A Year of Change: Making Big and Difficult Life Decisions

A Year of Change: Making Big and Difficult Life Decisions

One of my greatest faults is my inability to make quick decisions, even about minor issues. I am so indecisive that I will see-saw back and forth for mundane decisions such as what to wear for the day or what meal I should select at dinner. So when I’m faced with the task of making a big and difficult life decision — such as relocating or pursuing a new career — I am usually paralyzed with anxiety.

This year was filled to the brim with life-altering choices that I saw as junctions in the big road we call life.

Big Decision #1: I’m moving back to Portland

Hello again, Mount Hood!

Only a few months ago I announced that Salt Lake City would be my new home. I would be taking a job that jumpstarted my career and would be closer to family. It seemed like the stars were aligned and everything would fall into place: I would be closer to my family and friends, we could move to a lower cost of living area, and I would have an opportunity to grow in a new career. However, there was one setback.

My husband’s job.

“But Mary, aren’t doctors needed everywhere?” most of my friends ask. “Can’t he easily get a job in Utah?”

For those who don’t know, being a doctor in the US is not a one-size-fits-all type of career. Salaries and workload vary by practice and, most importantly, by region. The east coast is known for high workload and medium pay. The midwest and rocky mountain region are medium workload and medium pay. The South (and Texas) is the absolute worst combination, with high caseload and bottom-of-the-barrel pay. The real jackpot for medicine is the west coast, where caseload is low and pay is high. This is why my husband prefers to practice medicine in California, Oregon or Washington, and why moving to the east coast (something I’ve always wanted to try) has been out of the question.

When the Utah job came around, my husband was supportive. He wanted to make the move to support me and, while it was a downgrade from the west coast, the rocky mountain region still offered reasonable pay. Plus, with the offset in the cost of living in Utah, we would come out ahead in the end.

Or so we thought.

The secret’s out: Salt Lake is a great place to live

My husband struggled to find a job and, at the six month mark, he finally landed an offer — and it wasn’t good. It was not only at a more rural hospital that would involve a 40-60 minute daily commute, but it was also a 20% drop in pay with 400 more work hours per year. And the real kicker? No paid leave.

On top of this, we realized affordable Salt Lake City was no longer affordable. In Salt Lake City housing prices have jumped 27% in just one year, with the average home in Utah selling for $500k. In other words, we would be stuck paying for a house that was double the price of our Portland one, but worse in terms of square footage and overall craftsmanship.

My husband was willing to take the offer and go all-in for our new Utah life. I, on the other hand, was hesitant. Is this worth it?

After many calls with friends, multiple analyses done in excel worksheets and putting myself through pure agony as I weighed all the options, I finally reached a decision.

We would stay in Portland.

Big Decision #2: Quitting my Job

Goodbye job and hello freedom!

As frequent readers of this blog know, my father passed away this year. Before that, I had been in Utah helping my mom as a caregiver to my sick father. To say this year was one of burnout is an understatement: I was utterly defeated.

My father passed away on the last day of my previous job. Originally I had built in a buffer of one week to rest before transitioning to my new job. However, instead of take a vacation with my husband as I originally planned, I was now the sole organizer for my father’s funeral. When I informed my new employer that my father passed away literally only a few days ago, their response was:

“My condolences. See you on Monday.”

So, as most Americans do, I gritted my teeth, pulled myself up by the bootstraps, and went into the office. I’m a tough bitch, I told myself, and I don’t need a break. I want to show this new employer I’m a strong woman who can handle high workload and tough timelines. Perhaps, I thought positively, this job can help me forget recent woes and propel me onto bigger and better things.

What I forgot, however, was how hard it is to acclimate to a new job. The work itself wasn’t difficult, but it was the process of starting from a bank slate that gave me unsurmountable stress. At my previous employer, I knew how to work the systems; I had strong relationships with my manager and colleagues and most of all I was a trusted employee who knew how to get the job done. At this new job I was much like Jon Snow in Game of Thrones: I knew nothing.


And then, our family cat of 15 years almost died.

When we are operating under extreme stress and emotional instability, we tend to hit a breaking point eventually. The cat was my breaking point.

When I saw our beloved cat suffer from kidney failure (just as I watched my father suffer weeks earlier), I lost it. I called in sick for a week. I cared for the cat like it was my first-born child (luckily, our cat survived). Although this incident had a happy ending, it still opened the emotional floodgate I had been holding in for months and had me come to a sudden realization:

I need a break.

The decision to quit my job, especially as a woman who wants a career, was extremely difficult. I heard horror stories about older women who quit the workforce for only a few months only to never find work again. Yet despite the apprehension, I took the plunge to leave my job. For once, I wanted to do something for myself.

It has been two months since I quit my job. I still have moments of wonder and pangs of regret, but for the most part, I finally feel rested. After years of balancing caregiving and grieving with a demanding corporate job, I feel that I can finally breathe again.

I can say without hesitation: these last two months are the best sleep I’ve gotten in four years.

Taking the Plunge

In my younger years, making decisions didn’t seem to faze me. I did, after all, go to Shanghai with nothing but a one-way ticket and the hope of opportunity. I didn’t even hesitate to take the plunge and move to Japan, Beijing or Shanghai and completely disrupt my life.

As we get older, however, I feel like the stakes get higher. Add marriage into the mix, and you really have a complicated mess of factors that need to be considered when making any kind of life decision.

Do I live near family or relocate for a better career?

Should I marry this person?

Do I move for my husband’s job?

Should I have kids?

All these decisions are so incredibly stress-inducing because they determine the trajectory of our lives. As I wobbled back and forth on the decisions to leave Utah and quit my job, I was plagued with so much anxiety and stress I don’t even have enough words to convey it here on this blog. The only advice I can offer, however, is this:

Once you’ve made your decision, commit to it and keep your eyes on the future.

It’s very easy to look back and imagine the ‘what if’ scenarios of life, but this kind of mindset will pull us back instead of push us forward. I often have to mentally pull myself out of the “what could have been” way of thinking and instead focus on the here and now.

Final Notes

Moving Forward

Apologies this post was somewhat intimate and personal, but as I struggle with writer’s block I realize sometimes you just need to open the floodgates of your mind and release whatever comes out. After reading a few online blogs and journals, I realize the best writers are the ones who don’t hold back. I hope I can do this better in my future writing and bring a stronger sense of voice to my work.

Anyway, it’s back to the Portland life of trees, perpetual grey and hipsters. Wish me luck.

8 thoughts on “A Year of Change: Making Big and Difficult Life Decisions

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Mary! I don’t really know how I found your blog, but I can strongly relate to many of the things you discuss as someone who has moved around a lot. I am a proponent of always looking forward also! Your employer in Utah’s reaction is par for the course; it seems work teams forget the human side of things all too often.

    1. Thank you for the support!!! I’m glad that you can relate and know the trials of moving around a lot… it’s definitely as as glamorous as it looks! Again, really happy to hear from you. I also hope employers in the future can be more empathetic…

  2. Your Utah employer is SUCH. AN. ASSHOLE. I am glad you ditched them. I hope you gave them as little notice as possible. Everyone should be able to leave a crap job with no regrets when it’s no longer advantageous, because every company will certainly kick you to the curb with no regrets.

    I am glad your kitty made it!!! That is amazing. What an incredible nurse Mary is!

    I had no idea that a doctor’s workload/ salary was so geographically dependent. Thanks for the insight. (Now I’m going to ask Dr. Sis if she concurs–she was in Texas, then Kentucky, and now Virginia, all at university hospitals.)

    I appreciate hearing about all the struggles and all the choices. Keep us posted on Portland–any luck with job hunting yet or are you still sleeping well?!

    1. The job wasn’t all bad, but I’m still kind of shocked that they didn’t even offer to delay my start date. To be fair, I guess I shouldn’t have tried to tough through it, but oh well…. Other yellow flags happened there (like the mask thing) and me working 15 hour days in a row (while my manager came in and left earlier than I did). I was just not in the right mental state to deal with such high workload..

      Haha, I think it was the meds that helped the kitty, but I’m glad she made it!!! It was a 50/50 recovery so my brother and I were on edge.

      Well I think salaries are different for university hospitals (my husband said uni doctors make less actually, but they have better work/life balance). My husband is a hospitalist so maybe it only applies to his type of work. I think it’s different (maybe?) for surgeons or cardiologists or other specialists. My husband did say that Texas is by far the most corrupt medical system and it’s basically for-profit healthcare. So glad we didn’t move there lol.

      I am applying to a few jobs here and there, but I’m trying to rest and recover for 1-3 months and take it easy. Actually I am trying to focus on my writing projects, but I have a really hard time staying focused and disciplined. I know you also write on the side — do you have any tips you can share!?

      1. Don’t have kids? That’s my best tip on how to focus on writing (for women only, men have wives to handle 80% or more of the childcare). Now, having a kid has made me much better at writing believable characters, but there are also books for that. Books are way cheaper than kids.

        Kids aside, writing is harder now than it ever was before, what with social media and video games at your finger tips. Not to mention texting, etc. Writing (and storytelling) used to be the only form of entertainment (for reader and writer). Now writing and reading have to compete with screens. No easy task, there. It’s a battle you fight daily.

        But if you’re a woman, it helps if you can prioritize your time and not let the demands of husband, kids, friends, volunteer work, or family interfere. I’m always reminding myself that I need to set aside a block of at least 3 hours with no phone. 1 hour works for smaller projects like blog posts, especially if I can get to it early.

        What I really need is a writing shed with no internet and a moat filled with crocodiles.

        Or just the ability to say “no” to everything from friend’s calls to laundry.

        Failing that, having someone who wants to read your work is a helpful motivator. Whether it’s a critique partner or a beta reader, if you promise someone a chapter or a post, you’re more likely to prioritize it. Especially if you are type A.

  3. I’m sorry I saw this so late. How have things been going? I know, as much as it pains us, sometimes it is best to stay. I’ve hated the waiting game of this past year, but the promise of my new job has been lacking to say the least… but all we can do is keep doing our best. I now remind my husband and I — we make the best decisions we can at the time. Glad you’re getting some rest. Sorry about Utah. I, too, am bummed that places like Colorado and Utah have been discovered. The great exodus (again) out of California, NYC, and big cities has been noted. Take good care, xo

    1. Thank you so much for the message, Lani. And I’m also sorry to hear that you’re in limbo kind of like I was. It’s crazy how much stress that state of being unstable can cause — not knowing where you’re going to end up so you can’t live your full life really sucks. I hope your situation got sorted out for the best!

      And yes, my friend from Fort Collins said that her sister works for the government and her salary went up exponentially because the government re-evaluated the cost of living in Colorado — and it’s now the second highest in the US!! I couldn’t believe it. Next up is Texas, then Utah. Darn Californians, haha..

      I hope you’re doing well! Happy holidays to you!!

      1. Wow. I’m surprised but not at the same time. CO is such a beautiful state, even the boring flat bits because they provide relief from all those damn mountain passes. 😛

        Thanks, xo

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