In January 2013 I had a problem. I would jolt awake in the middle of the night, heartbeat racing out of control. Sweat, adrenaline and terror would thud-thud-thud as I tried to calm myself back to sleep. After a while I hit upon the idea of meditating for 10 minutes before I went to bed – the extra oxygen seemed to work for my brain, because almost immediately I was able to sleep through the night once more.
In January 2013 I had too much uncertainty. The Plan in late 2012 was basically to (a) survive & thrive during my Imperial College sojourn (b) move back up to Scotland and stay with family to wait for my grad school admissions results (c) anything beyond my time at Imperial I’d deal with from Scotland. This plan was effective in the sense that I did thrive at Imperial and successfully focussed all my energy onto the research and PhD applications. However, the consequence was that in January 2013 I was back living in the family homes with no concrete plan for how I would fill the next ~6 months.
By January 2013 I had successfully established myself as an independent, international globe-trotter. A woman who could navigate the sleepy provincial towns of Switzerland as easily as the mean streets of Philadelphia, who proudly fended for herself. Going back to live with my parents was something of a shock to the system. Returning to the small villages where I’d grown up felt odd – I’d outgrown the place in much the same way as I’d outgrown my clothes from that era.
One month later and sh*t was locking down. I had 1 piece of certainty to cling on to – that I would be starting a PhD program by Autumn 2013 – so took a snap decision to accept a part-time job in Edinburgh to tide me over until that time.
It was a good call.
The Edinburgh stay wasn’t especially easy for me. Nor will I reflect upon this period of my life with much nostalgia – I went to Edinburgh to fill in a gap, gap-filling is what the time resembled. At the moment I’m looking forward to the PhD without any conflicting emotions, mainly because I really want to quit the “Edinburgh period” and actually move my life forwards once more.
That’s not to say that the time in the Scottish Capital was unproductive or that I didn’t enjoy it. I think there’s quite a lot of lessons I’ve learned, a few of which I hope will be applied to my time in the USA.
- Don’t live in the past. When I returned to Edinburgh I was still fresh with the memories from university. I had my own “patch” and my own favourite locations. But at the same time I became increasingly dissatisfied with the way I tried to fit back into a familiar pattern I had since outgrown. Hanging around the studenty areas of town didn’t feel right. I think that if I’d found a job in a different part of the city – one with no connection to where I’d studied – I wouldn’t have had any problem. As it was I tried to stop myself going back completely into the old routines…but didn’t really establish anything truly new. So in essence I was just repeating a very limited pattern of old behaviour on loop. For 6 months in a place I know I’m not staying in is almost acceptable. Fortunately it won’t be in New Jersey.
- “High income” matters less than “predictable income”. Stress about income is an absolute bitch. I hate it. Absolutely hate it. My problem here is not that my total income was too low to survive on, but that it didn’t come into my bank account in a regular, pre-determined way. It was tricky making big purchases because I simply didn’t know when my next sizeable paycheque was coming in. The angst I accrued worrying about whether I was going to afford a train ticket home next week…or if I’d have to skip meals just wasn’t worth it.
- Activities, social circles and socialising are what make the difference between Living and Existing. I didn’t do enough of any of those things whilst in Edinburgh. Gradually I’m losing the fear that I’ve done myself permanent damage by my (asocial) actions…but given that socialising always cheers me up, I did myself a disservice.
- Nonetheless, financial independence matters more than financial stability. Although the stress about my income wore me out in places…I never once regretted my decision to strike out by myself in Edinburgh (as opposed to staying at home in Fife). Although I don’t like getting anxious about money…I’ve got the capacity for it, if you see what I mean. Stress about money isn’t going to affect me in the way that being stuck in the family homes did.
- Education is important…but respect those that don’t have as much of it. One thing I really miss about my time in Swiss pharma was the lunchtime chats I had with my colleagues. It’s nice being able to talk to people with a high level of education – we tend to share similar views, ideas, experiences, etc. That said: after living on one of the poorest council estates in Edinburgh and working as a toilet cleaner…claiming intellectual superiority seems rather, well, stupid. The point where a person’s formal education stops does not dictate (a) the level of respect you should give them (b) that they’re any less interesting, likeable or smart than you.
- Stay out of the Comfort Zone. That pretty much summarises it. Take risks. Stay out of old behaviour patterns. Embrace new stuff.