A Pinhole of Perspective

View of Pacific Coast Highway and the ocean in Southern CaliforniaMY LAPTOP CLOSES around midnight once my eyelids feel heavier than the stress of graduate school. No sooner than I kiss my wife goodnight does the morning alarm startle me before the sun has risen. Despite my best efforts, this hectic schedule struggles to become an effortless routine. I quickly scramble out of bed to silence the alarm before further disturbing my wife. Thirty minutes to shower, brew coffee, compile something resembling lunch, and leave my L.A. apartment for the two-hour drive to my Newport Beach training facility.

Along the drive, I find pleasure in inhaling the fresh Pacific Coast Highway ocean breeze through the open windows of my slowly breaking down Honda. Lately, on the budget of a graduate student, it is life experiences that lack monetary value that I’ve found most satisfying. As I gaze toward the sea, I dream of having just 10 minutes to spare for a dip in the water, but the bumper to bumper traffic brings me back to reality. I’m on a time crunch.
Upon arrival at the brain injury program where I intern, I’m greeted by patients who are grateful to see me and even more grateful to be alive. A man who exercised daily and had a healthy diet suffered a sudden heart attack and lost enough oxygen to his brain to cause lasting damage. A woman with a congenital heart malformation endures frequent brain bleeds and strokes. Multiple young men in their 20s escaped death after devastating motorcycle accidents. One man suffered a gunshot wound to the head and another was struck by a car while taking an evening stroll. Each interaction with my patients puts the fragility of life into perspective and motivates me to endure yet another startling alarm.

We all have our own battles in life and our unique challenges often seem inescapable and never ending. When I consider the “hurdles” in my way, my first reaction is often that of frustration and dread. However, my recent experience working in physical rehabilitation has helped bring a new perspective to my personal challenges and encouraged me to view my hurdles with a new lens.

The early morning alarms, hundreds of weekly commuting miles, limited funds, graduate school papers, and lack of time available for recreational activities have most certainly taken their toll. Yet, I am able to smile when considering how lucky I am to have my health and the opportunity to work in a field that I am passionate about.

It is often challenging to find pleasure in our pain. We may ask ourselves, where exactly is the beauty in what seems like an inescapable abyss of bills, workplace struggles, challenging relationships, health problems, or any other personal adversity? Undoubtedly, the not-so-glamorous aspects of life are nothing to crave, but when we find ourselves triumphant in the face of hardship, the success tastes all the sweeter.

As I face the remaining three years of my doctoral program and begin the new year, I have decided to set a personal goal. Instead of viewing what will undoubtedly be a challenging experience as “a means to an end” or a necessary element to my career goals, I have chosen to take a different approach. When the going gets rough and the stress accumulates, I’ll encourage myself to enjoy the process by putting things into perspective. Indeed the process is tenuous and the light at the end of the tunnel sometimes looks like a pinhole, but I have my health, my family, and my future. As I continue my journey, I’ll enjoy the cheap (or preferably free) thrills of life and continue to profit off my newfound perspective.
Adam Chester lives in Los Angeles with his wife, Kelly, and is in graduate school working towards his Doctorate in Clinical Psychology.

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