yarn3you guys, i apologize in advance for this epic rant.  i wrote a far more succinct and diplomatic version of this post on a flight back from chicago a week ago, after which i noticed my computer charger had mysteriously disappeared from my checked bag (?!) and my laptop sat lifeless for a few days while i waited to get a new charger.  in that time, the concept of this post morphed somewhat in my head, and now i feel like there’s just a lot more to say.

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as you know if you’ve been reading for a long time, i have a constant push and pull going with my professional career as a nurse, my semi-professional hobby as a crafter, and my 24/7 job as a parent.  i’ve been thrown a couple of curve balls since we moved to california that have forced me to dig deep and confront challenges and questions about myself and my identity that i just didn’t anticipate.  while i’m growing more competent and confident with age and experience as we tend to do, i still just don’t quite have the answers i’m looking for.  i have hesitated over the years to write much about my day job as a nurse, because this is a crafting blog, and because i err on the side of super-professionalism and never want to record anything in writing that might be offensive or negatively interpreted by anyone in the profession.  but today, i’m going to talk.

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after a stunning first year out of nursing school back in chicago full of learning, achievements, and positivity, i have had a really tumultuous and overall pretty disheartening experience with nursing since i moved to california.  it is a career i continue to care about and identify with deeply, and i still love medicine, but in spite of my best efforts, i just have not been able to find a happy marriage between myself and this profession since we got here.  after being unemployed for six months, i worked a nightmare last resort job that included abuse, threats, negligence, harrassment, a class action law suit, and hundreds of dollars i earned that i will never receive.  i continued to spend hours weekly sending in tens of applications only to continue receiving automated rejections, and when i did make personal connections, i still watched as opportunity after opportunity for a better placement fell apart before my eyes in illogical, unapologetic ways.

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so many times, i was ready to give up.  i was depressed and downtrodden.  and, i had developed another passion that was asking for more of my attention.  yet somehow, i just couldn’t abandon the idea that i have to be a nurse.  perhaps it is because of the great sacrifices it required of me and my family to obtain my degree.  perhaps it is my practicality, and the swimming pool of debt i continue to flail in, compared to the earning potential of nurses in california.  perhaps it is my puritanical work ethic that compels me to believe i must always, always be working as hard as i can at the expense of almost everything else.  perhaps it is my profound loyalty to everything i invest in.  perhaps it is my fear that if i leave so early in my career, i can never come back.  perhaps it is because i love medicine.  perhaps it is because i am a damn good nurse, and in the growing number of hospitals i’ve worked in, i know that sadly, damn good nurses are not the majority.  i know of my own promise and aptitude, and i know i sacrificed precious things (namely, my children’s babyhoods) for this career that i can never get back.  i just couldn’t bring myself to leave, no matter how miserable it made me.

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finally, a year and a half into living here, i had a real breakthrough and was offered a great job right in my own town.  i felt so rewarded and vindicated, and that all of the suffering had been worth it.  for months, things carried merrily along.  but the picture slowly changed.  like former lovers reuniting after a prolonged break up, when i really gave it my all again, it was clear immediately that i had changed too much, that my life had changed too much, for it to work.  the burden on me and my family was too great, and the glove just didn’t fit anymore.

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as i have changed, our family has changed, and our situation has changed, some things that used to feel right no longer do–i’m no longer willing to make the same sacrifices for my career as i was when it first began, before i’d experienced the mixed blessing of being a stay at home mom.  i’m also no longer willing to beat myself up because i don’t love being a stay at home mom–i accept and even embrace that for me personally, working on individual projects and maintaining an identity separate from my family is important.  that’s just me, and it doesn’t lessen my ability to parent in a loving, nurturing manner (but it took me years, literally, to accept that).  and i’m working really hard on taking myself seriously as a creative professional, but that is for many reasons (mostly in my head) a huge challenge.  i’m aware that the biggest thing holding me back is probably me.

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i believed, and a part of me continues to, that i can find a balance between the things i love and care about.  i tried in the most graceful way i could to continue to pursue nursing in a manageable capacity for me at this time.  but my swift and impersonal departure from my last employer, and the ungracious and unprofessional way i’ve been treated since, has just left me gutted and exhausted by this career i have given so much to, and gotten so little in return.  maybe business isn’t personal, but i feel nursing is personal, and in a career that requires you to give so much of yourself to better the lives of others, it’s impossible not to feel hurt when you discover you’re considered disposable.  i am quite proud of my nursing practice.  i have no regrets.  i have always, always, given my best to my coworkers and my patients, and i am proud of every single shift, every single interaction i’ve ever had in that capacity.  i don’t know how many people can say that, no matter their career.  when i think about the all the hands i’ve held, the tears i’ve dried, the wounds i’ve dressed, the courage i’ve bestowed, the encouragement i’ve provided, the strings i’ve pulled, the options i’ve negotiated, the messes i’ve cleaned, the lives i’ve saved, the heat i’ve taken, all the times i know, i KNOW i truly changed the course of someone’s life and the potential for their healing for the best, it’s hard for me to understand how i can’t just continue to play this role in people’s lives.  but, i can’t.

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as i sat at home tending the wounds from my most recent boxing match with my nursing career, ebola made its way to the us.  i watched as two nurses contracted the disease while bravely doing the job that nobody else can or will do, and i watched as the very institutions meant to protect them threw them under the bus to save face.  after a few years in this profession, i’m very aware of my place on the totem pole.  as nurses, we are the only people who wear every hat.  we are the only people who aren’t allowed to say no to anything, ever.  everything is in our job description, even when it really isn’t.  we are at the bedside, we are at the point of care, we are that critical link and pathway, and thus burdens are placed on us and things are asked of us that are unfair and upsetting and even illegal.  we are the first response and the last resort.  so many times i have been in a position where i want to scream for help, but i can’t, because we just don’t do that.  most days, i feel i don’t have adequate support.  it’s no surprise that nurses contracted this deadly virus.  we are at the frontlines.  we are there in ways that no other healthcare provider is, both physically and emotionally.  yet ironically, we are also disposable, easily replaced, and too often scape-goated.  and as i looked back on my last few years in this profession, i see hundreds of shining moments, personal connections with patients that will always be memorable to me.  but in between, i see a too complex, too painful, too disturbing, too political, too corrupt, too cruel string of offenses, disappointments, ironies, puzzles and just plain wrongs.  it shouldn’t be this hard to take good care of people.  but it is.  and i have to ask myself, is it worth it?

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so what do [highly productive] people do when their best laid plans have gone to shit?  develop a drinking problem?  wallow in self doubt and self pity?  go back to school (again?!)?  volunteer?  sell their belongings and travel the world?  for so many months now, nearly two years, my creative career has stepped closer and closer to my “real” career, the one in which i’m pedigreed and highly educated, and like mediating toddlers, i have tried to keep their hands off each other and encouraged them to play nicely together.  but the truth is, we only have so many hours in a day, and if i’d like to really see one area thrive, the others must suffer significantly.  my pragmatic and practical and logical self, the one who plays everything SO safely, the one who plans, the one who takes no risks, the scientist, just couldn’t bet on the path that is completely unknown in every possible way.  but the universe has gone from whispering to shouting that it’s time to look elsewhere for the fulfillment, satisfaction, and joy i keep trying to derive from nursing.  i have put almost everything i have for the past few years into a career that has broken me down mentally and physically for that duration.  all the while, i have continued to explore an area that stimulates all my senses, provides endless opportunities for learning, makes me happy, is flexible and forgiving, and something that i love every day without exception.  but i just couldn’t make sense of it.  i kept returning to nursing, because it HAD to be the answer.  you get it, right?  how could it not be?  it makes so much sense, yet at the same time, it seems to make no sense at all.

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for over a year, i have been reading and rereading the words of debbie millman, and wishing i was brave enough to heed them.  the whole thing is worth a read, but the gist is the following:

“i recommend the following course of action for those who are just beginning their careers, or for those, like me, who may be reconfiguring midway through:  heed the words of robert frost.  start with a big, fat lump in your throat, start with a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, or a crazy lovesickness, and run with it.  if you imagine less, less will be what you undoubtedly deserve.  do what you love, and don’t stop until you get what you love.  work as hard as you can, imagine immensities, don’t compromise, and don’t waste time.  start now.  not 20 years from now, not two weeks from now.  now.”

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i feel like i’ve been building, learning, growing, and getting to this point for some time now, and i’m finally ready to give myself permission to do it.  while i remain hopeful that nursing and medicine might someday provide a comfortable place for me, the impact right now is overall too negative.  i carry with me from my years in that career countless invaluable lessons that have so profoundly shaped who i am and how i love and communicate, live and function.  but i’m old enough to acknowledge when a relationship becomes toxic and you just need a long break to heal, sort things out, and gain perspective.  i’m truly blessed to be in a position where i can do all of this with the full support of my family and without inconveniencing or endangering them in any significant way.

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and so, here is my radical conclusion to this [step in a] challenging journey:  i have hereby declared this (starting november 1) my year of knitting dangerously.  what started with a self-challenge to design my own collection of knitwear patterns for kids (still ongoing), has broadened significantly.  i want to immerse myself as much as possible into the world of knitting and fiber as i can–like it’s my job, you might say.  i want to finally branch out into the rich creative and agricultural community all around me that i have largely ignored until now for lack of time.  i want to knit, yes, i want to knit so many things.  but i also want to learn about responsible farming practices, environmental stewardship and animal to fiber processes.  i want to knit, but i also want to dye, spin and weave.  i want to travel, i want to meet all the animals, i want to meet all the makers.  i want to go to classes, workshops, yarn shops, farms and galleries.  i want to be happy and fulfilled, peaceful and purposeful every day.

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no more obsessively tracking 20 job boards, no more establishing and maintaining relationships with people who have no interest in me, no more pandering, no more stream of form rejection letters to my inbox, no more unanswered calls and emails, no more doors slamming in my face, no more being left to wonder where i went wrong or how to do right with zero guidance, no more unfair or unsafe work assignments, no more back spasms, no more fear or dread of what awaits me, no more injustice, no more mental and physical exhaustion on a daily basis, no more questioning every single day my abilities, my worth, my meaning, my life decisions, my identity.  it’s so liberating to imagine a life where i leave all of that negativity that has weighed me down for so long behind me.  it’s thrilling to think with nothing holding me back, with no constant, nagging reminders of my inadequacies, what i might learn, who i might meet, and where i might be in a year from now.

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as i move on to the next stage of my business, i’ve thought a lot about online presence, and how i might adjust it.  i sense blogging is going a bit the way of the dinosaur as our society’s collective attention span shortens and we turn increasingly to more succinct (and less personal) forms of contact and social media.  however, i love to write, and i think there are a few holdouts who love to read (if you’ve come this far, you must!).  in the effort to take myself more seriously, i’m in the process of doing some new web development.  i’ve decided to keep the old blog around and not change it too much, but instead will most likely give it a good facelift and add some features rather than take anything away.  i’m crossing my fingers for a february release of my patterns (before it’s too warm for people to want to knit them!), and hopefully my upgraded site will launch shortly before that.  i also think that seeking out so many new adventures will provide me ample material to write about here, and i do hope you’ll join me on this wild, wooly ride.

so, off i go, with a big fat lump in my throat, a profound sense of wrong, a deep homesickness, a crazy love sickness, and my knitting needles.  and for the first time in longer than i can remember, i’m really exited.

46 Comments on my year of knitting dangerously

    • thank you, sheena. i wish you could do the same thing, too! it’s remarkable how hard it was for me to put it officially in writing even though i am fortunate to be able to do it. very scary step for me, but i think that’s a good thing.

  1. Wow, what a story! Thank you for sharing, thank you for feeling, and thank you for staying true to yourself, whatever form that takes. Can’t wait to see the what you churn out!

  2. That was beautifully written and very close to home for me. I wish you absolutely all the luck in the world!!! I do hope blogs don’t go away and I look forward to keep reading yours.

    • thank you so much! i get the sense that the topic is one that probably resonates with many people. i’m looking forward to teasing it out with continued feedback in the coming months!

  3. I loved reading this. It reminded me of my love-hate, push-pull relationship with the profession of teaching. I think you’re on the right track and I have a feeling that nursing will find its way back to you later on…but probably in a way that is very unexpected. Life is funny like that. Do you have Instagram? That would be a great way to share and I know your fan club wants to see your photos of creations and discoveries. I’m excited for you!

    • kristin, yes! the two professions have striking similarities, as do the people who enter them, i believe (i always considered being a teacher as well). i think the overall sense of altruism that lures us in, and then the incredible frustration about the limitations to execute it are shared between the two. i totally agree–i don’t think this is my last goodbye to nursing, i think i just need this time and space to allow for new opportunities to arise, since i’ve clearly been going at it from an angle that doesn’t work for me. i do have instagram! you can see all the babysteps here: @ashmhiggs (http://instagram.com/ashmhiggs). thank you!

  4. I feel heart sorry that a profession you loved has treated you so badly, yet I’m over the moon for you having found new direction and determination to broaden your skill set within the knitting community. I look forward to your pattern releases (I’m still learning to knit right now) and to continuing reading your blog posts!

    • hi sarah, thank you! still feels peculiar to kind of replace one with the other since they are so different, but that seems to be how i need to address it in my mind to grow in any notable, positive way. my patterns will be geared toward beginners :)

  5. Beautifully written! I can relate to your story all too well. I am still a practising nurse but do regularly wonder why. Wishing you luck, love & best wishes as you move on with your next adventure. I look forward to reading about it!

    • hi lee, it is really a complex profession. i wish there was a way to make working conditions better, but the way we fit into to the social fabric of healthcare is pretty ingrained. thank you for reading!

  6. Thanks for sharing your personnal journey, it really resonated with me. I hope you can find some fullfilment in your crafting career. I know I’ll keep reading you.

    • thanks, acbrown. good to have an endorsement from someone on the other side! i’ve been meaning to email and see how your own adventures are going. let’s talk soon…skype knitting date, think about it!

  7. Wow, I got all the way down to the goat pictures and then get accused of a short attention span! :) you’re tough :)
    Beautifully written, I’ve found that “compassion fatigue” sets in with long working weeks and that part time suits me. Perhaps there’ll be something similar in the future for you. There are many areas outside of the immediately obvious hospital situation where nursing skill and science smarts can be great attributes.
    Go for it with your fiber dream. I’ll be following along. Should you ever find yourself in some exotic locale in need of a veterinarian’s assistance in your studies, I hope you know who to call!

    • well, not *your* attention span. everyone but you :) “compassion fatigue” is a great term. caring for needy people all day and then coming home to care for other needy people all night really starts to wear you down. a part time situation would be terrifically more ideal, but i just wasn’t able to work one out (believe me, i tried!!). i agree with you though–there are a lot of venues i’m sure i’m not yet even aware of where my skill set might be valuable. but, i think i’ll have a more level head about the whole situation if i take some giant steps back and get some perspective. and btw–oh my did i ever need a vet the other night (and basically every other night with the yarn eating dog monster)! thanks so much for your support :)

  8. Wowsers! I am fairly new to your blog but say bravo to choosing a path that doesn’t injure you so much! As to the February release, don’t forget there are lots of knitters in the other hemisphere who head into winter mid year! We will be ready for the patterns! Meanwhile, good luck with it all :)

    • thanks so much–and you’re right! i forgot about my friends in the other hemisphere. honestly, it’s impossible for me to imagine/understand this opposite seasons business, but it’s a great point! thank you for your support :)

  9. You write so honestly, but also warmly… I’m very lucky that I find your blog (just while I’m searching pictures of the Wiksten Tova).
    I wish you all the best for your new way. And I hope to read more from you … and see more of your beautiful pictures.
    Greetings from Israel, Maren

    • hi maren, welcome! i’m so glad you found me, too…maybe i should blog more tovas–they seem to bring the kindest visitors here :) thank you so much for your encouraging words! you will definitely be hearing more about these new adventures. happy sewing (and knitting, too?).

  10. hooray! i can only say that i admire and applaud your leap of faith and serious intention. i know that the results of this year will just be the beginning and they will be truly fabulous, just like you. xo

    • thank you, karyn!! i’m angling hard for my leap of faith to land me in toronto at some point, if for no other reason than to declare myself knitter in residence at your shop :) that’s a thing, right? i’ll figure it out.

  11. I very rarely comment on blogs, but please do keep writing yours, I will definitely be reading. Best of luck with your future plans, can’t wait to see how it goes! xx

  12. I was moved by your well-written post. I wish I had had the courage to follow your path during my working years. Instead, I have retired with years of work-related issues that have negatively impacted my health in my golden years. Follow your heart, and all will fall into place. I wish you the best for your future endeavors.

    • hi cheryl, thank you so much for your comment. i am so sorry to hear that negative effects of your work continue to impact you now, even through your work is behind you. i think your advice is exactly right–if we have the courage and the means to follow our hearts, the rest generally works itself out. thank you again.

  13. Keep on writing! You express yourself so beautifully, it was a pleasure and inspiration to read about your experiences. I’m new to your blog and I’m looking forward to following your wild ride – wishing you all the best for an adventurous and enjoyable year.

  14. You’re awesome. Well said. So inspiring. Love your blog. Can’t wait to see where this journey takes you. Hope to see you next time we’re in NorCal but your always welcome to visit the sheep and alpacas (and us!) in Montana. Best of luck!

    • INVITATION ACCEPTED. we can’t wait to get to montana!! we will probably see you again on this end one more time first–we want the kids to be in superior hiking condition when we visit glacier. plus, i need time to research all the fiber farms i will need to incorporate. thank you for your support, shannon! lots of love.

  15. Hi Ashley, Thank you for sharing your story. You’ve inspired me in many ways through your blog. I’m cheering you on in your new adventure!

    • hi yuki,
      thank you so much. so many times i have questioned the real value of keeping this blog, but i am so happy it has offered you inspiration, and it has created such a supportive community around me. thank you!

  16. I feel so many women are in similar positions. I find myself in the middle of a bit of a mid-life transition-after a short unhappy career as a public school teacher, I became a stay at home mom. The past 23 years, I have been absorbed in homeschooling and raising our three children. The past 10 years, I have also tried to build a home business around our farm. Now that the children are leaving home- I find myself wondering what to do with the rest of my life…….

    Your words ring true in many ways….just insert “teacher” where you have “nurse” ….. do I go back to the career I never really loved? or do I follow my heart? and where is my heart going?

    Your post gives me much to ponder. Thank you!

    • hi kim,
      thank you so much for this message. i have been enjoying reading the beautiful stories about your farm! i am quite envious of the life you built for yourself in the wake of your unhappy career. it seems you have a very full life with your home and your animals, even if your children are leaving the nest. i too am very curious as to where your heart may be going. i am eager to see what the future holds for you! thank you for sharing your story.

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