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Posted on Mar 28, 2012 in Dear Diary, Weigh Ins | 36 comments

Option Paralysis

Before I jump into things, I should mention that I’m fully aware I haven’t posted a weigh-in in the past two weeks, but that’s because I have literally been weighing in at exactly the same weight for the past two weeks (kind of a victory?), so there’s just not a whole lot going on there. ::shrug::

I’ve mentioned — on more than one occasion — that I’m a bit of a waffler. Wishy-washy, flaky, indecisive, whatever term you want to affix to it, I’ve never been very good at sticking with something. I tend to start something with enthusiasm, go full-throttle… and after a little while, totally lose interest.

It has been a big step for me to be able to recognize this tendency of mine. I think it’s a sign of growth, to be reflective enough to tell when I’m just following a lark versus pursuing something in a serious way. But in some ways, I feel that I’ve almost taken it to the opposite extreme at this point. I’ve convinced myself that I’m so waffley that no matter what I think I want to do, I *will* lose interest. That it *will* be a waste of time/money/etc. And therefore, I don’t actually do anything.

I bring this up because for quite a while now, I’ve found myself facing that looming question that all twenty-somethings pose to themselves at one point or another: what should I do with my life? Starting this blog has helped me hone and define my interests so much more than I ever thought it would, and subjecting myself to this new world of people who are passionate about food, nutrition, health, fitness has been incredibly eye-opening to me. And because of how so many other bloggers that I follow — all women who truly inspire me — I really thought I needed to follow their example in terms of my career as well.

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I’ve spent a good year+ waffling, debating, and trying to decide between whether I should pursue nutrition or food as a career. Do I start the long, arduous, but ultimately rewarding task of going back to school to become a Registered Dietitian, like Anne? Or do I follow my passion for food and go to culinary school, like Emily has done, and Cassie is currently doing?

One path would lead me far from home (there are no ADA-accredited master’s programs in Nutrition in this area that I would be eligible for), and would cost a lot both in terms of money and time (since I have almost none of the necessary prerequisites). The other path would be an incredible experience, but could I ever really justify paying so much money and taking so much time for something that I simply *want* to do, since I have no desire to work as a restaurant chef? Neither were particularly practical for me, since the only thing that I knew I wanted either way was to give myself the credentials and experience to make myself a more effective blogger.

I was stuck between these two options for a long, long time. Both had their pros, both had their cons, and despite talking with family, friends, bloggers, and random strangers on the street (well, only that one time) I still found myself incapacitated by these two choices. Stuck in the space between them. As my clever coworker informed me, this state is aptly called “option paralysis”.

Tug-O-War
Pulling on both ends with equal pressure doesn’t get you very far, my friends.

So I asked myself some questions: Why was this decision so difficult for me? Was it the equally tantalizing appeal of both options? Or my fear that pursuing one or the other would inevitably lead to my loss of interest? When I started out in college, my major was vocal performance. It took less than a semester for me to realize that making singing my career would only cause me to hate to sing, so I switched. And while that was fine and dandy as an undergrad, it would have a bigger impact on me financially if the same thing were to happen on a graduate level.

After living in this career-decision-limbo, I finally forced myself to take a step back. Reevaluate. Reassess. And I’ve realized that while I was (and am!) passionate about both food and nutrition in general, feeling the need to turn them into my career was coming more out of unspoken peer pressure than true desire. No, It was coming from a similar place as my previous (and at least temporarily, extinct) desire to be a long-distance runner: I am immersed in a world full of fantastic, inspiring women who are doing these things, so I wanted to do it too. But when it comes down to it, I’ve finally realized those aren’t even the things that I love most about this blog.

What I love most about writing this blog is exactly that. Writing it. I love to write, to know that I’m reaching people, maybe even helping inspire them on their own journeys. I love being able to impart the knowledge that I’ve picked up from my own experiences and pass it on. I love reading your questions, hearing about your struggles, and sharing in your experiences. So for a while now, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to a totally different path instead: teaching. Specifically, teaching secondary English and, subsequently, writing.

I know full well there are tons of pros and cons when it comes to teaching, that can probably be discussed ad nauseum. I’m passionate about writing, literature, and goodness knows I LOVE my young adult novels, hahaha. Not to sound like I’m bragging or anything, but I also feel I’m equipped with the enthusiasm and creativity to be an exciting teacher. But, of course, I’m also concerned about getting burnt out, being a disciplinarian, and all the general ethics and politics that are tied up with the world of education. So far, nothing is confirmed, nothing has been decided. Since I have a few English courses I need to complete before I’d be eligible to apply for the education graduate program I’m looking at, I’m starting there. Just a couple of classes on the side to see if the subject matter is even something I could really see myself doing.

We’ll see where things take me. I’m trying not to get too wrapped up in it, reminding myself that I am still young, and I do still have time (cliches are there for a reason!). I’m dipping my toe in the water instead of jumping in with both feet, but it finally feels good to have a little forward momentum. Something to work toward that’s my own, even if it’s just the slightest bit separate from my world here.

Have you ever gone through anything similar, with regard to your choice of career and interests?

36 Comments

  1. How rewarding teaching would be. I thought about it for a long time but decided it was not what I really wanted to do. I currently own a cheerleading gym here in Maryland, so seeing my kids 6 days a week fulfills that need.

    However, I do go back and forth all the time about my future. I am 25. Part of me says “it is too late to go back to school.” The other part of me says “this is only the beginning.” I do know that after spending the past 2 years behind a desk, I absolutely despise sitting all day. So, right now, I have a couple of options in mind and need to figure out a plan to make one of them work.

    • I didn’t even get to write about the whole reasoning for me wanting a career shift in the first place, but you hit the nail on the head. I just know that what I’m doing now, regardless of how much I like the people I work with and all that good stuff, is SO unfulfilling, and in general I can’t imagine sitting behind a desk for the rest of my life.

    • Hi Kate

      My sister owns a cheer gym in PA. She went back to school for OT for a career that was more fullfilling. She never stopped being involved in the cheer gym though. She actually started a special needs (mainly autism) cheer gym and that path has been more fullfiling than her masters degree.

      I hope you find a way to merge together passion and fullfiling!

      • Nancy, Your sister wouldn’t happen to be Denise??

        Gretchen, I wish I could say I enjoyed the people here, but they’re not so friendly. Started out wonderfully, ended up terrible. However, I am thankful to have a job!

        • small world, huh? Yes, Denise is my sister

          • The cheer world is SUPER small. πŸ™‚

            Great woman and Great program!!

  2. Matt’s a high school teacher and he loves it. It’s a lot of work, especially since he coaches pretty much every sport in existence, but he is great with the students and is really good at explaining things. Here, I’m sure you know, teaching is pretty well-paying and it’s definitely worth it to switch careers if you’re able to land a job (which is really tough). I`m not sure what the education climate is like in the US though. I hear they`re underpaid?

    • Yeah, it’s interesting that that’s the case up in Canada, since the general consensus here is that teaching is not a career where you’ll ever make a lot of money. There are a lot of available jobs though. And in general, I hear that the area where I live has some of the highest teaching salaries so, I guess there’s that. I’m not too concerned in general when it comes to the salary stuff though since I obviously intend to marry rich πŸ˜‰ Hahahahaahahaaa

  3. I am so proud of you for working through this and figuring out what YOU wanted. You are totally right comparing it to the long distance running thing. It can be so hard to figure out what you are interest in when so many amazing and inspiring women are around to influence you.

    My Dad was a HS english teacher (now retired) and currently a college english professor and it was stressful and taxing, but he also said it was the most rewarding career he could have picked. He did a mid-life career shift (he didn’t become a teacher until he was in his 40s) but it was so obvious he was meant to do it. Even now, he has former students from 10-15 years ago contacting him on Facebook to tell him that he changed their lives. And THAT was worth all the stress.

    In fact, I was so inspired by his experience with teaching that I was in an Art Education graduate program for a hot second. I wanted that reward in my career. But I took one class, and realized that as much as I wanted it to be, teaching was not for me.

    P.S. INDIANA UNIVERSITY HAS AN AWESOME SCHOOL OF EDUCATION. You could live on my couch.

  4. I’m in the same boat, and was just talking to my boyfriend about it–I tend to jump into things very enthusiastically, and then gradually lose that enthusiasm, which is starting to get scary since I’m getting to a point where I feel like I need to pick one thing and stick with it! I actually taught secondary English for two years, and am now in graduate school, and trying to decide what career path I want to take once I’m finished. I keep trying to remind myself that having multiple options and thinking them over carefully and deliberately is a good thing…but I agree that it’s hard not to be overwhelmed and a little bit paralyzed by it all.

  5. Hi, Gretchen —

    Here I am, sitting at a computer, reading blogs about weight loss, meal planning, landscape planning and DIY projects. I think I’m meant to go into some sort of planning role for fields I’m truly interested in. I also had someone ask me what I use to scribble in my notebooks during high school (were you writing, drawing, inventing, thinking about your extra curc activity – what were they?). Sometimes your old-self tendencies knows your future self better.

    I also realized that I get into projects head strong and slowly loose interest. You’re definitely not alone!

    I thought about doing a RD program too but can’t really afford to take on the debt. Last semester, I took a bio class for fun at a local community college. That was interesting … and, I slowly lost interest. Ironic, huh?

    I think it’s a lot more fun to take classes for the hell of it rather than a pre-requiste. So … Have fun exploring!

    • It’s funny you should say that thing about your old-self knowing your future-self, since just last night I came across some old “books” that I had written as a little kid. You know, like as a class project where you illustrate and wrote blank books? And I thought, man, even when I was that young, I loved to write. My best classes in college were my creative writing ones, too.

  6. You should come to Baltimore and get an MFA in creative writing! Then you could teach and write and do whatever else it is that MFAers do. Drink, mostly.

    But teaching…yes. Great idea.

  7. It’s not easy at ALL to figure out what you want to do. Even more, it’s terrifying to take that giant leap of faith once you figure it out! Trust me, I’ve been there. I’m so proud of you for figuring it out and not just doing things b/c you feel pressured to!

  8. I just felt like I was reading my own internal dialogue! I’ve always had a passion for food, cooking, and nutrition, but I did the “smart” thing and studied Engineering in college (I know, what?). A couple of years ago, I was SO close to signing up for culinary school. But then I spent some time on weekends working in the kitchen at a local restaurant and decided that was NOT what I wanted to do. Now I’m seriously looking into RD programs, but despite my “sciencey” background, I have zero of the prereqs. It’s a scary thing, and you’re not alone!

  9. Become a teen/high school librarian! You get to read/discover all the YA lit ever! Go to cool conferences, meet authors, and do some teaching. Think about it πŸ˜‰

  10. You may not need to get a graduate degree to teach. My sister, two of my cousins, my ex boyfriend, my best friend, etc. are all teachers or are trying to be teachers. In Ohio, the job market for teachers is extremely tough. Most people I know have to move out of state to find work. If they do intend to tough it out in Ohio, many say to make yourself most competitive, avoid getting your masters right away.

    Many colleges here offer teacher licensing programs designed for college grads who just need a teaching license. You just take whatever classes you need to get a license. It takes less time and costs less money and I think some of the course work even counts toward your masters.

    Good luck!

    • Yes, the regulations in VA don’t require you to have your master’s. The program I’m looking is a master’s program but you only have to complete part of it in order to be able to get licensed. So I figure I would go along with that, and then see how I felt after I finished up the internship part, see if I would want to continue on with the master’s degree or just stop at that point.

  11. Just throwing some ideas out there, but have you ever given thought to pursuing photography or graphic design professionally? Your pics and blog layout are some of the best I’ve seen in the healthy living community, I always thought you had some graphic design background anyway.

    • Oh gosh, thank you so much, Nicole! I’m really flattered. I’ve never given much thought to graphic design (no background to speak of, just self-taught), but I do think about photography. Again though, I think it’s something that would be best left to hobby/part-time pursuits… who knows though? I really do enjoy working with my brother (who does professional photography) upon occasion, and obviously am very camera-trigger-happy when it comes to the blog! πŸ™‚

  12. As I think I said to you in a conversation- teaching is really great- if you’re passionate about what you teach. If you’re not- it will make you miserable. I basically became a teacher because I thought that I had no other options. While I’m super passionate about teaching- educating- helping people learn, etc., I’m not passionate at all about WHAT I teach. If I was able to educate students about health and fitness (without being a PE or Health teacher), I would be a lot happier- but that just doesn’t exist in the public school system (at least not in mine). So for me, I’m trying to find a way out. It’s overwhelming to think about starting over again- especially if you just finished college, or grad school- or if you’ve been out of school for 8 years and can’t imagine going back.
    But, I think that you should do what you LOVE. Period. Hard work pays off, and spending the best years of your life in a job that makes you unhappy or doesn’t challenge you is no way of living.
    I think that dipping your toes in the water is a great idea. And like I said- I think you will be a fabulous teacher. Kids will dig you and respect you.

  13. I totally feel you. I’m (we’re) gonna be 24 in April! I feel like I should know what I want to do with my life. I majored in Spanish and Journalism and right now I am substitute teaching.

    I have toyed with the idea of being a Spanish teacher, being a journalist, and just getting a desk job in Nova so I can move up there and enjoy a life near my friends while I’m young.

    I do one day want to get my Master’s. I want to start working on that sometime soon (except for the fact that I need to pay for my B.A…hate student loans) but I can’t pick just one thing that I want my Master’s in. I have a wide variety of interests.

    I’m just not trying to dwell on the fact that I don’t know what I want to do and just live life one day at a time.

    • Ha! I’m turning 29 this year and I still don’t know what I want to do. I wouldn’t worry about not knowing at 24.

      Gretch, since our discussion about this very topic a little while ago I dug up my old notebooks and started rereading the stories I had written. I decided they weren’t half bad. I just thought you’d like to know. If you still want work on your writing of fiction, why not start a writing club or something? The work only gets better and more fun when I bunch of creatives get together. Look at Paris during the Impressionist period. All those artists living together and feeding off each other.

      • I don’t think I’ll ever know what I want to do with my life. I want to do a variety of things. I’m not going to be happy pursuing one path.

        I want to one day write a novel! Let’s start a writing club! And Gretchen, I think you’ll make a good teacher. Your students would adore you!

  14. You are speaking my language! I need to do the introspection to find out what the next step for me is. I don’t love my job, but I don’t expect to. I do expect to get personal fulfillment from it, and that is lacking right now! I’m enjoying things and have gotten used to being mostly directionless, but it would be comforting to feel like I was moving toward something I know is at the end rather than moving with the current and seeing where I end up, even though I am seeing the beauty in that. I would at least like to know what river I’m on.

  15. I worked a couple of months after graduating in May last year and I was soooo miserable that I quit my job in January. I applied to grad schools for international relations programs in the winter but a week after I submitted my applications, I decided I’d hate being a bureaucrat. Sorry mom and dad for wasting $400 in application fees.

    So in March, I looked into dietetics programs at Virginia Tech and JMU. Found out JMU’s dietetics programs doesn’t take in second degree people. Realized I didn’t really want to go to Virginia Tech or become a RD anyway… or says my therapist and she’s usually always right. Anyway, I’ve decided to put off choosing and I’m going back to school in the fall. I say, it’s okay, you still have time.

  16. Man, figuring out what to do with our lives is so hard. As you know, it took me years of waffling and debating and being depressed before I figured out what to do with myself. And I’m still not even sure what I want to do when I graduate, really! Arg. I definitely don’t regret going back to school, though.

    Also – I thought I wanted to be a teacher for awhile, too. It was perfect for me to get my TEFL certificate and teach kids overseas for awhile so I could see what teaching was really like before going back to school to teach in the US. I ended up loving it, but deciding that it wasn’t something I wanted to continue to do every day. 1 year was enough for me.

    One thought is that maybe to get a taste for teaching you could get your TEFL certificate (super easy to do – usually a 5 week course) and do some ESL teaching in the VA area? I’m sure there’s a ton of opportunity to do it. It wouldn’t be a school environment of course and you’d probably be teaching adults vs. kids, but still a great way to get an idea of what teaching is like! πŸ™‚

  17. That amazing Gretchen! I’m actually going to be going back to school to be a teacher, no lie. I’m really proud of you to be making the decision!

  18. Yeah, this is a huge decision — I waffled back and forth for years about going to grad school. I did eventually get accepted into a program (Master in Social Work) but opted not to go as my husband and I were planning to start a family — and plus, I lucked out by getting a job I loved in my field that didn’t require a graduate degree. (I’m now no longer working due to being 38 weeks pregnant — going to be a stay at home mom for a while!)

    It’s a good idea to take time to think this through, because if you’re going to invest financially in the decision, you want to make sure as best you can that you’re entering a field that would be a good fit. A previous commenter suggested an MLS program — and not that I know you personally, but from what you’ve shared on your blog that might be a great fit for you too. Good luck with the decision! This is definitely the right time to be thinking about this.

    And one more thing, about the flakiness — being aware of that aspect of yourself is really important, but (as you said) be careful to not let it define you. It may just take some practice applying self-discipline to stay invested in something once the shiny “new-ness” has worn off. But you are in great shape here so don’t worry too much about it. πŸ™‚

  19. I. LOVED. This. Post.

    Not to totally parrot back what you just said, but this was my favorite part:

    “I’ve realized that while I was (and am!) passionate about both food and nutrition in general, feeling the need to turn them into my career was coming more out of unspoken peer pressure than true desire. … I am immersed in a world full of fantastic, inspiring women who are doing these things, so I wanted to do it too. But when it comes down to it, I’ve finally realized those aren’t even the things that I love most about this blog.”

    Preach, sister! Preach! I actually took my current job as a publicist because so many of my peers from journalism school chose this route and talked about how exciting it was–and their enthusiasm was INFECTIOUS. So I boarded the publicity train too because I didn’t want to be “left out”. Now, do I like my job? Yeah, it suits me for where I am right at this moment. But am I passionate about it and want to move further along in this field? Not in the slightest.

    If you’ve ever popped by and visited my blog, I don’t make it a secret that my ultimate dream and goal is to be a writer. Writing my blog or silly short stories or articles has brought me joy and fulfillment like I can’t even describe. I so badly want to take the first tentative steps towards become a published writer who can make a living doing what she loves most, but like you said earlier … I’m terrified of becoming “sick” of it. If I’m forced to write because I need to pay the bills, could that zap my passion and cause me to loathe it?

    Ugh, your post got me all like, “WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!” Thanks! ha ha

  20. Ahh good for you! I want to be a kindergarten teacher :)But right now financially I cannot do it. Once I win the lottery tonight, I will think about it a bit more. But no seriously I have been in this limbo for about 4 years. It will stay that way until we pay of four house I think. Oh life.

  21. You would be an incredible teacher!!! I think something to remember is that no matter how much you love what you do, eventually it does become a job. I do theatre and work with kids every single day and I love it and at times it feels like I’m getting paid to have fun, but more often than not, it is still a job, and I do get burnt out (like after choreographing 5 consecutive shows and then never wanting to teach a jazz square ever again), but after a short break, I always come back rejuvenated and reminded of why I love what I do. I feel like finding the right path means finding a career you love enough that even when you get burnt out, you still have underlying love for. Also with teaching, it is so much about finding the right school. You can avoid a lot of the crappy parts by just being in a place that is right for you!

  22. I want to tag myself in this post because this is exactly how I have felt for the past few months… I am only in my first year of my job and unfortunately not loving it but I am loving the fact that I have made up my mind and will be starting courses for my new career next week πŸ˜€

    P.S. I’ve been meaning to follow up with you but I hope my email wasn’t too personal, sorry, I feel like it turned into a “venting” session…

  23. I was actually thinking you should pursue writing before you even said that. What does your brother think about you teaching?

    • Ben’s supportive of the idea. He’s the one who brought it back up initially, actually. He thinks I’d be a good middle school teacher but that I wouldn’t survive high schoolers, hahahah.

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