Choosing Figs | Neurotic as Hell | A Travel, Lifestyle, and Life List Blog

Five Year Plan: Take One

When I was in first grade the teacher asked for everyone who was right handed to raise their hand. Then she asked for everyone who was left handed to raise their hand. I raised mine to the latter, and the teacher questioned my choice. It turned out I was right handed but, unlike every other first grader in the class, I had never before heard either of those terms. That is the first moment I can remember where I felt as if I would never know as much about anything as anyone else.

I think I’ve carried this with me throughout my life. I never raise my hand in class because I always assume I will be wrong. I don’t suggest things at work because I feel like my ideas will be stupid or that someone else would be more qualified to make a decision. I never have felt as if I could be an authority on anything.

Even when I felt “good” at anything there was always something in my way. I’ve mentioned millions of times that for half of my life (and still now) I wanted to be a dancer. It was something that I was good at and that I loved to do more than anything. But my joints never cooperated and I had horrible flexibility so despite how well I could dance I could never be a dancer.

In high school I took up acting, which again I loved and felt good at, but once I left the confines of my small school and saw what was really out there, I realized I was just a small fish in a big pond and never felt like I would be able to succeed.

In college I just picked a major and stuck with it. People are always amazed that I had the same major for all four years. But it wasn’t because I knew what I wanted and went for it. It was because I really didn’t know what to do. I was training, basically, to be in PR despite the fact that I didn’t really like PR. I did have fun with marketing. Some of the times I felt best were when I was creating marketing campaigns for KCSA and Inline Insomniacs and I really saw them working. It was fun designing and strategizing. But that was small scale, and among friends, and when you only answer to yourself it’s easier.

I still don’t know what I want to do. I do like my job but is it what I want to do forever? What do I want to do???

One of my goals this year is to develop a “good five-year plan.” In other words I want to figure out, once and for all, what it is I want to do with my life, and how I can get there. I don’t want to be continually questioning my life. I just want to live it and be happy with where I am.

I am so scared that I will forever be wondering what I want to do instead of just doing something I love and that makes me happy.

I was talking with Nadia the other day and the subject veered off into careers, as it always seems to do nowadays. I told her that sometimes I think about how much I’d like to go to the CIA. And she said she did too. And then we laughed because it was funny that we both knew exactly what we meant by CIA (Culinary Institute of America – not Central Intelligence Agency). But then we agreed on the inevitable question that would come after that. “Then what?”

I could get a degree in baking, but then what? I like to bake but do I want to be a baker? How does one be a baker? And anyone in the restaurant industry works ridiculously long hours and do I really want that?

I am so afraid of that “then what.” I’ve already spent ten years dancing to realize I couldn’t pursue it. And four years on a worthless bachelors degree. And now four years on a masters I probably won’t even need for anything.

I don’t want to go through it all again.

The way I see it, there are four main problems:

One. I tend to lose interest in things once I don’t think I’ll be the best.

Two. I will have a masters degree, and $25 – 30,000 of debt in six months.

Three. I feel that no matter what I do I will never be better, or even as good, as anyone else.

Four. Even if I know what I want to do, I don’t know how to go about doing it.

There are so many things that I love to do, but I never pursue them because I always assume that there are already so many people doing it and they all are going to be better at it than I ever will or that. Or I assume that there is no career in it. I love photography, I love web design, I love cooking. But then what?

And then there’s the question of time. I hate 9-5. I hate sitting in a quiet office (seriously, I do my best work while sitting at my laptop on my couch with a movie going in the background). I hate going to the same place every day. I hate not having freedom. I want to be able to sleep in and do my work at one in the morning. I want to be able to pick up and travel if I so desire.

I know that for most everyone these are impossible things to do. But ideally, I would be freelancing and setting my own hours but not working crazy all the time.

But I have to figure this out. I have to find a way to be living like I want to live with a career I love and with the freedom and flexibility to schedule my life how I see fit. Here’s a start.


Careers I could have (and the start of a five year plan…):


Don’t get me wrong here. I want to be a writer. But there is no career in it. I don’t like writing marketing copy or interviewing people. I like to write about myself. I like to write memoir and essays and some young adult fiction. I have succumbed to the fact that I will probably never be a full time essayist because, well, almost nobody is. I started writing because I have ONE story to tell. I think now I have more. But I am 26 and boring and know that there are people who have it much worse but somehow I think I can speak for us all and give us all a voice. I sometimes dream that my memoir will get published and that that will lead to being some sort of spokesperson and activist and all that. And I hope to at least get some things published. And maybe make a nice career out of it. But I am not a business writer and so it probably won’t be a full-time career.



I don’t know if I would really be happy being an editor. Mostly because I don’t mind bad grammar. I feel like I could edit computer manuals or continue with web editing. I like this option because it would require no further schooling and could be done freelance which would save me the money and time of doing more schooling and could allot me the freedom and flexibility I need.



I love photography. I love taking photos of everything and documenting life and sharing my world through photography. I don’t, however, know what I am doing.

Lately a lot of people have been saying I should be a wedding photographer.

Nadia, Bryan, Jen and Adam tell me I should be a wedding photographer.

Nadia said that after showing my pictures to her co-workers they said she had a really good photographer and she had to tell them that I wasn’t the real photographer.

After seeing her shower pics my sister said she should have hired me for the wedding.

It actually sounds appealing.

a) I always wanted to be a wedding planner, but am not cut out for it, so I could still be involved in weddings.
b) I could design myself a kickass website that would constantly need to be updated – satisfying my web design cravings.
c) I love photography.

Obviously it would be a long process. I mean, at this point I don’t even know how to take advantage of the manual modes of my camera. I’d need to learn the craft much more, somehow gain experience photographing professionally, invest in a lot of good equipment (I’d feel as if I’d need a couple good cameras, so that I have a backup in case something happens. Etc., etc., etc.


Web Designer

This is another case of something I love to do, but don’t really know anything about. I love playing with my site and making new designs and learning new web-development things. I love web design. But again, I’d need to learn a lot, take classes, spend money…And again, it’s one of those things where I feel like I’m never going to be as good at as anyone else.



I like to cook and bake and sometimes think I should be doing that. I think I would like to bake over being a regular chef. There is just something calming and satisfying about making a big gooey cake. I also like to decorate cakes and such. The thing I don’t like about baking is that in a lot of professional settings you always see the baker as the person who has to be up in the kitchen at the crack of dawn. I am not a morning person.


Food stylist

This is one of those random careers I think about but don’t really know how anyone would become one. I’ve seen classes offered on it though and think I’d like to take them. Lord knows I like to take pictures of my food 🙂 I think it would be something fun that would allow me to work in food without being a chef.


Part of me thinks that I might never be happy doing just one thing. Like maybe I should just learn everything and combine it all into a super career. Like I could be a wedding photographer who takes really good pictures of the food and has a really awesome website. Or I could have a small company that specializes in websites for restaurants. It could then combine food styling, web design, and photography and could be a one-stop shop where we could take all the photos for the restaurant, style the food, and put together the site.

And I honestly have no idea how I would “become” any of these things.

And I don’t know where to start. I feel like I should start taking classes in photography and web design, but I don’t even know how to go about that. Should I go to a community college or a specialty training center, or a real college? Or should I just say fuck it and not do a damn thing?

All I know is that I want to get to the point where I am no longer saying “what now?” “what next?” or “what if?” I don’t want a five year plan, I just want a life.

Anyone want to tell me what I should do with my life?

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Hi, I'm Val. I spent most of my 20s in a standstill, unable to pick which path in life I wanted to take. I wanted the nomadic life of a traveler but also wanted the husband, the condo, and the kitten. Unable to decide which life I wanted more, I did nothing. When I turned 30 I’d had enough of putting my life on hold and decided to start “choosing my figs.” So, I quit my job, bought a one-way ticket to Europe, and traveled for three years. Now I'm back in Chicago, decorating my apartment in all the teal, petting my cats, and planning my next adventure.

  • Sid
    June 20, 2007at12:02 pm

    just by being accepted to U of I you set yourself apart from at least 75% of the population…you may not be the best at something, but you’ll be really far from the worst, whatever you choose

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