Goshen News, Goshen, IN

October 14, 2012

There is always room for self-improvement

By Stephanie Price

— Here I am, thinking I’m all grown up. Mature, professional, dignified, and maybe even — ever so slightly — classy? I feel fairly confident and assured now that I’m 40 years old, sport matching Vera Bradley bags and natural, muted lip gloss. I’m standing at full height, eye-to-eye with the world, becoming a professional health-care provider, right?

But then.

In the most casual, perhaps clever, way, my university professor — a doctorate-level nurse practitioner, mind you — praised my bubble-gum-bubble-blowing talents. Last time I checked, bubble-gum-bubble-blowing skills are not on the nurses’ test.

Because I typically sit in the very front row under the instructor’s nose so as not to miss one morsel of information — an annoyance in and of itself, no doubt — this ultimate superior had witnessed easily from her perch at the lectern my prolific popping.

So not only was I popping gum in an upper-level university classroom; I also was popping gum, essentially, in my instructor’s face.

When she casually mentioned my, er, talents, I was instantly mortified. Had I really been popping gum? In her class? While she lectured, with all the seriousness required, about goiters, blindness and ear infections?

“How rude of me!” I told her. She sort-of smiled noncommittally and assured me that she, too, liked to blow bubble-gum bubbles.

“But not in a university classroom under the PhD professor’s nose, I bet,” I thought. “Not when you’re working on becoming a professional nurse. Not when you’re the oldest student in the class?”

I had a familiar sensation — conviction, revelation, insight, whatever — that I was about to learn something big if only I embraced it.

Well, I’m embracing it.

My bubble-gum issues are probably some Freudian oral thing. I have been known to blow through several packs a day — chomping one juicy piece after another. My mother did her duty and scolded me about the smacking and popping; I just didn’t listen.

I’ll leave why to the psychologists.

Without slipping into morbid and self-piteous reflection — but reflecting nonetheless — I began to think about my other, similar habits and what they communicate about me and to others. I immediately saw room for great improvement.

There’s the way I dress, my timeliness — or lack thereof — and even the way I sit in class, which is often with my feet up on another chair.

Upon further reflection, then, I saw — obviously — a column topic.

It’s this: We can make some changes. Thankfully, mine might include shopping.

EVEN THOUGH I occasionally feel ancient, it’s simply not too late for me to reshape my ways. And every day is a fine day for little course corrections.

For starters, I bought breath mints and took those, rather than two packs of gum, to class. Next, I decided to take better care that my dress leans more toward professional — maybe even shirts with buttons and without hoods — and less toward the stretchy-pants-and-sweatshirts wardrobe of an which I’m more fond.

An always-put-together friend of mine offered a couple of great tips for the practically minded (Me! Me!): Wear corduroys instead of jeans; add a cardigan sweater to plain outfits. Shop sales.

What a great beginning, I thought. I’m really going to clean up. But then I googled for more. This is just the kind of thing you read about in women’s magazines, right? How to change your image? Maybe I’d find some ideas.

Yeah, well, according to fashion magazine Marie Claire — clearly not targeted to me — I should wear a flowery or grapefruity perfume, lower my voice and change my stationery.

Forget that. I already wear Lilly of the Valley oil anyway.

So I just got to thinking some more. To truly change my image, I have to truly change. Cardigan sweaters are a great idea — and I’ll buy some — but real change will come from the inside out. That means there’s some thinking involved.

I spent a little time on “Why?” Why would I pop my gum in a university-level class under the instructor’s nose?

Sure, I’m just as lazy and casual as the next gal can be, but I don’t know that those flaws account for everything. I’m intensely interested in the subject matter; I respect my professors. But when you hit mid-life and have come through some of the things I have, you just don’t care much what people think of you. You’re comfortable, confident, realize you have a lot fewer people to impress than you once thought you did.

That’s a wildly lovely aspect of the 40s, by the way, but it seems I took it too far.

Being a grown-up means being purposeful. Striving toward being others-centered means actually setting aside some of your own comfort measures — wads and wads of gum, if gum’s your thing — for the sake of the bigger picture and others’ feelings and welfare.

In my case, I want to learn to put my patients first, to eliminate barriers — bubble-gum bubbles, maybe — that could hinder our communication.

People have told me this stuff over the years, and at the risk of being too cliché, most of us learned these basics in kindergarten — basics like no gum in class. Somewhere along the way I blew it, so to speak, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to learn and grow now in the early years of my nursing career.

Oh, and I’m happy to go shopping, too. Maybe for fruity perfume?

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, midwife’s assistant and nursing student from Elkhart. Contact her a¬¬t wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”