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Time is not your enemy

By Amy Nielsen

There are 22 years between when I earned my Bachelor’s degree and when I made my decision to get a Master’s degree. In that time, a whole lot of life happened, including a career in the field I graduated into, two kids, and a stint as a Navy spouse.

I was lucky, I graduated from college into a field where work is really, truly, always available if you are creative about marketing yourself and use your connections well. I decided to leave that field when I lost my drive for it. I had followed the almighty dollar and strayed into a part of the woods that looked nothing like my dream. I had a few bucks in the bank and no strings. So when the company folded I was not crying rivers.

I remember the evening after I locked up the office for the last time. It was surreal dropping the keys into sealed in a FedEx pouch to ship back to the regional manager. I sat out on the patio listening to the hum of the highway mixed with bullfrogs and crickets thinking – geesh, I can do anything I want this summer. I can do anything I want with my life now. I have time. For the first time in my life I have time to figure out what I really want to do.

So there I sat, feeling like an adult with the world ahead of me. I was exactly 30-years-old and I was a free bird! I made a list of things I was good at. Things I liked to do. Things I wished I could do. Things I knew I was never ever in a million years going to do. Things I was bad at. I asked a lot of people what I liked to do. I tried really hard to hold up a mirror and see me. Perhaps for the first time ever – and that created a tidal wave through my life upturning a whole lot of other things – but let’s keep to this wave.

So I set about choosing what I was going to do next with as much dedication to detail, cost to resale potential, and personal fit as most pay to their first luxury car. You see, while I dearly loved my first career, I never really thought about it as a career when I was picking it. I’m not really sure any high school senior can make that decision.

In that summer of introspection I decided that what I really loved was food. I was a good home cook. I had a good understanding of food and it’s implications within culture as a whole. I was worldly and had travelled extensively. So I decided to go to culinary school and see where it went. I knew I was not interested in restaurant kitchens. But I really had no idea what I could do otherwise. I though perhaps I would write a book, or something.

My first day of culinary school was September 11, 2001.

Upon graduation I knew I knew a whole lot more about food and how it has been manipulated in the classical French tradition. I could make a soufflé that didn’t fall, aspic covered salmon, and perfectly poach an egg, but I still had no idea what I wanted to do in the industry. So I went into a kitchen and did basically the same job I had been doing in my previous career, only difference was the medium. But I still missed a drive, a spark. I loved the kitchen but I was – to be honest – bored.

So I packed up my life and moved to a seaport to follow a Sailor. I didn’t get back into cooking at what I considered a professional level until almost 10 years later. The Navy life will do that to ya.

In the intervening years however, I spent a lot of time thinking about or talking about or playing with food. I dabbled in lots of parts of the food world from learning new techniques from international neighbors or new regional ingredients in the supermarket or finding a beloved item half way around the world because someone else missed home.

I read a lot. I read everything I can about food, from the New York Times food section to blogs on deep end fermentation to cutting edge research in phytochemistry to current law on licensing for integrative health practitioners and how patent law pertains to herbal formulae. I met people who use ingredients in ways I have never seen or called them names I didn’t know. I collected this all in my little foodie brain bank.

And still I had no idea how to regurgitate it all so someone would listen to me and not get bowled over by my over-zealous enthusiasm for the expansive topic that is the world of food. I know a lot of weird things about food.

I was directed to a program that seemed as broad on the topic as I was and was a good place to perhaps distill more clearly what it is that I really love about the world of food – other than Sacher Torte mit schlagg and deviled eggs. The year-long intensive was the kick I needed to see where I might be able to fit in outside of a kitchen. It gave the chance to meet people doing foodie things that had nothing to do with being in a kitchen. I was stoked. Better yet, there is an emerging field into which I felt I could maybe fit. It was the start of a spark.

It was also the bridge to the Master’s program I am enrolled in now. I am finally finding that I am with a bunch of students with drive and intensity that matches my own for talking about all aspects of food and culture. I am much happier talking about changing food access policy during the week and playing with meringue on the weekend.

The point of this ramble through my whys and wherefores of my educational stepping stones is to impart to you that time is not your enemy, time is your friend.

As I work my way through this process I keep reminding myself that no path is set in stone and that I am the only one who can decide if it suits me. My strength is breadth, I see a bigger picture and a wider scope. I am not good at the daily little fiddly bits. I also keep reminding myself that each step in this road is something learned. Now is the exact time for me to be trying out new ideas, learning hard lessons, and making connections. The career part will sort itself out eventually.

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