Not to brag but I won the Humanitarian Award at my Grade 8 graduation. I was a Reading Buddy, an Ambassador and a Conflict Manager. Or as you might call it “The Triad of Cool”. When I donned that blue Conflict Manager sash on the schoolyard, I felt invincible.
At the young age of 14, with puberty yet to make an appearance, I had found my direction in life. I wanted to hear people’s problems and I wanted to help people overcome them. I would become a Clinical Psychologist.
High school came, high school went. Dramatic breakups, botched attempts at Jennifer Aniston haircuts, tube tops galore. Normal high school stuff. Then off to university I went where I completed not one but two gruelling undergraduate research theses, with a bite scar from Lab Rat #9 as my lifetime souvenir.
With my Psychology degree professionally framed and safely stored under my bed, I was right on track to becoming a Clinical Psychologist.
Only I no longer wanted to be a Clinical Psychologist.
After graduation I floundered. Most of my friends had left town for whatever they were on to next. I was fresh out of university and more notably, fresh out of money. I served up skinny-extra-hot-no-foam lattes and chopped salads. I started pre-med classes in night school. I took a job working in research for a Clinical Epidemiologist at a whopping $10.50/hr. I sold my right kidney. I didn’t, but believe me I considered it.
I felt lost.
Like most flounderers, I eventually chose a path. I completed my Master’s degree in Occupational Therapy. I spent the better part of a decade working on a High Functioning Team that operated like a dysfunctional family. The fun, quirky kind. I’ve since dabbled in various clinical-adjacent roles.
But at 41, I find myself floundering again. Hey, at least this time it comes with a job that pays more than $10.50/hr.
Is this my midlife crisis? Perhaps. Or maybe at age 41 I finally know what I want.
And as it turns out, it’s the exact same thing I wanted at age 23.
In September 2005, two months out of my undergraduate program, I emailed André Picard, health reporter and columnist for The Globe and Mail. I loved reading his writing (still do) and wondered if I had the gumption for medical journalism. I asked him about his career path and what advice he had for an aspiring writer and flounderer like me.
I never expected a response, but a response came. And in true André style, it was brilliant and funny and made me fangirl even harder.
I won’t share the whole email, because that’s for me alone, but I will give you his closing words:
“The bottom line for me is: Follow your heart.
I’m interested in health. I like to write. It worked out for me.
It wasn’t easy re-reading his response 20 years later. Honestly, 41-year-old me is super pissed at 23-year-old me for not taking the advice of my journalism idol.
I’m interested in health. I like to write. Why didn’t I follow my heart?
Like my 8-year-old jonesing for a new Pokemon pack, I’m playing this question on a constant loop. I remember feeling pressure to find a “good” job. One that was in demand, paid well and stable. The path to journalism felt uncertain. By age 23 I was already feeling behind my peers and unsure of myself. I worried about what others would think of floundering Lisa’s pivot to journalism. Could I even hack it?
But today, with a behemoth Toronto mortgage, two dependents and a long list of wants, I regret not listening to André and following my heart instead of my brain.
And like most of my thoughts these days, there’s no telling where I’m headed with this.
With so much uncertainty in my path, I think about what I might say to my kids should they have the misfortune of inheriting the maternal floundering gene.
I think I would say: “Kids, follow your heart. BUT LIKE ACTUALLY FOR THE LOVE OF GOD DON’T JUST ‘OK MOM’ ME FOLLOW THE SH*T OUT OF IT DO YOU HEAR ME DO YOU HEAR WHAT I’M SAYING?”
I dunno, something like that.