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?
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