One of the last times I was home at my parents’ house I found an old journal of mine from college. I flipped through it, cringing at some of my entries, laughing at others. A page in particular stopped me in my tracks – I read: "...should I keep my journalism major or go into dietetics? It will be pretty difficult to go back and take all of those courses, and to switch my academic track so late…"
It was my sophomore year, and the present me had an urge to go back and punch sophomore-in-college me in the mouth.
I had no idea what “difficult” was then, nor did I have any concept of time, particularly in the phrase “too late.” Had I switched majors and studied nutrition at that moment, I would have spared my future self so much frustration and self-doubt, not to mention a lot of money. But I have to laugh at this now, because as rocky as this path has been, now I know how to trust my gut and go with my intuition. Now I’m a trained communicator. Now I know what I want, and have all of the life-practice I need to work hard to get it.
The real shift began in 2012, after I had graduated from the University of Arkansas and the military had moved us to Texas. Because the Texas assignment was so temporary, I opted out of searching for a conventional job and decided to work from home doing freelance journalism, web design and blog maintenance. This period was valuable, as I made the connections that ultimately led to working for Paleo Magazine, a job that has solidified my decision to work in the nutrition and wellness community. But in my other jobs I was miserable. I was hooked up to technology all day every day, working with people I didn't have relationships with, and I never had any human contact outside of going to the grocery store. I felt isolated and useless in the greater scheme of the world, and I knew I wasn’t tapping into my passion.
At this point I took a full month off from writing to think – I did a lot of analyzing, cataloging my strengths and weaknesses; thinking about what work felt less like drudgery and more like a stimulating challenge. I wanted to help people, to be in contact with other humans, to have a job that would be flexible with a military lifestyle, one that would align with my interests. Nutrition was a natural end point, although whether I would go the conventional route or get some alternative certification was still up in the air.
A year later I had decided to go back to school and become a registered dietitian, even though that would mean obtaining a second bachelor’s degree instead of working toward a master’s certification. We moved to Hawaii and I started working on my pre-requisite courses at a local community college, slogging my way through chemistry and microbiology. I discovered my love for anatomy and physiology during this time, thanks to an incredible professor named Dr. Schmidt. I realized that sophomore-in-college me had no clue how to manage her time or truly study to learn, and that this time around I was a much better student.
As with most well-laid plans, it all took much longer than I had planned, and so my intentions to attend my undergraduate program in person on the island were traded for an equally rigorous and reputable online program through the University of Alabama. (I admit that I’m happy to remain, albeit only academically, in the SEC.)
Going back to school after several years out of academia has been a very difficult thing. Managing transfer credits and the various fees therein is not easy. Being a nontraditional student is weird. Going back to the beginning is humbling, especially when all of my peers are completing fellowships and graduate programs and becoming physicians. (My friends are all awesome, so I have some pretty high standards to meet.) Yet, it will be worth it at the end, when I can confidently enter the workforce as a time-tested warrior, in a field that makes me light up with curiosity and excitement.
Sure, it’s taken me a while to figure out “what I want to be when I grow up,” but instead of letting that make me feel deficient I continue to remind myself that there is no single right way to do something. There’s no universal timeline. There’s no cutoff date. It is NEVER too late to change your life.
If you’re on a similar journey, I want to encourage you that yours too is worth it. Whether you’re completing a degree that you started a long time ago, or looking at changing careers entirely, don’t be put off by the mountain of work that lies before you. Keep climbing. You’ll get there one step at a time.
High-res, open-source image from Unsplash.