Hunting for Direction

If you're a Scanner the fun ends when the learning ends, and boredom is toxic for you, so you need the kinds of careers we'll be discussing here

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Hunting for Direction

Postby Andrew71 » Sun Dec 31, 2006 2:58 pm

Greetings all, and a big thank you to Barbara. I came across \"Refuse to Choose\" a few weeks ago while browsing the self-help section of my public library. I was feeling out of sorts and looking for something on fighting procrastination, which is what I perceived to be my big problem--constantly putting off making a decision about what I wanted to do with my life. For years, I've felt paralyzed in this, largely out of fear that by committing to one interest, or even two that I'd somehow managed to link, I'd be shutting the doors on all the others.

The first time I noticed a tendency in myself towards scanning was in graduate school. I was pursuing a PhD in history, with a focus on military history. Every few weeks, I would hit on what I thought was the ideal topic for a dissertation. It didn't matter if it was in an area of history that would require me to learn some complex new language--that's something I would get to if needed. And for those first few weeks, I could talk about nothing but that topic. Then gradually, the more I'd read up on the background of the subject, the more I learned people had already written about it, the more I felt there wasn't anything groundbreaking I could contribute. I'd lose interest and move onto something else. Eventually, I left the department after getting my MA under strong pressure from my advisor. My scanning may not have been the only reason for my advisor getting fed up with me, but I suspect it was a large part of it.

I promised myself as I was leaving that I would eventually go back to grad school, get a PhD from a better program, and become a history professor, as I'd first intended. I also promised myself that I wouldn't go back unless I knew without question what it was I wanted to study and that I could get full funding to attend (I had to pay for almost my entire first run at grad school with student loans, which I'm finally about to finish paying back). I didn't reckon what leaving grad school would do to my scanning.

You see, I had gone to grad school straight out of college, without a break. By the time I left with my MA, I had been going to school, non-stop, for twenty years. I often joked with my fellow grad students that I shouldn't just be leaving with a diploma but with a gold watch. Once I was out of school and looking for work, I started considering wider and wider career options. Pretty soon, I was experiencing the same kind of paralysis with respect of my long-term career goals that I previously had looking for a thesis topic. I was toying with ideas ranging from broadcast journalism or becoming a professional actor to learning to play the French horn to learning how to fly. The one thing I knew I wanted to do, regardless of my career, was to write. But my scanning caught me here as well, because I could rarely settle on any subject I wanted to write on long enough to produce anything. I did manage to crank out three short stories, which no magazines wanted to buy, but that was it.

In the meantime, I held a series of \"Good Enough Jobs,\" knowing all the while that these were just to pay the rent until I could figure out what I really wanted to do with my life. I worked as a bookseller at a chain book store during the holidays, then a data entry clerk at my father's business, then worked as a researcher at a couple of private investigator agencies. This was actually interesting work that I might have stuck with. My employer in each case seemed to think highly of my work. In each of the two cases, though, the firm wound up going through a period of financial stress a few months after I was hired, and I was cut in the first round of layoffs. The second time this happened, I decided I should look for something more stable.

I wound up temping for just over a year, doing clerical work as I continued to send out resumes. One one-day assignment at a business publishing company led to a full-time job answering phones and sorting mail. I wasn't thrilled with it, but I needed the money. So I stuck with it, pursuing my interests in acting and writing on the side--the former through community theater, the latter through an amateur press association (a sort of writing circle, with members spread out over the world, each of whom would send their work to a coordinating editor every other month, who would then mail out the collated product to all the members).

As I did so, I continued to look for jobs elsewhere, but I also looked for opportunities to move up in the company, particularly anything that would allow me to write more, then write on topics of more interest to me. I discovered that my ability as a writer set me apart from quite a few of the reporters on staff--which amused me, as I'd always thought that being a strong writer was a necessity to get anywhere in journalism. Be that as it may, in less than four years, I went from answering phones to fact checking articles, then to a set of minor beats covering the environment and state government, and finally to two of the most important beats my publication covered--international trade and foreign affairs. At that point, I was doing so much writing at work that I wound up dropping out of my amateur press association. I was doing so much writing at the office that the last thing I wanted to do outside of work, for fun, was more writing.

All the same, no matter how successful I was, I wasn't happy. Not with the company and, more often than otherwise, not with journalism. In fact, I'd frequently tell family members and friends that, while I didn't know what I wanted to do with my life, the one thing I knew was that I did not want to stick with journalism over the long term.

I've spent the better part of a decade advancing to a good job in a respected publishing company, which most of the time I can't stand. I still find my mind shooting off in plenty of different directions with respect of potential careers, though at this point I've just about written off the idea of going back to grad school. I took the GRE a second time in 2001 and applied to five history grad school programs the following year--three turned me down, and the two that accepted me did so without funding. In retrospect, I was fortunate, because I'm not at all sure I would have been able to stick with the research topics I'd proposed in my application essays without making myself utterly miserable. I considered applying to grad school programs in wildly different areas, like paleontology or archaeology, but my interest in these and other topics waned as I moved from general interest reading in the subjects to more technical studies, and I realized how much the basic science and fieldwork I'd have to master bored me. I thought about applying to history programs again this past fall, but the longer it took me to decide where or whether I wanted to apply, the more I thought my very inability to decide was probably the answer--that if I was having that much trouble deciding, I didn't really want to go. My GRE scores are due to expire next September, and I have no interest in taking the test again. I've continued to do a few plays every year and the occasional film. In between, I keep telling myself I'm going to take time off from my acting to write, but somehow I never do, at least outside of work.

That is pretty much the situation I was in when I found \"Refuse to Choose.\" I considered myself a procrastinator and an intellectual dilettante. I felt as if I were frittering away my talents and skills, and in doing so, wasting my life. I knew I was capable of achieving great things if only I could pick a goal and find a structure to impose some discipline on myself. (Within the past year, I had joined Weight Watchers and lost nearly 60 lbs.) So you can imagine my relief to learn that I wasn't alone in this, and that in fact there is an entire community of people facing and helping each other with the same challenges. And here I am.

I just attended a Weight Watchers meeting this morning, and one of the main points of discussion for the day was setting \"Winning Outcomes\" for 2007. The group leader handed out sheets with the following printed on them: \"Knowing exactly what you're really working toward can help you figure out how to get it. Ask yourself what you really want out of your experience at Weight Watchers, and try to break it down into one or two sentences. Call it your Winning Outcome, and make sure it's: Positive (What you want, not what you don't want), Specific (Exactly how you see yourself at your weight goal), Within your control (Not about changes other people will have to make), A good fit with your life (Something that requires changes you'll really be able to make).\"

The group leader then went around the room asking people for examples for each of the four steps listed, not necessarily restricted to losing weight, that they would like to accomplish by this time next year. As a \"Positive,\" and with RTC in mind, I said, \"I want to apply the discipline I've learned in Weight Watchers to other areas of my life.\" I figure that if I can do that, there's no end to what I can accomplish with any or all of my chosen paths.

Bearing that in mind, one of the concrete steps I'd like to take in the new year is to find a job that I enjoy more. Ideally, it would be something that allowed me to travel more than my current job does and possibly make more money. More important to me, though, is to take my writing career to a new level, actually producing something that will get my name out before a wider public. Something that had occurred to me previously, and which I was gratified to read in RTC, was the concept that I could address a lot of my career interests by delving into them as a writer and granting them to my characters--if only I can force myself to stick with a subject long enough to produce something. And I'd like to be able to do all this without having to be able to give up acting.

I'm hoping to address some of these issues in the coming year either by taking classes (on acting, writing or both) and by joining a writers' group at one of my local public libraries. But as far as finding a new job that would allow me to accomodate all this, I know I will need additional support. That's one of the reasons I'm glad to have found this place. It's also the reason I've reposted this message under the careers heading. (My apologies to those who may have already read much of this, posted earlier under the \"What Type of Scanner Are You?\" heading).

That's about it for the moment. I'm going to make myself some supper, then do a bit of reading before heading out for a party. Happy New Year, everyone!

All the best,
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