Lessons Learned in Choosing Yourself

By Erin Turingan

Being raised by immigrant parents, the path was decided for me to be a physician someday. But I was a rebel. I became a pharmacist instead.

Becoming a pharmacist is a long road. After 4 years of undergraduate coursework, I completed another 4 years of school for a Doctorate of Pharmacy, and finally 2 years of a Master’s Degree alongside pharmacy residency training in a hospital.

Even with all the years of schoolwork, none of it gave me insight into the rigors of residency. During residency, I was too swamped to focus on myself but got broken to the point where I learned a lot about who I was and what I was capable of. The layers of project deadlines, long hours at the hospital each day, and 12-day strings of work caused me to be so overwhelmed that I lost myself completely. All the while, knowing that my work directly affected patients, which added an extra sense of duty to others over self. And lo and behold, I couldn’t just freeze time outside of the hospital and let it start back up where it was when I finished training.

There were times during the two years where I was hanging on emotionally by a string that could be broken with the slightest whisper of instability in my personal life. But we can’t control everything, and things happened. I got in an accident that totaled my car. I had an episode of depression caused by hormone imbalance from birth control pill changes. There were things happening with my immediate family that required my emotional attention.  

Even with the personal life issues, my work couldn’t be sacrificed. Or at least, that’s what I felt. But at the end of the day I felt I was failing all around. And I still had to find a job for when the program ended.

When it came to the job search, I decided my job wasn’t going to be my number 1 priority anymore. There was so much content that I learned for my career, but I came out of it barely knowing who I was because I never had time or mental capacity to figure it out. I pushed aside my needs, couldn’t be available as much as I wanted to for my friends and family, and felt that overall I was pretty selfish during this time. I knew my first job after completing training was the time to finally take reclaim my agency and set boundaries.

So I decided to take myself to New York City.

Many of my program preceptors thought I was crazy to move there, where pharmacy isn’t as progressed as in other parts of the country. I was told, “You’re such a Millennial,” and asked how long I thought this phase would last.

But I knew in my heart that I was making the right decision. I wanted to be in a place where life was happening right outside my door, almost forcing me not to think about work. I wanted to be where my partner and I could both thrive, and not in a place where we would go just for my job. I wanted to be where I could re-kindle old hobbies and discover things I never knew existed.

I couldn’t be happier with the decision. In just my first year, I met Gloria Steinem and Roxane Gay (twice!), participated in the Women’s March and March For Our Lives, and discovered an obsession with listening to podcasts. I have a microadventure almost every day and get to be a tourist in my own city whenever I choose.

When people ask how I’m doing, the question is always about work first. They know that I’ve worked so hard and for so long for my career that they assume it’s still the strongest passion I have. But now, I address the question and quickly shift into life updates outside of work, where my new passions are.

It’s important to remember to always make yourself a top priority. It’s when you take care of yourself that you are more available to impact those around you. In patient-centered jobs like mine, it is easy to lose sight of this especially being surrounded by those who are suffering from sickness. But those we impact need us to be strong for them, otherwise we all will fall.

More About Erin

Erin Turingan is a pharmacy manager, peer-reviewed author, and speaker. She is also the creator of Coffee Meets Polished, a blog that empowers others to embrace who you are to get what you want. She is always listening to podcasts and sharing her life in New York City through the lens of Instagram Stories.

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