Becoming Yourself

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Have you ever felt as though you’re trying to be someone other than yourself? Like you are acting in a role that you previously devised for yourself—either to fit certain standards or to fulfill someone else’s expectations? One that you may fill the outward requirements for but that does not resonate with your inner self? When pressure is placed on us as teenagers or young adults to define who we want to “be” in twenty years and get started on it now, while we’re still learning how to drive a car and balance a checkbook, it’s easy to see how we can pigeonhole ourselves into a role that may or may not fit our true personalities. For some of us, after working hard for years to be our best in that role, we wake up one day and wonder why we’re at this point in our lives and how we even got here. No wonder so many people have mid-life crises!

I and so many others can identify with this situation. Although this post is veering quite a bit from my usual farm and nutrition-related posts, I did some interesting reading and soul-searching over the past year as I contemplated (and then made) a career change, one that integrates creativity with the need to earn a living.

I went to a college that was well-known for its engineering and science programs, but offered very little in the way of liberal arts. I always knew that I wanted to help people in my line of work, but beyond that I had no idea of what I wanted to do.

I was a good student, and science was intriguing because of the millions of different ways that parts of the body work together to form one cohesive, albeit complicated whole. Translating that science into practical information to help people lead healthier lives seemed to be an interesting and fulfilling path to take. So I decided to pursue Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in nutrition and become a dietitian.

It has been an interesting career path, but not exactly fulfilling. The problem with being a dietitian is that you often find yourself sharing information with people who do not necessarily want to hear it. They have been told by their doctor to come and see you, so they do, and then they leave and usually fail to make lasting changes in their diet. I get paid regardless, yes, but for so many creative souls, money is not the end goal of a job.

Doing something meaningful is what matters. Really knowing that I have helped someone change their life for the better, in a permanent way, is much more important to me than income. And so I have gradually become disillusioned with my role as a dietitian. There is another factor to my disillusionment as well, and that has to do with integrity. Not my own, but the integrity of the governing body of my profession, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics (ADN). The fact that they partner with PepsiCo, Mars, and McDonald’s, among other companies, completely baffles me. How can an organization that claims to be the expert in the field of nutrition so blatantly sell themselves out to the world’s leading manufacturers of junk food? One article I read stated that 80% of dietitians surveyed are unhappy with the ADN’s corporate partnerships; apparently many other dietitians feel the same way I do. The ADN is apparently just not listening.

In addition to educating clients about nutrition, I love to write. Being a writer and a dietitian is an odd combination, I suppose. One is a creative, right-brained pursuit with no limits as to what can be dreamed up – it’s pure fun! The other, nutrition, is a heavily science-based field with little room for creativity, other than perhaps in the recipe development field. (Maybe that’s why I love cooking so much?)

While I’ve always loved to write, it never seemed like a realistic career path in high school or college. Despite a world full of people who are professional writers, I didn’t think I was good enough. The reason for my self-doubt was one comment made by a high school English teacher. In answer to my question of whether I could pursue writing as a college major, she said something along the lines of, “Well, your writing is OK, but it’s not great.” And that was all it took. I still wrote profusely in my journal, but never anything for others to read. I was convinced, because of one comment based on one person’s opinion, that I could never be a writer.

Well, I’m happy to report that I have finally moved past that comment. I now realize it’s not the final word I took it to be as a high school student. After many attempts to convince myself that my teacher was wrong, I have finally realized that her answer was simply her personal opinion. Maybe she didn’t love my writing, and that’s OK. I don’t love the writing of every one (let’s be honest, at least half) of the authors’ books I pick up when browsing the library shelves. Writing is a deeply personal craft. It’s identical to the visual arts: beauty is in the eye of the beholder. What one person loves the next person may hate. And that’s part of its true charm.

After more than 20 years convincing myself that I could never write publicly – because someone might not like what I’ve written – I decided to just go for it. So I started writing here, on my blog, then I published a few online articles for other websites, and then I landed a job as an editor for a health website. I absolutely love my job – it allows me to combine my knowledge of health and wellness with writing skills. Editing (at least the type that I do) often involves rewriting, so I get a fair amount of that in as well.

Does your current career resonate with you? Does it fulfill you? I am a realist, and I do understand that there are times and situations when we must stick with something because it pays the bills, not because it’s our heart’s desire. Or because it’s what we worked hard for through multiple years of school, and if we don’t stay in this field we feel like we’re throwing away our degrees and hard-earned education.

I would like to offer two counterpoints to those ideas. First, as my mom always says, every experience you have is an education of some sort. Every class, every degree (no matter what it’s in), every place you travel to, every person you meet, every job you have, is a valuable learning experience. Nothing is wasted. I believe there is a profound piece of wisdom to be found here. It doesn’t matter if you went to college to major in computer engineering and ended up owning a bakery – that college degree taught you many skills that you will use later on, even if they had nothing to do with baking. Or if, like me, you majored in nutrition and end up as a writer and editor. While the two fields are not related, I have gained knowledge for life through my background as dietitian that will continue to serve me in the future.

Second, if you are seemingly stuck in a career that is not fulfilling, and you would love to switch to something you are passionate about but cannot see the way to do it, is there anything small you can being doing now, while you’re at your current job? Can you take evening classes to hone your skills? Can you work on making contacts in your new field so when the time comes to make the leap you’ll be more prepared?

For me, I worked on my writing daily, took writing courses at the local university, and began looking for job leads in editing as well as freelance writing opportunities. It took months of job searching (and getting rejected!) before the right position came along, but with persistence, patience, and continued work, it paid off.

There are different approaches, obviously, but the goal is the same – to work toward the career that is a true reflection of yourself. Life is too short to plug along day after day in a job that you can’t stand. It’s true that when you follow your passion, the money will follow. The great thing about today’s world is that there are literally thousands of different career paths out there – and if yours doesn’t exist, blaze a new one.

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