I have always admired people who know exactly what they want to do in life. Those who discovered their passion at a young age and did everything they could to pursue it. The musician chasing after perfect notes and converting gruelling hours of practice into muscle memory, making their playing look and sound effortless. An artist dabbling in their chosen medium from dawn ‘til dusk (and perhaps continuing from dusk ‘til dawn), trying to turn the vision they see in their mind into reality. Or the engineer who goes from a child wondering how a lightbulb works to an adult who creates a new way of producing efficient energy. The doctor or nurse with a desire to help people get well. The teacher wanting to shape the next generation. Regardless of occupation, there are people who focus on what they want to do and concentrate on it with all their heart.
And then there’s me. I see the world as a smorgasbord to be sampled from.
As a child, I wanted to be a palaeontologist. It was a great party trick, a 5 year old pronouncing a word as long as she was. Then I wanted to be a biologist, helping bring endangered animals back from the brink. Then it was a marine biologist because, well, I can’t remember why. I assume it had something to do with liking to swim. Then I wanted to study archaeology.
And that’s exactly what I did. Four years as an undergraduate. One year at the Master’s level. Another four and a bit years to get a PhD.
But even then I couldn’t focus. While most people have their expertise, say Medieval French pottery or Roman jewellery from the time of the Emperor Augustus, I chose to focus on interpretation: how to make the past accessible and understandable to all, regardless of time period, culture, or artefact.
Yet this failure to land on something that fits neatly into a labelled box can cause problems. How to pick a job or career when a dozen sound interesting? I was part of a mentoring group in a previous role and we were discussing our future plans (research posts in academia are notoriously short lived). While I know she meant well, the mentor seemed exasperated by my inability to come to a decision about what to pursue next. “What is it you want to be?” I couldn’t answer. At the time, I felt embarrassed and frustrated with myself. I knew I didn’t want to stay in academia. But beyond that? I couldn’t say.
The mentor, top of the pyramid in the academic food chain, was doing exactly what she wanted to be doing, investigating her chosen research area with a drive that got her out of bed each morning. Yet pinning myself to just one thing felt wrong. I still have the same interests I had growing up. My love of the underwater world has become a SCUBA diving certification. I am concerned about what’s happening in the environment and do what I can to live a sustainable life. And dinosaurs? I still want a pet triceratops.
It’s only now that I realise the underlying core of what drives me: I want to share my passion with others. Make them care about a topic, or at least be willing to look at it in a new light. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to realise that common question we ask children “What do you want to be when you grow up?” is so limiting. We are so much more than just our job description. Not everyone has that one thing they must be. And that’s okay. There is more than one path through life, and the most important part is being on the one that’s right for you … and enjoying the scenery along the way.
Which brings me to this website. I realise that it flies in the face of much of the advice given: a blog should be about one thing so the audience knows what to expect. Yet at the same time, we are also advised to be true to ourselves and to play to our strengths. To me, this seems like a contraction as it’s those varied interests that make me who I am. One part of my life blurs into the other, something that is echoed in the MissElaineous logo (more about this in Part 2). After all, don’t the areas where ideas meet tend to be the most interesting of all?
So for those who are just tuning in, I’m afraid I can’t give you specifics about what I will be writing about. There will be wildlife and archaeology, photos from around the UK (and hopefully further abroad), and any other miscellaneous thing that catches my fancy. So please sit back and enjoy the ride – I know I will!