the law of synchronicity

Friday morning at 1 am I was thinking, My God, how incredible! I had spent that week thinking of two topics. First, ideas about women, age and achievement as a woman. Second, cervical cancer and the HPV vaccine, as I just got my first series vaccination a few weeks ago. I’ve been wondering about the underlying mechanisms of HPV and how it can lead to cervical cancer, and how much of a problem all this poses for women in the world.

I went out Thursday night to celebrate a friend’s birthday party downtown, and after a pretty decent amount of eating, dancing and such, I made a quick stop in the restroom before leaving. As I walked in I heard a woman speaking to the restroom attendant saying, “I just love visiting NYC!” Compulsively, I asked, “Where do you come from?” This woman is researcher based between Kenya and China who studies cervical cancer. I asked if she was a PhD or MD and she said, “Oh, I have a PhD. But let me tell you, if you are thinking about it, do yourself a favor and go for your MD.” We then engaged in a deep conversation (all within several minutes of hand washing and hair fixing) about how as a woman researcher, the best option is to get an MD. She told me that working in her field with a PhD she is “a woman before a researcher.”

“The men will walk all over you. Just get your MD, don’t give them that chance.” She kept telling me how famous and renowned she is in her field. She graduated from top schools and leads the field in her area of research. “I do very important work!” And yet, she was so…bitter. It seems that for all her work and all her qualifications, she still feels that she has to prove herself over and over…she still has to strain her voice and demand to be heard.

I work in a hospital and I know many powerful women in the field of research doing great things. Some are PhD’s, some are MD’s and some have both. There certainly seems to be an advantage to being an MD when doing medical research. So I can understand if she clashes with MD-egos as she is doing research in a medical field. But I wonder about the effect of her sex on her experiences. How much of what she is experiencing comes from the fact that she’s a woman?

I have often thought about whether in my own field of clinical psychology, I wouldn’t be better off if I got an MD as well. Would it give me more credibility in my field, amongst my peers?

Ultimately, I’ve decided that I need to make realistic academic and career goals that are rooted in self-knowledge. I have neither the patience for empirical lab-based classes nor the taste to deal with all the bureaucracy that comes with being an MD (not to mention my personal qualms with the modern field of psychiatry). But it saddens me to think that my mindful decision may one day cause regret and frustration. It is a fact that there is a measure of friction women face as researchers and professionals in any field; the measure changes based on the field. It is a sad reality and we all grapple with it. But I also think that there are some areas where women are making great strides, and the progress shouldn’t be ignored. The progress can serve as an example to many of us who may doubt our ability to progress or compete in this world. I don’t think it’s entirely true that this is a man’s world, anymore.

When we continued in our exchange, she argued that I ought to get an MD or even an MD PhD (which is on average a 10 year program), upon which I asked how one would figure a family into all this (because, you know, I just wrote about it!) She blinked and told me that that was her regret in life. She said she didn’t have children when she could and that she didn’t think that she could have them anymore…

She’s 41, she’s beauuuutiful, and she’s brilliant. I don’t know what in that combination would preclude one from having kids unless she herself didn’t really want them. Amazing what blocks we form in our own minds. I have spoken a lot about patriarchal societies and about culture and norms that lead us to be unhappy or that prevent us from being able to actualize… But I would be remiss if I said that we were powerless…far from it! It is hard to rise above opposing forces, harder for some more than others as their obstacles may be more formidable or even deadlier.  But for those of us who have relatively minimal resistance, feeling limited or barred or powerless is really…I dare say…a choice!

We choose our reality, and if one day we wake up and decide that we are going to go for our dreams, every single one of them and let the rest of the chips fall where they may, it’s all going to happen!

My favorite part of the exchange that night was the following:  “I grew up without a father, and my mother was a very strong woman. She taught me many things. But there were a few things she didn’t tell me because she didn’t know them herself, so I’m going to tell them to you. First, never, ever forget to be feminine.” She looked me up and down…(one of those nights when you KNOW you look good), so she said, “and you’ve got that covered. Second, for God’s sake get your MD and don’t let anything stop you. Third, have kids. Have them now, have them whenever. Do it all, you’ll figure it out somehow.” I told her I would consider an MD (which in my mind means going as far as I want to in my career), as long as she would go and have her kids. We laughed, and agreeing, we parted ways.

The next day I looked her up on Google and found her to be, just as she said, the leading researcher, internationally, in her field. I thank the law of synchronicity that brings people together just when they need each other…I Thank the law of synchronicity that provides answers to the questions in our hearts, just when we need the answers the most.

The woman from that night…she really does amazing work. I wish she knew just how amazingly, incredibly, beautifully inspiring she is, and I thank her, wherever she is!

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