Not all those who wander are lost
– J.R.R. Tolkien
Upon graduating from NYU with my masters degree, after 6 straight years of Higher Education, 20+ years of being a full-time student, my primary concern was finding “a job”. I don’t think I ever gave much consideration to what would happen next. No one really talks about that part–the expectation is that you go to school, then you find a job and you get to work. Forget the fact that, at age 22 – 25, there is a lot of life left to live after that job has been acquired; forget about the fact that up until this point, life as a student has involved a high degree of autonomy and personal freedom– the task at hand is to secure a job, and that’s about where most conversations stop.
Once I had secured my job, I threw myself into “working”. Tasks, projects, budgets, metrics of achievement… these became the primary concern. Curiosity and personally interesting projects were moved to the back burner as I first began to experience “the working world.” While I knew that I had signed a one-year contract, I had been given the impression that the contract would be renewed, for up to three years; and so, in April (9 months into the job), when I was told that my job would end upon the completion of my contract in August, I was thrown for a loop, to say the least.
As I began my search for the next job, I experienced a mild “existential crisis.” What type of job did I want? What did I want to be – an arts administrator? an educator? a wandering yogi? a freelancing creative? With so many possibilities, I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted, but I knew one thing – I had to find another job.
I spent the summer looking for and applying to various jobs, all the while going to work every day despite the fact that there really wasn’t much work to do. The sense of apathy I felt was deeply concerning to me – I hated that I was required to show up, when there was no work to do; hated the feeling that my time was not being spent in a useful and productive way; hated what it felt like to not care about what I was doing, that I was “punching the clock”.
At the same time, my sister and I began to write a food blog. I had become increasingly enamored with the idea of blogging, reading them voraciously in my free time, and I had also realized that cooking had become my primary engagement with my “creative side” – whereas I had spent my prior life as a dancer, movement and creativity had become separate pursuits, one addressed through yoga, the other through cooking. In starting the blog, I took hold of, named, cooking as such (my creative act), and began to dabble in both photography and writing (additional essentials for a food blogger). This project gave me hope during a summer that would otherwise have been a dark black hole of apathy, anxiety, and uncertainty.
Concurrent with my journey into food blogging, I was fortunate enough to find a job that not only satisfied my need for a job, but was (is) actually perfectly aligned with my interests in education, creativity (with the arts and design as exemplars of such) and interdisciplinarity. This job also introduced me to systems theory and systems thinking, as well as conversations in entrepreneurship and innovation – previously alien territories for me.
I remember a conversation in October of that year, about 2 months into my new job, where I was discussing work and “personal passion projects” with a visiting film maker. I realized that for the past few months, I had not had a desire to engage with conversations that had previously held such interest for me – issues in arts education, for example. I felt I had mastered, or at least developed a solid grasp, of this topic, which I had thoroughly explored during grad school and by co-teaching a class on the subject the previous spring. I tried to engage with this topic and others that I thought might hold my interest, but nothing seemed to “stick”, partly because there was not reason for a curiosity – with my job taking up most of my time, when would I pursue anything else?
A few months later, in the midst of holiday travel, I read something that set off a still-unraveling realization and exploration of ideas. In her book The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin offers a simple “key” to unlocking happiness:
(or, in my case, “Be Lindsey”)–and suggested that this means “do what you do”. That is to say, the things we do in our “free time” offer clues to what we should be doing with our lives. Simultaneously, my husband made an observation about how I spend my free time:
“If you’re not in the kitchen making food, you’re talking about food or reading about food.”
Aha! Food! That is how I spend my free time!
Should I be doing something (beyond the side project of food blogging) that involves food?
Thus set off a down-the-rabbit-hole exploration of the various possibilities this idea awakened– did I want to be a chef? a nutritionist? a holistic health coach? a food studies researcher?
I recognized that a lot of what fascinated me about food blogging was the fact that it exists as a “thing” in itself, and I decided that I wanted to dig further into this idea – what is food blogging, why do people do it, and why should we care? And, more importantly, what role are food bloggers playing in the food movement? This would become the topic of my re-vamped blog.
It was in this exploration that I developed a “theory” that when people are functioning at their best, they will automatically be working towards the greater good. I defined “optimal functioning” as involving physical health, mental health, and pursuit of passion. The approach to food/cooking and the food bloggers I was most infatuated with, were examples of one way of breathing life into this theory.
I asked myself “why do I cook?” and I recognized that not only was cooking a creative act for me, it was also a mindful practice. A time when I put down my phone, stopped worrying or thinking about what I needed to do, and engaged fully with the task at hand – especially when that task is chopping vegetables!
As I launched my new vision for a blog, I outlined a fairly ambitious weekly posting schedule, including interviews with other bloggers and reflections on books and articles, as well as recipes and inspiring quotes. As I attempted to enact this vision (while still working full time at one job with two additional jobs on the side, not to mention a rigorous daily yoga practice, a new marriage, and a social life), I soon recognized I had bit off more than I could chew – I had, in fact, outlined a full-fledge research project. With the demands of my “working life”, my food blogging ambitions fell away, and those interests were relegated to the back burner.
I now recognize that the food blogging journey provided a specific context in which to observe, engage with, and think about issues of meaningful, passion-driven work, alignment with a specific value system, the necessity of personal creative practice, a mindful life, and the value of community. In many ways, my short-lived adventures in food blogging led me to where I am today, and for that I am eternally grateful.