mum.” That was it. I was going to quit.
But it was easier said than done. After years of idolising the life of a career woman, I had to let go of the respect and admiration I was receiving. Now I had to live the life of a ‘dropout’ and a ‘failure’ – at least that’s how I saw it.
Even so, my health didn’t recover and my pain increased. Soon I was experiencing 8 out of 10 pain every day. The one saving grace was Tristan. Through the ups and downs, Tristan was there. I felt God had placed him in my life to be the help I desperately needed – though I didn’t always appreciate or realise it. I was an independent woman after all.
Soon, I was largely drugged out on painkillers again and had to live life day-by-day. I could do very little and had to have others constantly help me. Night times were stressful, as I often lay awake with the pain. Daytimes were spent in bed, as chairs were still unbearably painful to sit in for more than a few minutes. Walking was incredibly stressful and the muscles in my legs began to weaken dramatically. My ambition had been reduced from a doctor-to-be full of hubris to a failed and humbled woman with disabilities. ‘Success’ looked far away.
But, God was changing me. He began changing my ideas about what success looked like. Success was a good relationship with God and my family. “For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?” (Matt 16:26)
Thereafter, I began to re-evaluate my life. I started realising I was chasing the wrong thing. The pull of the world had been stronger than the pull of God’s Word.
Soon, Tristan and I married. We had a lovely ceremony, which my mother and mother-in-law mostly organised (I was too sick to care much). God and Tristan have been my constant help these last few years and I’ve had the opportunity to think about what success looks like. The struggle for recognition has been hard to overcome. The world says success is fame and fortune. God says it’s a meek spirit. These are opposites. For a woman, I’m convinced there is no higher honour than that of being a mother.
As for me, I’ve now almost fully recovered. It’s been five years since the pain began (then diagnosed as Fibromyalgia then Central Sensitisation). But I’m happier than I’ve ever been. God has given me contentment, despite my pain. He has given me an excellent relationship with my husband. My relationship with God is also going along in leaps and bounds, as God speaks – nay, shouts to me through my pain. Pain has been a gift. I can honestly say, ‘It’s good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.’ (Psalm 119:71