While munching on a cucumber salad, sauteed string beans, tuscan white beans and baked zucchini, I contemplate my next steps. I made a big decision just a few weeks ago, prompted by some self reflection. As I consider my upcoming days, I think about “passion.” Everyone talks about “following your passion,” but I’ve come to learn most people have more than one. Books and movies often showcase a character who has an intense dedication to one pursuit, and there are the fortunate few real people I’ve met who have a similarly clear directive. Somehow I don’t feel that way and I know I’m not alone.
If I had to specify an interest, it would be the act of learning, as all-encompassing as that may suggest. In high school, I was the classic overachiever running around to ten different school clubs while working part time and earning high grades. I did it because I enjoyed each opportunity, eager to learn as much as I could. From drama to music, art to science, books to numbers, I enjoyed immersing myself in new ideas and didn’t want to limit myself. I majored in the sciences during college because my high school transcript displayed more science classes than any other subject, but I sought out a school that wouldn’t stifle other interests. After graduating, I realized this liberal arts education only pushed me further along a path of indecision, but it also made for an interesting three years of study dedicated not only to science but also education pedagogy, American Sign Language, photography, and music.
I wanted to explore book publishing as a career since books have always been a friend to me and I attended an open house at Simon & Schuster in 2004. One speaker from the HR department pointed out that people come to book publishing from varied backgrounds, but in order to get in, you should at least have some bookstore experience. Taking her advice seriously, I spent a year after college working at a bookstore carting around books, ringing purchases, setting up displays, and handselling to customers who came through my department. I quickly became an expert on teen novels, health books, and cookbooks popular in 2005-2006. Incidentally, I take some credit for the popularity of Twilight. When it was only a small corrugated stand housing nine books, I, along with the Assistant Store Manager, convinced nearly everyone walking through my section that they needed to read this book. Maybe the 200+ people I convinced over the course of a couple weeks weren’t enough to incite a national craze, but who knows?
After a year surrounded by books, I found myself back in the world of science and education. My undergraduate degree was focused on these two subjects, so why not put that training to use? Five years of work in an informal ed setting, several completed projects of which I’m awfully proud, and a Master’s degree later, here I am.
That’s the story of my past, anyway. So what’s next? Where should I be going, and how do I get there?
I’m curious by nature, and I often ask people I meet, “How did you get to where you are now?” Answers vary from a chronological history of formal training to anecdotal stories of serendipity. When referring to their work, most often people tell a tale of pursued interests that brought them from place to place, in the same industry or another, and ultimately landing them where they happen to be now. By following gut instinct and taking chances along the way, people who are happy end up where they feel they belong. Each story is unique.
For me, all of this adds up to say that there is no clear answer.
Over the past year I’ve had growing interest in food that fuels our bodies and the impacts of food industries on our Earth. I’ve been working on content research for a nearby science center’s upcoming food exhibit, started this blog to share my personal discoveries, and I’ve looked deeply into certification programs for registered dietitians. But I still care about books, writing, photography, art, finances… Maybe nutritional counseling could be a way to fuse my passions in another permutation. Maybe this blog already does it, and I can add in new, different work that sparks other interests.
I’m not one to wholeheartedly assume “everything-will-work-out-fine” just because it should, but I think if a person can create a plan, set their mind to achieving their goals, and consistently reevaluate what their goals are along the way (or lack thereof, for those who prefer the goal-less route), then you have a formula that can lead to happiness. Akin to cooking as I’ve discovered, there is not one perfect recipe. They need to be tried, tweaked, and sometimes abandoned altogether. As long as you continue to be a critical thinker while summoning the inner drive, tenacity, and perseverance to seek out the opportunities for good, then maybe everything can work out fine.