I’ve always been a planner. I look up restaurant menus online before going out to eat, pack my lunch and gym bag the night before, and set countless reminders on my phone for everything from paying bills to remembering to respond to emails.
Needless to say, entering the real world after graduating my dietetic internship was difficult. The gap between being a student/intern and landing my first professional job was the first time in my life that I didn’t have any idea about what was coming next, and I had no specific dream job in mind to plan my future around. I couldn’t picture if I’d be in a downtown office wearing a business suit, in a hospital wearing a lab coat, or in my pajamas writing a private practice business plan. All of those possibilities morphed together into a strange, dark blob in my mind.
The summer after my dietetic internship, I compensated for the lack of direction I felt by diving headfirst into job applications. I checked Indeed.com several times a day – on my phone in the bathroom, during commercial breaks, if I was waiting for someone to meet me for lunch. I pumped out cover letters and resumes on a daily basis and proofread them until my eyes felt like they were going to pop out of my head. I jumped on my phone every time I got a phone call from a number I didn’t know.
Even further, I imagined what my life would be like if I accepted one of these jobs. How much would it cost to rent an apartment? Would I have Direct TV or Comcast? What bars and restaurants would I go to for happy hour? I felt both hopeful and hopeless at the same time — hopeful that my future would be exciting and fulfilling and hopeless because I wasn’t there yet.
Finally, four months and approximately 20 job applications later, I accepted a job as a retail dietitian in southern New Jersey. It was not at all the path I had expected to take, mostly because it required moving five hours away from my family to a place I had never visited that was full of zero people that I knew. Despite the uncertainty, I had a gut feeling that it was the right move.
As with any new experience, I was insecure. I wanted to feel confident and accomplished at work right away, but getting there was a lot of trial and error. I also had to build a friend group from scratch, which was frightening given that all of my previous friend-making experiences were instigated by close proximity to people my age. To top this all off, I was fresh out of a break-up.
Making friends in a new place, finding confidence at a new job, and grieving a break-up made for one of the loneliest, most difficult periods of my life – a period I’m so immensely grateful for. When my life unraveled from everything I was familiar with was when I finally, weirdly, unexpectedly began to feel at home. I didn’t have anything tying me down, so I had no other option other than to lean into the ambiguity.
Despite the heavy dose of self-doubt I felt every day, I kept going anyway, and good things slowly came my way. I became more confident at work, and I gave myself permission to ask for help and guidance when I needed it. I joined a running club where I met some of my closest friends. I went to networking events and connected with dietitians who I was able to contact when I was ready to move on to a new job. After a year as a retail dietitian, I accepted another opportunity that I probably wouldn’t have pursued had it not been for my new connections. It ended up being the exact environment I was looking for.
None of the moves that I have made over the past year and a half are what I had planned, but they are exactly what I wanted for my life: a chance to start fresh, make new friends, and learn and grow. If I would have had tunnel vision on a dream job, then I probably wouldn’t have been as open to the new opportunities that came my way.
While I was going through it, it felt like I was playing darts while blindfolded and drunk, aimlessly throwing and hoping for a bulls-eye. Every toss felt wrong, and I questioned every one of them. I second-guessed taking my first job in New Jersey, the apartment I chose, and every networking event I attended alone. A year later, I second-guessed those same exact decisions when I moved into Philadelphia and got a new job. To my surprise, when I opened my eyes and looked at the dartboard, I hit the bulls-eye. Even though I felt insecure, anxious, and alone through a lot of it, I kept going. I won.
To me, winning doesn’t mean reaching some kind of a goal or aspiration. It means living your life, getting through the hard times, and becoming more of yourself. Going through these transitions has taught me to lean into feeling uncomfortable, awkward, scared, and insecure. It’s shown me that I shouldn’t require validation for every decision that I make. While I still have anxious, insecure days, it’s the first time in a long time that I feel like I’m flourishing.
If I had a dream job that I was set on pursuing or had taken a route that felt more comfortable and safe, I wouldn’t have had to work through all of this discomfort. I don’t know that I would have come to realize my own strength, at least not to the same magnitude. I also wouldn’t have discovered a new city that I love or know the fantastic people that I’ve met since moving here — friends that I now can’t imagine my life without.
Maybe one day, as the ball keeps rolling, I’ll find my dream job – but perhaps there is no dream job. Maybe it’s just about having a lot of different, cool, interesting experiences, learning and growing from them, meeting the people I’m supposed to meet, and being exactly where I’m supposed to be.
That’s not to say having a plan or a dream job isn’t something to aspire to. It totally is. The great thing about the field of dietetics is the abundance of different career options, so if you’re a dietitian or dietetics student (or really anyone for that matter), and you don’t have an end destination in mind – don’t feel like you have to. Lean into the ambiguity. Be open to new experiences. Be open to a job that makes you move from the comforts of home. Be open to going to networking events alone when you know no one. Be open to reaching out to people you barely know to build a friendship. Be open to having really anxious, uncomfortable days. Be open to being alone. Be open to being scared. Be open to not having a plan. Know that whatever happens, it will be okay. You will end up exactly where you are meant to be, even though you might not realize it for a little – or a long – time.
Throw the darts. See where they land. As long as you never give up, you’ve won.