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The Tremors of Doubt

You know the look. You've seen it whenever you express an interest in going to see a movie your friends don't want to see. Or in choosing an adventurous restaurant menu offering. Or talk about your lifelong dream to live in a different country and culture than the one you were born into.


Doubt. Disbelief. Judgment.

"Why are you doing that? I would never do that."

"Couldn't you make a better choice for yourself?"

"That's just crazy."

The more experience you have with a thing, the easier it is to rebuff the naysayers: I know with great certainty that I dislike avocados. No, I don't need to try them "just one more time." I've tried them, lots. I have much experience with avocados, and every time, I dislike them. No. Just ... no.

But of course, this entire venture -- leaving the US to move to the UK -- has so many unknowns, it's hard to defend my decisions, even against my own choices, much less those expressed by others, by friends and family who think they're being helpful by pointing out every potential pitfall well in advance (and frequently with very little objective data of their own).

Way back at the beginning of this adventure, I was able to set aside the biggest doubts. I tackled them head on, one after the other, and set them aside so as not to continue to distract me and weigh me down: My dogs could die in flight, or survive the trip but suffer a poor quality of life there. I might really hate practicing medicine under British jurisdiction. I might fall ill and be utterly alone in a foreign country, with no support system. And if nothing else, it's going to be terribly expensive with me potentially ultimately losing money in the venture.

I've accepted all those possibilities -- and more -- and decided to proceed anyway. Still, however, I'm not immune to an occasional wobble.

Why is it so much easier to dismiss the opinions of people different from ourselves? My next door neighbour is confounded by my decision to move to the UK. "Why would you want to leave this country when there are so many beautiful things to see here? I've never even been to Europe!" Well, anyone who can't see the value in even having visited a country other than his own is unlikely to ever understand my desire to entrench myself in a different culture precisely for that very reason: because it is a different culture than my own -- what is that going to be like, day in and day out, in a way not experienced as a transient tourist? So I can easily set aside his thoughts and ideas about my choices.

But this morning I received an email from a fellow veterinarian with whom I've been corresponding. She's an American veterinarian who practiced for a few years in England before returning to the US. I wrote to her to ask a question about UK professional regulations, which she answered but also added "I'm much happier to be back in the US with higher income and lower cost of living."

It's not the first time she's remarked, unsolicited, about the relatively poor financial situation for vets in the UK. Speaking for myself, I'd already decided to accept the lower pay in exchange for an experience I couldn't have any other way. It won't quite be a working vacation, but not dissimilar. I'm hoping to make enough money to stay afloat, but I'm hardly looking to make my fortune. So then, why did her email give my foundation a little shake? Why did I find myself thinking all the way back to the beginning, "Maybe this isn't a good idea"?

COVID. Brexit. All the big doubts listed above. Those I've sort of accepted and laid to rest, or at least locked securely behind closed doors in my mind: "I can't deal with you right now -- we're just going to have to chance it." But this little (seeming) dig about my financial choices has got a bit under my skin.

What makes each of us vulnerable? Where are our weak spots, our fears? I certainly have been guilty of having the "bag lady" fear -- that somehow I'll lose everything I have and end up poor, on the streets, with nothing. The chances of this happening are realistically about zero. But here in America, we're supposed to always want more: more money, more things, a bigger house, a newer car.

I, on the other hand, am looking for something else. The Next Thing.

Today I find myself reflecting on this blog's title. Last year, it simply meant "the next thing after leaving my twenty-year home & job in Alaska." Now, a little more than a year later, I realize what I really mean is: What's the next thing after me being a veterinarian, when I am either uninterested or incapable of continuing this career path? What will my next career be? I may have another twenty-odd years of professional life left. Look at US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who sat the bench well into her eighties. What if I want to continue a productive life but in a different venue? What will that Next Thing be?

And so I am reminded again these are not the questions other people -- friends who are dipping into and out of my life -- are asking of themselves and their lives. They're trying to figure out their own "next thing." Perhaps my veterinary colleague is eagerly pursuing early retirement. For myself, I realized over these past six months of COVID lockdown, I'm much happier if I have a project, a job, something to occupy my time and force me to socialize with other people. I always thought I'd want to retire early, too, and just sit around and read all day. Now I've done that for a few months, I've come to realize that's not actually true.

So then, tremors and wobbles and doubts set aside once more as I realize my path is my own -- our paths may intersect and even follow along together for a time before once again diverging -- I travel, onward.


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