I don’t like making decisions.
It’s a bit surprising, really, as I’m a very opinionated person. I have no problem sharing my views or knowing what I believe — but when it comes to making a commitment and making a decision to head down a certain path, I tense up.
I struggle with the idea of what I might miss out on in making a decision, especially a big one that means giving up on other paths or options. Perhaps it’s a representation of the fleeting time I know we’ve all got on this earth, or maybe it’s just that I don’t trust myself enough to make the right choice. Either way: I don’t take decisions lightly.
So it’s not surprising that choosing a career path did not come easily to me — and it’s a choice I’ve made and re-made many times over the past five or ten years. In my struggle to discern a career path, I have arrived at some moments of clarity, though, and I wish I’d had someone to shares these insights with me as I was setting out.
I had to learn to take a risk
When I was in high school, I was convinced I’d be a genetic counselor, or a doctor or scientist of some sort. In my school, succeeding academically meant focusing on science — and my friends and I took many science courses together. Sure, I took AP English and spent my free time on the speech & debate team, but that was for fun, and I was certain that working hard and being smart meant I had to work in science.
So when I enrolled in college, I expected to be a biology major. That meant taking biology, chemistry, and calculus my freshman year. And it was hard. But I could handle hard.
What was much more difficult to tolerate was the fact that I didn’t love what I was doing. The friends who I’d assumed loved this work had moved on to other fields of study. And being at a liberal arts school opened my eyes to just how many things there were that I could study — and be.
Ultimately, after agonizing over my major and what I should be when I “grew up,” I came to the same realization most people my age have arrived at: choosing my major, and my path in life, wasn’t going to be cut and dried. There aren’t too many jobs anymore that stay the same from graduation through retirement, and the ones that do weren’t the positions I’m well suited for. I had to learn to take a risk, to follow the path of what I enjoy, and develop my own skills, rather than try to force a path that wouldn’t work for me and isn’t sustainable today.
I think that’s really hard reality for a lot of people — and a lot of parents — to grasp. We’re so used to finding comfort in a name, a title, a role: who and what I am is so much easier to define if I can put a role behind it. But I’ve had to learn that adopting this kind of label for myself is not only unrealistic in today’s job market, but it’s unsustainable. I can’t be defined by my major, or by a job that’s constantly changing. I am more than what I produce — and while my education and my job are a part of me, they’re not everything.
I had to discover what I loved to do
This lesson is one I learned slowly and over several more career changes. I ended up majoring in political science and spending a year working in the governor’s office in Illinois. I was part of a bipartisan program, so I was one of a handful of people who kept their job when the governor was not reelected. I saw a new, ugly side of politics then: the heartbreak of saying goodbye to every friend and mentor I’d made, the frustration of seeing projects I’d worked so hard on cast aside simply because the other political party had started them, the complete lack of stability that would threaten me every four years.
The message was clear: I’m not ready for this kind of life, where work must come first and where everything might be taken from you in an instant. So I started to do some soul-searching. I took a gap year as a campus ministry intern, thinking I might like a more direct ministerial approach. But that wore me out quickly — both physically and spiritually. I felt a little discouraged, having changed my mind and my path so many times, and I knew I needed some stability in my life.
So I took a chance to reflect, and I found the common thread. When I let go of the idea that I needed to “be” something specific, I was able to finally see the work that connected my many career starts and stops. I didn’t find total fulfillment in any of those jobs — and I know that no job will truly fulfill me, because it’s simply one part of my life — but I realized what I had loved in each of those jobs was crafting and telling stories.
I had a passion for writing, for presenting and sharing stories — whether other people’s or my own — in whatever capacity that took. Now, professional storyteller isn’t necessarily a job or an immediate career path on its own, but it’s what I’ve learned to call myself when people ask what I “do.” I took that passion, went back to school for a master’s in communication, and found new and interesting ways to share stories of grace, of joy, and of education.
I’m a digital content specialist for a business school now. But I’m also a freelance blogger, a dog photographer, a parish graphic designer — and more importantly, I’m a wife, a friend, and one who treasures the stories of those around me. My job and my title will probably change many more times in my life — and I’ve learned not to place all my value in that career title.
While I love what I do and am proud to do it, I also found that my real vocation, my true calling, is to hold and share people’s stories in whatever capacity I can. And while there are many decisions that will cause me agony in the future – whether they’re about a job, a major life decision, or even what to make for dinner, I know I can handle all of them because I know who I am.