“This experience is ultimately why I ended up becoming an entrepreneur and starting a company… it gave me the courage to kind of be willing to start ventures on my own”
Medical student Ailis had gone from one difficult degree to another, transitioning directly from chemical engineering to medical school without break. Having worked several jobs throughout her high school and college years, filling her summer time with internships, she started to fill the itch to take some time off.
“I was pretty tired and pretty burnt out…I was still feeling that sense of needing to really push pause because I’ve been intensively studying for the prior six-plus years.
Even though she had looked at a number of potential options outside of a medical career in consulting and pharmaceuticals, she knew that she still wanted to spend her year close to the clinical world. She didn’t need to escape her career trajectory or switch jobs – she simply needed to have a break. “Also, I knew the next three to potentially nine years could be intense training…you can imagine that grace period of being able to take a year and pause was really an attractive option.”
FINDING A NEW PACE AND A NEW SELF
Knowing that she was keen to stay close to her field, this helped her set some simple priorities. From a career perspective, she wanted to explore different sides of her field and identify what aspects of medicine she favored most. Personally, however, Ailis found herself most excited about taking time for herself to try new things and take advantage of new opportunities.
“I think just to be able to have a little bit of a breath of remembering who I was as a person, you know, and being able to kind of re-anchor on that.”
She ultimately settled on a multi-faceted sabbatical that enabled her to work on different sides of a single project – unified by the same disease, typhoid. With grant funding, she was able to live and work in three different places around the world – Spain, England, and Nepal.
Despite still working a day job – and on several different projects in several different countries, no less – she quickly noticed a clear difference in pace. Reading become enjoyable, and the hurried angles of her daily rush in medical school gave way to leisurely walks and a slower pace. But even though the pace was slower, this didn’t mean she wasn’t getting anything done. Her work was thriving, and on a personal level, she was discovering herself and picking up hobbies she missed.
“Finding these ways where you’re not pumping but you’re kind of – refilling — is really important. I think that enables all of us to be more productive…it was the first time I’d really read a book for fun in a long time.”
GROWING THROUGH DISCOMFORT
A particular personal discovery went beyond changing her pace of life and discovering new hobbies. Ailis found that even though there were moments of homesickness and loved ones she missed in the US, she was able to learn how to ‘just be with herself.’
One of her fond memories is the memory of being brave enough to eat dinner at a restaurant by herself in Spain. “I found that there’s so much to be gained from just being still and being quiet with yourself. I don’t know if the US culture necessarily prioritizes or values [this] as much.”
This learning – of how to value time and space alone by oneself – was one that she acknowledges came because she was living outside of her comfort zone. By putting herself in a new place where not everything is known, she felt she was able to challenge herself and grow more.
Ailis, after returning to medical school and completing her residency, ultimately used her experience on her sabbatical to turn to entrepreneurship and start a technology company devoted to improving drug delivery.
“There are things about yourself you probably don’t realize because you just haven’t had the time to pull yourself out of the world in which you’re comfortable to be in a place where you’re uncomfortable for a period of time.”
“I do think there’s a point in everyone’s life where taking that time away gives you that space to reflect, to listen to yourself and to also learn a lot by yourself that you can’t learn if you keep going through the work life that you’ve created.