“A rubber band is only effective when it is stretched.”
I can’t recall when I first heard this, or who said it to me. I’m inclined to think that it was a skating coach of mine, and while it was most likely used as a reminder to stretch my free leg on the ice, I think it is more suited to describe this past year. I struggled to label this last year of life- was it hard? Was I challenged? Did I build resilience and learn to cope? And after some thinking, I realized I had been stretched. I was stretched to be uncomfortable, to adjust, and to find new space that I had either not known existed or refused to find before. This stretch enabled me to discover capabilities I didn’t know to exist.
Nursing school stretched me in ways I could never anticipate. I will admit to everyone now- I entered school with the goal of finishing first in my class. About one week into my program, I let go of that goal. I was so intimidated by my peers, their thoughtful questions and advanced degrees, that I decided top 10% would be my new goal, surely surrounded by people far smarter than me who would out rank my work. Ironically, class rank was never discussed or even apparent, so my first stretch came in that I couldn’t compare myself to others. As the highly competitive person I am, this was hard! How did I know if I was good enough? What was my barometer? I came to learn that the barometer was me, that there was only one standard and bar to measure against, and it was the one I set for myself. While I always thought I had been intrinsically motivated, I learned this past year that I never really was, but nursing school forced me to be. I wanted to do well for my own reasons and I generally kept my successes private.
This led me to my next stretch- I had to learn to “keep my eyes on my own paper.” Being surrounded by my peers each day, with stress running high and the strong type A personalities in my school, it was easy to fall into the ugly spiral of, “Am I working hard enough? Did I start studying too late? Should I get an externship?” This need to compare pushed me into yoga, where I learned to turn inward, a practice I continue every time I step on my mat. One of my teachers said that if you’re in the pose one inch, you’re in the pose. It doesn’t matter how deep into the pose you go, or whether you take the harder variation or not. What matters is that you’re there, and I tried to be content with my place, and not turn my head to see who’s arm balance was better than mine. I was stretched to be at peace with my progress and success, without validation from the outside.
Remaining grounded in what felt right was hard this year too. The pace and uncertainty of last year was at an all-time high; in one year I finished school, got engaged, started planning a wedding, bought a house, moved, and got a new job. While everything all landed where I wanted it to, there was a fair amount of time spent in uncertainty. We took a leap of faith and bought the house first, a huge stretch for me to make this adult milestone in the midst of school and without a job. But it felt right, and that’s what I allowed to guide me through the process. In the midst of the unknown, we needed to anchor ourselves and I’m glad we did. Being a homeowner is exhausting, but there’s a sense of ease now that we didn’t have as renters. It sure is a money pit though.
A fresh rubber band can feel stiff at first. Maybe you have to stretch it a few times before you can use it. Sort of like a balloon that you warm up by stretching out with your fingers before you blow it up. But once it’s ready, that rubber band can stretch and hold things better than it ever could have done while unstretched. I’d guess that if a rubber band could talk, it would tell you the first few stretches might hurt, but then it gets used to it. Are we any different? Maybe those first few times of being pulled beyond our old form may hurt, and we’re quick to return to our original state. But if we allow ourselves to be stretched again, we will adapt, we will settle in to this new state, and we will find that we are capable of growth and adaptation. We can learn to be more effective.
I guess the year isn’t complete without telling you how my goals ended up, and I tell you this not to seek recognition but to complete my story. After finishing the first quarter with a 4.0 GPA, I knew that this was my bar. In some ways I was mad that I had achieved this, for I knew this was what I “had” to maintain. As the program progressed into 2019, I chose the word engage as my Word of the Year, knowing that as school wore me down, I would find it harder and harder to remain engaged in my goal. Wouldn’t you know it, my perfectionist GPA would be determined by my last exam in my last class, and I needed a 96 to hold my A. This wasn’t out of the realm of possibility, but it still wasn’t a walk in the park. Two days after that last exam, I logged in to see my score:
I put my hand over my mouth, both shocked and not at the same time, and cried quietly at my desk. Not because I had a 4.0, or that it ended up placing me tied for first in my class, which I would later learn at graduation. I cried because I had shattered the idea that I wasn’t smart, that I couldn’t do it, that it was really hard to start life over. In that moment, I snapped that rubber band. It wasn’t a snap that indicated brokenness, but a snap of growth, of being stretched far beyond what former Adrienne knew, and a readiness to take on dreams and goals that a former self would never have considered. It was an ordinary moment, spent alone at my desk, that will forever change how I view myself.
But now I want to tell you, those who might be reading this at your own time of transition or uncertainty- I see you and I am with you. It’s hard and I feel for you as you wander through the darkness, searching and waiting for the light to shine. I urge you to keep going, to keep asking and wondering, and listening to what feels good. Always follow what feels good to you, even if others don’t understand. It was in those moments where I learned to trust myself and the universe again, and you can too. And perhaps the most important piece to consider is that there is always something to be grateful for, and especially in the times of hardship, it was remembering my gratitude practice that saved me
It’s been quite a year and I thank the many people who helped me through. It was the culmination of many years of work, frustration, tears, being lost, finding my way again, endless cups of coffee, many margaritas, and lots and lots of stretching.
WTF is stretching you?