I’ve always been the good student.
I went to “gifted and talented” school growing up, was voted “most likely to succeed” in high school, and graduated summa cum laude after four years of university.
I had found my “thing” – academics. I loved school so much that I kept going for a long, long (long, long, long, long) time.
In my early 30s, I graduated with a PhD in Psychology. My husband and four kids attended my graduation ceremony.
So, was I a “success” now? Would the red carpet roll out for me to a world of opportunity and prestige now that I had achieved the highest degree in my field? Would all of my book smarts and all-nighters pay off?
Well…If you know my story, then you know the answer.
The year following my graduation, I was so broke that I had to borrow money from my dad to make rent. I took out loans to pay off credit cards. On my 32nd birthday, my bank account was almost $300 negative. Even though I was working every day (full-time), I was BROKE. My husband and I constantly bickered about how to make ends meet and still be present for our four growing children. Why was I not adult-ing properly? What the hell kind of grown-up was I???
Not that money is the sole indicator of one’s personal and professional success, but I clearly wasn’t thriving. The problem wasn’t that I couldn’t find decent-paying work. I recognize that as a highly educated person, I had more options available to me than the average person. I was privileged to have offers to work at jobs that I should have loved – research, teaching, writing for academic journals, presenting at conferences. It seemed like a straightforward career path for someone like me. But there was just this something…
Every time I tried to take on a new role, I’d find myself half-assing it. No matter how perfect it seemed, the truth was that it remained just a job. It wasn’t my own thing.
Because here’s the part of the story that I left out – I am also a creative. Part of why I loved school so much was because learning and gaining knowledge is such a creative process. The human brain doesn’t learn by just passively absorbing the information placed in front of it. Our brains absorb, integrate, compare, contrast, analyze, recognize patterns, and ultimately synthesize data into meaningful knowledge that it is then challenged to apply to the real world. Real learning is just as much about doing, trying out, and implementing as it is about memorizing facts and regurgitating concepts.
So, I loved school because it was a place that provided me with raw data. And I knew that I could take that raw data, combine it in interesting ways, and make something completely new. A new theory, a new perspective, a new way of thinking and doing and being in the world. For a multipotentialite like me, academia represented both the best and worst possible place to find a job.
The bitter truth was that no job (even an academic one) could give me enough freedom to really engage that creative part of me. The part that wanted to immerse myself in a topic for days on end and then bang out a few dozen blog posts, an adult coloring book or a new online course. The part that wanted to daydream for a few hours before getting that spark of inspiration that would lead to my next workshop or e-book. The part that would do all that, and then get bored and want to go play in a completely different discipline or area of expertise. The part that wanted to be her own boss.
See, jobs always came with their own timelines and office hours and hierarchies and demands for things to be done in a prescribed way. But they also came with steady paychecks, which I liked. So, what was a nerd girl to do? I tried to get the best of both worlds. I took the jobs, but then did them in a half-assed manner. I never fully committed or dedicated myself to anything. That way, I got the paycheck but preserved my freedom to focus on my own creative work (or, so I thought).
“Crap jobs are created by other people. Dream jobs you make yourself.”
Sound untenable, even unethical? Yep, it was. But how often do we all do this in our daily lives? How often do YOU find yourself half-committed to something because there is just some other “thing” that is pulling for your attention? The thing is, after a while half-assing actually starts to become a lot of work. It’s ironic, but true. That’s because being consistently half-committed to something is actually pretty draining.
A lot of people blame themselves for being unfocused, or even seek treatment for Adult ADHD and other disorders, when the solution might be a lot simpler than that – follow that rabbit! Perhaps you would find that walking toward whatever seems to be distracting you results in new insights, connections, and useful experiences that actually meet your needs better than your original plan would have. It may not be linear or appear very logical, but it may just be the most practical thing you can do. I’m not saying that getting sucked into hours scrolling your Facebook newsfeed is going to lead you to a promising new venture, but I am saying that not every rabbit hole is a dead end.
How would you know the difference? It may be hard, but here’s my guess: does this particular interest seem to come up year after year? Is there a pattern to its appearance in your life? Is it consistent across all of the different circumstances and transitions you’ve been through? If all of your other needs are met, do you still keep getting a nagging feeling that you need to try this thing out?
I look back on that time in my life as a lesson learned. It turns out that what seemed like a big distraction, keeping me from investing my full energy into what could appeared to be a promising academic career, was actually my life’s purpose. Now I acknowledge that I have a ton of interests, and I’m fully committed to exploring all of them through the various platforms that I manage. My subconscious resistance to focusing on those past jobs was really a gift. Turns out, it was my spirit’s determination to keep me honest about the much broader creative life that I wanted.
So it might be time to stop beating yourself up for not appearing dedicated enough to whatever “safe” path you have been pursuing. You might, in fact, be more on target if you do a little off-road adventuring. Consider that your distraction is actually leading you toward what you really, really want. Consider that your spirit is simply refusing to let you be inauthentic. Consider that to be a “responsible adult” has less to do with sticking to one path and more to do with honoring your true path(s).
Perhaps it’s time you stop trying to be the “good student” who does what it expected, and instead learn to listen to your own wisdom.