Disclaimer: this is not a typical evidence-based practical advice for nutrition post. There’s feelings in here (weird)
The exit interview is set, and so is the UHaul reservation.
For the past year, I’ve been working as the Director of Wellness and Sustainability for dining services at a large, tier-one research university. I’ve thrown myself into the job at the expense of a lot of things (including, but not limited to: this blog, the planning of my own wedding, maintaining a schedule of regular health screenings, my own sanity, etc.), and it has given me so much back. Where many nutrition jobs are office-based or highly clinical, this one afforded me the ability to work with people but also with actual food, to build community, and to work creatively to develop new programs and events that are relevant to not only helping students be healthier, but expanding their horizons with food, what it means to eat well and be good to their bodies, and to see the world through their tastebuds. It’s been a LOT (hello, being stranded on a college campus away from my family through the worst hurricane I’ve ever experienced), but I’ve learned a ton.
This is in stark contrast to my previous counseling job, where I sat in a windowless room all day waiting for patients to come in, and my effectiveness was judged by whether or not patients lost weight. I didn’t have the luxury of digging deeper with these people because there was no metric in that environment for eating competence, or whether they enjoyed their meals since the last time I saw them, or whether they were building habits that in the long term would reduce anxiety around food choices and encourage overall well-being; but we could easily throw them on a scale and measure that. Unfortunately, this is how much of the world views good nutrition: as a means to control body weight.
Even during my job search in preparation for this move, I’ve struggled to find established jobs that encourage dietitians to use creativity to help people connect with food in a way that will power performance but also nourish healthy relationships with eating, bodies, and the community. I am not naive enough to think that such dynamic positions exist everywhere that they should, and I feel fortunate to have found one even if just for a year.
So why would I leave?
Well, it’s been a long time coming. About the same time that I took this job (two weeks after, actually) Brooks took a job that would either require 1. us to move, or 2. him to travel a lot. I was apprehensive, but he was excited. It’s been a lot of traveling, and that’s really just not ideal, especially as we are about to enter into our first year of marriage (!!). I felt like it was stupid to voluntarily commit to someone for life and also voluntarily spend massive chunks of time apart. For most of the past year, he’s been home in between trips for a week or so, but for the longer bouts of traveling it put a lot of strain on the time we did have together. Add me training hard for running stuff on top of that and it felt like everyone was guilty all the time about either not being together, or not being all there when we were together.
In any case, we hadn’t ever really planned to be in Houston for so long – we both miss the woods and mountains! It was fortunate that Brooks’ job gave us an opportunity to go to the Pacific Northwest, just not so fortunate that it was at a time when I had just found a great opportunity for myself, and when I wasn’t yet at a point in my MPH that I could up and leave. But now, I’ve got the school thing kind of figured out, the wedding thing is actually happening despite my inattention, and with the school year wrapping up it made sense to make the transition and allow someone else the summer to get their bearings in my job. So that’s where we’re at now.
What’s important in a job anyway?
I’ve started to think about this question a lot (and others, like “what is the meaning of life”) as I wrap up this one that I’ve enjoyed so much. I have a couple thoughts for current or future dietitians to keep in mind about the profession and finding your path. Please note that these are totally my opinion, but it feels worth sharing:
- Your job isn’t everything: I really think that growing up we are taught that you need to work hard because your job is THE thing in your life that defines you. I’ve worked with a lot of people who don’t do much other than work, and that makes me sad because I find that it’s the things I do with my time outside of my job that really fill me up and make life exciting. Yes, it’s important to have a job that is interesting and that you don’t hate, but if it’s the only thing happening in your life you’re set up for disaster. Maybe this means that my current sadness surrounding leaving this job is less important than it feels right now, and I hope that’s the case. But one thing I know for sure is that just like a shitty work environment can seep into the rest of your life and make you anxious and stressed, a really good group of friends, some big non-career goals, and exciting stuff to look forward to in your personal life can ooze positivity into your work self as well.
- Who you work with matters: I talk about how much I’ve enjoyed this job, and truthfully at LEAST 80% of that enjoyment is because I really love the people I’ve worked with. It’s a food service thing, I think. In clinical settings, people take themselves really seriously. In food service, people work hard and relax hard and jokes are a constant part of the day. Working with people that you actually want to hang out with is a big deal, and allows you to be yourself – that’s really important. I’ve been in environments where being “professional” meant displaying zero personality, and that kind of turned me into a zombie. It sucked.
- Movement matters: It sounds stupid, but the college campus environment rocks because you can walk around. Sitting for long periods of time is really hard emotionally. When you have to walk around as part of your job (at least for me), it makes the day much more enjoyable.
- How you’re evaluated is important to know: If weight loss is the one metric you’re really measured on, it’s the one thing you’re going to spend your time doing. I’m much happier when I’m evaluated based on things that I also value, because that means I get to put time into what actually matters to me. This feels really obvious as I type it, but I rarely consider this type of thing when I’m looking at job descriptions.
I’m sure there are more nuggets of wisdom to be gleaned from the giant storm of thoughts and feelings churning in my head, but that’s all I’ve got for now. Hopefully breaking the long hiatus from the blog with such a different sort of post doesn’t turn anyone off, and perhaps I’ll have a bit of time to actually write on here as we transition to Portlanders!