Finding some balance

It’s almost springtime in central Illinois and I am finishing up the last few months of my travel assignment, which was extended for a total of nine months — by far my longest time in one location as a traveler.

That gypsy soul in me is definitely wanting to get moving and traveling again. But first, I have so much to catch you up on since my last update, written en route back to the East Coast this past summer.

August 2016: This was a challenging month. If you recall from my previous posts, the time in between contracts has continually tested my anxiety. Do I have enough money not only to survive this employment gap but also enjoy the time off? Will a new job assignment open up for the time frame I want? At the location I want? What do I do with so much sudden free time? Should I keep doing this?

August was filled with days of wanting to sleep my mornings away, moping around indoors, being “stuck” in my mind, and beating myself up for not being productive with my time (I’ve had a painting commission waiting for me to work on between every assignment so far).

Oh, and by the end of the month, I also lost my travel partner.

Don’t worry; he is alive and well. We simply decided to part ways. Still, there is a grieving process and it’s especially difficult to continue with the traveling idea when I had started this new lifestyle while having a great partner along for the journey. It was pretty much the only way I had known.

But lately, I’ve been listening to my inner self more often and more deeply, and I have been able to gain clarity on how I have subconsciously wanted to experience traveling solo all along. I can’t help but wonder, Did I push him away? But perhaps the same desire to be solo for a while applied to him since our decision was mutual. So, either way, I’m finding value and appreciation of where this journey has taken me. It’s all about growth.

Back to some logistics of the travel assignment planning in August ... I had been in contact with recruiters from three staffing agencies to find my next assignment. I was ready for something closer to my family this time around. Long story short, I went with a new staffing agency and accepted an assignment two and a half hours from Chicago.

It’s really unheard of to have loyalty to a specific company when you’re a traveler. Not all travel companies have connections with the same facilities and so not all travel companies will have the same opportunities that match what you’re looking for at a given time. The wise choice is to go with the agency that can land you a contract closest to your desired location, that can offer you a start date most consistent with what you want, and, of course, that can offer you the best pay — although there are times when you might end up taking less pay in order to prioritize the location and/or start date, or even desired clinical setting. It's definitely not black and white. In an ideal situation, all of the above would line up perfectly.

During the last few days of August, I said my goodbyes in New England, ran into an emergency in the case of a painful, impacted wisdom tooth that needed to be extracted, and prepared for my road trip alone from the East Coast to my family in Chicago for an overnight visit before continuing to my new assignment in a different part of Illinois.

Unable to find decent Airbnb listings near the facility in rural Illinois, I looked into short-term apartment rentals in the nearest small city, Peoria, which ended up being about 50 miles from the skilled nursing facility where I was scheduled to start work in two days’ time.

Imagine having to look almost blindly for an apartment, get all your furniture, move in, open up utility accounts, and find your bearings a mere two days before starting a new job.

I’ll spare you the longer version of the story. The most notable parts were: I had picked out one apartment in Peoria and scheduled a viewing, drove there, met with the super-friendly property manager, and didn’t like the apartment itself. But, because I had gone there and opened myself up to possibilities, I received a referral to an apartment complex in downtown Peoria, went to tour another apartment on the outskirts of town, booked an Airbnb nearby to sleep on my options, got offered a room for rent at that Airbnb while I was there, and ended up choosing the downtown studio apartment — I was looking forward to having my own space again for a while, and it was available for a three-month lease.

And because of all that, I got a referral from the downtown location’s property manager for a furniture rental company in town, went to check out the office and warehouse in person, and was incredibly lucky that the company had some cancellations that same afternoon and was able to deliver to my new apartment later that day — you would usually have to make a reservation several weeks ahead of time for these places, so having same-day delivery when I had first learned about their existence that morning felt like incredibly lucky timing.

I couldn't help but believe I had manifested these encounters and all the cards fell into place, and the best part was I (surprise) didn't panic and just trusted that everything would work out. And though I still put myself out there and did the leg work, I knew only so much of it was in my direct control. So I really had to practice surrendering. It was clear to me that sending out positive energy into the world attracted more positive energy back into my life.

A past version of myself would have tried to plan way, way further in advance and with as much detail as possible — type A much? But I remember thinking about how things have always worked out before, so why not open myself up to opportunity and observe how it would all fall into place again? And it did. That ought to remind me to chill out between assignments, eh?

September 2016: This was a month I look back on fondly. I connected with people, made new friends outside of work, enjoyed my new assignment, didn’t have to travel among three facilities daily (I only had to work in one building this time), and got to spend time with my sister and brothers — they even took a day trip down from Chicago to surprise me and celebrate my birthday with me, and that is definitely a perk of living and working closer to home now.

There has also been something refreshing about being back in the Midwest (I was born and raised in Michigan) after spending almost all of my young adulthood in New England. I still smile to myself every time I hear someone say the words sucker, pop, and tennis shoes. And though most people don’t understand and look at me like I’m weird, it is still my instinct to hold up my right hand and point to my hometown whenever anyone asks where I’m “originally” from. Gotta love it!

Now, a potential (minor) downside I’ve come across at this assignment is, I am the only speech pathologist for a busy 169-bed county home. There isn’t even another one per diem (aka “on call” or “as needed”). I must admit I felt slightly nervous in September when I found out I wouldn’t have any help (and as I would find out after six months here, I still am the only SLP). But, I’m managing!

I spend most hours of my workday doing swallow therapy with the nursing home residents and short-term rehab patients, teaching them swallow strategies, compensatory techniques, and swallow exercises. I also get to work with adults and elderly adults on improving their word finding abilities, speech production, short-term memory, problem solving, and safety awareness/falls prevention.

I am noticing each assignment has helped me to become an even sharper clinician, a better professional, a wiser traveler/renter, and most of all, an even more compassionate human being with a stronger appreciation of the people with whom we share this Earth. You learn a lot about the world and about yourself when you travel to live and work in all these different places.

December 2016: I declined an offer for a permanent SLP position at this SNF but opted to extend my travel assignment for six months, after requesting a sign-on/extension bonus. So when my three-month lease for the apartment 50 miles away from the facility was up at the beginning of December, I decided to move to a town located less than five miles away from the SNF and looked into a particular apartment complex, per the recommendation of the local therapists at my facility. And I (luckily) did like the only one-bedroom unit that would be available for the date of my planned move-in. No more 50-minute commutes each way!

I happened to move in exactly the day before our first snowstorm of the year, and to top it off, the leasing agency offered healthcare professionals a discounted price for rent. I was also allowed to commit only to a six-month lease instead of the usual 12 months. The only thing was this apartment was unfurnished and the largest space I had ever lived in by myself. So I took a leap and bought myself some furniture. My goal was to cozy the space up but still give myself that minimalist, uncluttered feel. After all, six months isn’t that long but still long enough to get comfortable.

Overall, it has been so helpful to find some balance with taking quiet time to myself throughout this assignment, driving home to see my family once or twice a month, visiting with friends, exploring new places in the region, building what I call an “opportunity” fund for my unpaid time off between assignments, and really starting to work on more concrete personal goals.

More updates on my adventures as a new travel therapist to come. Until then, may the start of spring bring you renewed hope, luck, and positive energy from the universe.

With love,