At a crossroads with no signposts: Introducing Lab Rat Cat

Nine days from now, the next Lab Rat series officially kicks off which means I have four new people ready to enter the maze, Jim, Cat, Brett & Barb. Yesterday you met Jim; today it’s Cat’s turn.

Cat is a recent college graduate with an interest in foreign languages, none of which she speaks fluently, who is bored and frustrated with the daily grind at her dead-end secretarial-type job but does not have a clue as to what she actually wants to do with her life.

In what way do you feel that you are stuck in a rut?  What have you wanted to accomplish but never done?  What’s holding you back?  What’s not working in your life?
I have been struggling almost all week, Alex, trying to identify definitively my “rut.”  Is it my job?  Even though I am frustrated and dissatisfied with the complete lack of intellectual stimulation and the zero-chance of advancement, it provides me with the safety of knowing that I can pay all my bills on time with a little left over to sock away for a rainy day.  I trick myself into thinking that it is acceptable to trade my need for an intellectual challenge in exchange for the safety and security of an unsatisfying job.

Or is my rut the inability to figure out what I want to be when I “grow up”? Even as a kid I did not give it much thought.  I would say what I thought I was supposed to say: “Maybe a doctor or a lawyer.”   The future is a blank page and I have this horrible case of writer’s block.   In twenty-odd years my muse has yet to show up.

So, without any clear idea of what I want to be, how can I possibly set any goals?  Without any goals there is really no motivation to go forward and change the status quo.  No forward motion means I am stuck, right?

Actually, scratch that, Alex.  I do want to go forward.  I really and truly do.  It is just that I am at a cross roads without a single signpost.   I do not want to risk getting farther away from my destination by possibly taking the wrong road, so instead I sit down in the middle of the crossroads and refuse to go in any direction at all.

I mean, I think that may be my rut.  I cannot go forward because I am just too scared to risk making a wrong move.  What if I choose incorrectly and find myself caught in a deeper, less comfortable rut than the one I already am in?  There is no guarantee that I have even parked myself in the middle of the right crossroads–all these possible paths might be wrong for me.  What will happen if I do eventually pick one, but find the way blocked and impassable?

What if I fail to reach the end of whatever road I took?

By not having any real goals, I have nothing at which I can fail.

However, this feeling of stagnation is not working for me.  For sixteen or so years as I have gone through an educational system where others compelled me to move and to change and to grow. I am used to being challenged, yes, but only at the impetus of others.  I was not allowed to stop; I did not have time to get intimidated by my fear.  Having stopped to catch my breath while I figure out my post-graduation plans, all my fear has caught up with me, paralyzed me.  I do not know how to push myself forward and face new, scary challenges all on my own.  I question if my self-motivation is strong enough to see me through to the end.

What sort of supports do you have (or don’t have) in your life?  Who is there cheering (or jeering) you along?
My kid-sister is one of those rare people who will listen to you and never pass judgment.  She is a great person with which to talk.  Right now, though, she is busy with college and her rigorous academic schedule makes me feel guilty about calling her very often.  I am also lucky enough to have my former roommate from college in my area.  I swear she knows me better than myself and acts as a really wonderful sounding board.  I have a couple other friends that I can rely on for a sympathetic ear and a kick in the butt when need be, but for the most part they are pretty busy as well.

What variety of the Someday Syndrome affects you the most?  Is there one that doesn’t affect you at all?
The more I look at my life, the more I feel like I am a walking case study for Someday My Ship Will Come In Syndrome.  I am sitting around waiting for my dreams to come and literally find me.  Staying put may be good advice when you are lost and waiting for someone to find you, but chances are whatever I am looking for is staying put waiting for ME to get off my butt and find IT.  Knowing this and taking those first steps are two different things, though.

This leads me to my second problem.  I am also experiencing the I’ll Get Around to It Someday Syndrome.  Definitely have that one.  Who reads blogs about learning foreign languages instead of using that time to improve by actually studying the language itself?  I do!

Thankfully, I do not think I Might Need It Someday Syndrome has much on me.  There is not a lot of clutter–physical or emotional–in my life.

What have you tried up until now to get unstuck?  Why do you think it didn’t work?
As an undergraduate I sought out help from academic advisers and various deans of the college, but they couldn’t help me.  I went to career services, took personality tests and attended workshops, but no one seemed to be able to help me figure out what I should do.  I guess the major problem was that I was waiting for someone to tell me what I wanted to do, which is pretty impossible.

I have started studying for the GREs to provide myself with the option of applying to graduate school.  Though keep in mind that “studying” really means buying review books and maybe cracking them once or twice.  I meant to take them last summer, but I never got around to scheduling the test or studying for more than a couple sessions. The thought of applying to graduate school stresses me out to the point where I get almost physically ill.  I think this may be tied in with the whole “fear of failure” thing.  What is more, I’m more interested in the process of studying a field that interests me than getting into academia, which would be the end result.

I decided in January that THIS year will be the Year of Change.  This year I will apply for a new job, possibly one where I would teach abroad, and take the GREs.  Whether or not I will follow through on this idea is questionable at present.  My track record does not look too promising.  I also christened last year the Year of Change; I had the same sort of plans, but the only thing that really happened was that I moved into a different apartment less than two or three miles away from my old one.

What do you hope to gain from this Lab Rat experience?  What do you picture happening at the end of the process?
Well, I hope to learn how to run the maze the fastest.

Kidding aside, I think learning how to face down my fears and uncertainty would be an excellent improvement .  Having gained that, I imagine that I would have the courage to make this the Year of Change a reality, not just a name.

While it would be wonderful to have a genuine answer to the question “What do you want to be when you grow up?” by the end of this Lab Rat session, I really do not think that would be a realistic expectation.  However, if I could graduate with the tools, the know-how and the courage to go out into the wide world and chase my dreams, for what more could I ask?

Don’t forget that you can get in on the Someday-Busting Conversations through the forums. Sign up and join in on the fun!

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10 thoughts on “At a crossroads with no signposts: Introducing Lab Rat Cat

  1. Terry Heath says:

    Oh, my dear cat. We are kindred spirits! Although I sort of made fun of it in the post CommentLuv is linking to below, I highly recommend you read “Renaissance Souls” by Margaret Lobenstine because I think you may, dear cat, be a Renaissance Soul who is paralyzed by too many choices to make just one.

    Terry Heath´s last blog post..It’s Just That I Was Born 400 Years Too Late

  2. I ditto Terry, given how I completely relate to your situation (and am on my own little quest at the moment). I totally related to Barbara Sher’s work about being a scanner and though I’m yet to read the book Terry mentions it resonates as well.

    Totally looking forward to reading more of your journey and sharing my experiences.

    @Alex – thank you for picking someone I can so strongly relate to! 🙂

    James | Dancing Geek´s last blog post..Today I spent 6 hours philosophising

  3. Alex Fayle says:

    @Terry
    Thanks for the book recommendation. I have always thought of my father as a Renaissance Man: he’s a scientist, professor, artist, builder, woodworker, has perfect pitch although he plays no instrument, and he’s a good writer too. He never stops either, always on the move going from one project to the next. I, on the other hand, can’t handle more than two or three projects at a time or I fall apart. 😉

    @James
    Yay to resonating! Glad to provide–need anything else, just ask!

  4. Cat, I also went through school and started working without any real goals, and was much older than you before I figured out what I wanted to do when I grew up. I’m happy for you that you’ve decided to do something about it sooner, rather than later, and I’m going to be very interested in following your someday journey.

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..Perfectionism: Virtue or Vice?

  5. Jeremy Day says:

    Hi all,

    So I read this article and definitely see myself in it. So I had to come out of my reader and comment. And then I saw the recommendation to read the Renaissance Soul.

    You know, I read it, and just didn’t like it. Maybe the solutions proposed didn’t seem to fit me, but Im not sure if they fit anyone.

    Like many of you I am a Renaissance soul with broad interests. Margaret’s recommendation, if I remember correctly is to pursue a few things at the same time that fit together, or are complementary. I think this is nearly impossible in todays economy, unless you really dont need to make much money.

    There is power in focus. If anything I think you should pursue serial careers. Focus on one for a couple of years and then use that to propel you to the next. I think its a better way to see growth then to let all your energies be scattered all at once.

    Im actually thinking about the same things right now so this article seems like serendipity. My most recent article in commentluv below talks about the same things and may open your perspective up a bit. Hope it helps!

    Cheers,
    Jeremy

    Jeremy Day´s last blog post..Reaching Y’s in the Road

  6. Alex Fayle says:

    @Janet
    My degree in university was based on choosing the program with the fewer required courses that I didn’t like and until I started my own business in 2003, life pretty much followed the same pattern…

    @Jeremy
    I like the idea of serial careers. Both my parents did that and I’ve certainly done it. It does help keep the focus, doesn’t it?

  7. Alex, it sounds like we were a lot alike as students. I majored in French because it was easy for me, and in 1st year I chose subjects that paralleled what I’d taken in grade 13 (Canadian history, calculus). I wanted to take Spanish, but decided against it, because it was more hours per week for the same number of credits. It was more about getting that piece of paper than about learning. Looking back, I wish I’d done it very differently.

    Jeremy, serial careers is defnitely the way to go these days. The world is changing too quickly for people to expect to remain in their first career for years and years! It is possible to start a new career that builds on the skills and experience you’ve already acquired. That’s basically what I’ve done, though obviously not through clever planning on my part.

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..How Secure Are Your Passwords?

  8. Cat says:

    Thank you all for your supportive comments. I’m excited and optimistic about this journey; even though it may be scary at times I’m sure nothing but good will come of it. Many thanks, of course, also go to Alex for being kind enough to select me.

    @Terry Thank you for the book recommendation. I have to say, I enjoyed reading your post about it. Here’s hoping the book’s as enjoyable a read.

    @James I look forward to hearing about your experiences, and I hope mine here can be helpful to you, somehow.

    @Janet How long did it take you to figure out what you wanted to be when you grew up? I’m kind of nervous, but at the same time excited, to hopefully be on the road to discovering what I should be.

    @Jeremy The idea of serial careers definitely appeals to me. It’s definitely an opportunity to keep on growing and challenging yourself. Unfortunately, I’m not exactly sure what I’d want to do for my first one, much less my second one. At present, though, I’m trying to make the best of my current job and learning all that I can while I’m there.

  9. Cat, I was in my 40s, but it probably took that long because I wasn’t really trying to figure it out. A lot of what I do in my business uses skills and knowledge I acquired in the jobs I’ve had, and I probably wouldn’t be doing it if I hadn’t taken the route I did.

    Janet Barclay´s last blog post..In Celebration of Women

  10. Alex Fayle says:

    @Janet
    By the time I’d reached my final year of University I’d discovered linguistics and I’d wished I’d known about it in first year. But I don’t regret it now because look where I am!

    @Cat
    Thank you for participating. It’s not easy putting yourself out there like this. You have a lot of courage.

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