Thing-Finding Myth #2: I’ll Be Wasting My Education and Experience

I’ve actually had two Things that turned out to be not my Thing.

I know I mostly talk about my database programming career as my Thing-that-wasn’t, so if you haven’t been hanging around here for very long, you might not know about my first Thing-that-wasn’t.

Right out of college, I went and taught scuba diving in the Caribbean.

I became pretty unhappy pretty quickly, but I was afraid to walk away from it, for one of the same reasons I didn’t want to walk away from my IT career:

I put a lot of time, money and energy into becoming a scuba instructor. How could I just throw it away for something completely unrelated?

(Aside: For some reason I didn’t struggle a lot with “throwing away” my degree in International Relations/Japanese at the time.)

There’d be no way to get that money, time or energy back. Such. A. Waste.

The reality

Nothing is wasted.

I know it might not seem that way if you’ve studied to become a doctor and now you want to start a personal chef business. Or a jewelry-making business. Or a copy-writing business.

But here’s what I’ve experienced and witnessed over and over again:

Every experience you have helps you become the person you need to be in order to have your Thing.

My study of Japanese (and spending time in Japan) led me to reject seeking a corporate job out of college, and go to the Caribbean instead.

Getting sick in the Caribbean forced me to go home.

Seeing my sister studying computer science (and struggling with figuring out what was next for me) allowed me to see it as an option for myself.

My time in corporate jobs eventually made me realize how much I value freedom and flexibility. They’re non-negotiable for me.

And the analytical skills I learned while working with databases – and all my other experiences – help me every day when I’m working with clients.

Even if there really is no direct tie between your past experience and the Thing you’re drawn to, there’s always value in every experience you’ve had. Sometimes it just takes a hell of a lot of hindsight to see it.

The ROI question

Someone recently asked me how they could justify not getting a job in their field of study after spending so much money on a degree. They felt they needed to get an acceptable ROI (Return on Investment).

But if you knew – and I mean really knew – your Thing would support you financially, and that you’d wake up most days bouncing out of bed because you couldn’t wait to work on your Thing, would you even care about getting the ROI from your degree?

I think the desire for ROI is not really about the degree (or career, or business) you might walk away from. It’s about not believing your Thing will support you.

Or maybe wanting ROI comes down to wanting to see clearly that what you did was worth it, even if it didn’t make your heart sing.

Nobody wants to feel that something they invested in was for nothing.

What if the degree you got (or the business you built, or the years you spent in that other career) that you feel is not useful for pursuing your Thing was exactly what prepared you to go after your Thing?

I try to avoid getting all Hallmark-y around here, but seriously, would you rather get the ROI from past investments or actually enjoy your life?

Is it easy to give up what you’ve put a lot of time, money and energy into? Of course not.

Do I still occasionally grieve over my lost Japanese fluency? Or catch myself thinking building a database for my business is a good use of my time? Yep.

But. Is it worth it to go after your Thing despite the apparent “waste?” Abso-fucking-lutely.

How about you?

What kinds of stuff have you invested in in the past, that you feel you need to see the ROI from now?
What would achieving an acceptable ROI give you?
What does seeking ROI for something you don’t want cost you?

On Tuesday, 6/14, I’m sharing the foundational steps that will help you get unstuck and find your Thing. Check out my *no-cost* teleclass, Six Essential Steps to Find Your Thing. I’d love to see you there.

5 thoughts on “Thing-Finding Myth #2: I’ll Be Wasting My Education and Experience

  1. Fred Leo

    Great article Victoria. This is such a tough problem for people. I think you nailed it here, “But if you knew – and I mean really knew – your Thing would support you financially, and that you’d wake up most days bouncing out of bed because you couldn’t wait to work on your Thing, would you even care about getting the ROI from your degree?

    I think the desire for ROI is not really about the degree (or career, or business) you might walk away from. It’s about not believing your Thing will support you.”

    That is a great way to frame this issue. And, I think you are 100% correct. If you knew you could make as much money pursuing your dream, ROI wouldn’t be an issue.

    As an aside, I was an International Affairs/Russian major. I kind of regret not using my degree right out of college. Instead, I went straight to law school. Definitely not wasted, but I would have liked to have experienced a job using my International Affairs degree. Where did you get your degree? I got mine from George Washington.

  2. L.


    I wish I could afford you for some sessions! (Maybe in a near future!)

    Everything you wrote here is true to me. I wish I could describe how awfully stuck I am while trying to create something and being pulled towards the idea that I must put to good use my hard earned MA. But everything screams NO! No! I don’t want to do that. No! I don’t want to wear little corporate outfits. No! I don’t want to teach undergraduate students. No! I don’t want to work nights and weekends (because that’s where I would start), No! I want to do my Thing!!

    But here comes the catch: how to justify wanting to do your Thing, how even dare to ask for more support after all the support that was given to you to finish that program.

    The cruel question: didn’t you know what was at the other end before embarking on it?

    Every day someone asks me: and are you still working at X? a low paying job that is the closest to my Thing that I currently have? And then they go on telling me all the wonderful (enslaving) working conditions that I would have… hey! you’d be in a Union!

    Yes, I might have been naÏve when I started that program, and like you described, it isn’t the first time. I have an bachelor’s degree that I threw out the window as well.

    Anyway, I know I’m not wrong by continuing to work in X. It’s my playground, my lab where I experience things and this is my most valuable experience to date. I just wish I could simply get things in motion to arrive to my Thing once and for all.


  3. Mike Reeves-McMillan

    Totally, totally true. Everything I’ve ever done has prepared me in one way or another for doing my Thing.

    Epicly failed youth worker. Book editor. Technical writer. Corporate trainer. IT consultant. Plus all the non-career learning. Nothing at all was wasted. And without all of it I wouldn’t be in a position to do my Thing now.

  4. Victoria Post author

    @Fred – It’s definitely a complex issue that requires some digging to get clear on, especially since there are often multiple reasons we hold ourselves back. Not so easy to untangle them.

    Interesting that you regret not getting a job related to your degree. I don’t think I ever regretted it because my choice of major (at Brown, BTW) was mostly to make it easier to focus on Japanese language. And once I realized that translation wasn’t my Thing, I guess I just moved on.

    Or maybe I just felt like if I was going to go to the Caribbean to teach scuba, right out of school was the best time to do it. :)

    @L. – I’m sorry you’re feeling so stuck – it’s really painful, I know. There’s no easy answer. I think what might be key for you is to focus on finding ways to pursue your Thing without asking for direct support from the people who don’t understand what you’re trying to do. Not easy, I know. Pursuing my Thing got a lot easier when I found a group of friends online who shared the same priorities – we supported each other.

    Also, I think it’s *huge* that you’re standing strong and continuing in the job that’s closer to your Thing despite pressure from others. Hang in there, my dear!

    @Mike – I love seeing that list of all the varied work you’ve done. I only recently discovered the connection between my IT work and coaching (crazy, but they felt completely unrelated before). Have you found unexpected similarities between what you used to do then and what you do now?

  5. Mike Reeves-McMillan

    Oh, yes, always similarities.

    You always have to find out what people need and figure out how to give it to them, for example.

    You always have to develop new skills.

    You always have to deal flexibly with new situations and questions you weren’t expecting.

    And there’s something about the way that you learn to think as a computer person – “There will be a solution for this, I just need to find it” – that stands a coach in good stead, I think.

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