Which Flavor? What Ice Cream Has Taught Me About Picking A Career Path

What’s Your Flavor?

An alternate version of this article was initially published on Harper’s blog “The Doing Is The Thing” (find a link to her website here).

Options, Options, Options

When I was a child, my mom would bring me to this amazing ice cream place elegantly settled between two gas stations on the corner of Route 14 in West Lebanon, NH.

Their menu was the size of the building’s wall. Literally, the exterior wall was their menu’s canvas, and they didn’t use size 70 print. The menu towered over me, its long list of words and cute font headings teaching me some of my first lessons on what the word “daunting” means. They even had ice cream options for your dog; they had thought of everything. Every possible combination of flavors, toppings, dips, dabs, doops.

I remember standing there in awe every time, trying my hardest to decide which combination to get, thinking, “I need to get something extravagant because now is the time!” (Providing stunning insight into the amount of pressure I put on myself as a kid, even in regards to delicious treats.) Ultimately– succumbing to the pressure of the menu-wall– I would end up with my go-to/I-know-I’ll-like-this/usual order: a chocolate creemee (otherwise known as “soft-serve” if you’re not from Vermont) with caramel, and sprinkles, too, for when I was feeling especially adventurous.

I could sense both the glee and predictability of a simple order, as well as the questionable judgement on the cashiers’ faces as I ordered. This place could have deep-fried my order, painted it with edible glitter, and presented it to me in a chocolate-dipped waffle cone on a bed of various exotic fruits, but all I ever got was a routine flavor with a classically gooey topping.

(Okay, they didn’t have edible glitter, but wouldn’t that be awesome?


Fast forward to today: as I barrel roll, crawl, and trip my way through my twenties, I have a thought that has increasingly become far too common.

It’s a beautiful sunny day in southern California, the sky is cloudless and Tiffany-blue, as if it were a paid advertisement from the store itself. The breeze is doing its thing, the birds are chirping, and the grass – lol, wait, just kidding, there is no grass.

In reality, I’m sitting just inside my office’s doors, witness to the lovely courtyard of manmade nature, at my desk that may happen to be marble, in a shiny glass-laden lobby of a well-off investment firm. And yet, amidst the amazing benefits and 401k plan, I think to myself, “I just need to forgo all this and become–“

…but then I stop. I feel foolish. Become what?

This is where my thoughts consistently reach an impasse of decision. I can’t even begin to start answering the question at hand because I have one hundred and eight answers. And zero idea as to if– or how– I want to make any of them happen.

On any given day my answer could be: journalist, politician, veterinarian, fashion designer, activist, columnist, CEO, business tycoon (whatever that means), bookstore hobbit, receptionist-to-the-stars, entrepreneur, painter, college admissions counselor (thank you, Tina Fey), doggie-daycare owner, stylist, therapist, any kind of -ist, actress, Wall Street extraordinaire, screenwriter, casting agent, food critic, advertising genius, doctor, comedian, some sort of Lena Dunham, freelance consultant (a.k.a. richly unemployed and highly questionable), eternal traveler, Oprah…

I consider each one of these every day as I sit and watch Netflix, eating a heaping amount of carbs and/or sugar (but most likely both), endlessly dreaming the day away

I know that I need to start making moves, but which moves do I make? Do I even really want to be any of those? Could I seriously see myself being a stylist? I’ll wait until the laughter subsides. Absolutely not, but it’d be cool, hypothetically. But moreover, shouldn’t I have a head-over-heels obsession and passion for one, solid thing?

Maybe I don’t want to choose because, for right now, I can sit here at the crossroad, not having to do anything yet. I’m in my early twenties, and everyone still calls me a baby. They say I have so much time left, that I’m just starting out.

Well, it doesn’t feel that way.

To me, I feel like I’m twenty-three going on forty-seven. Maybe that’s because I get up for work at 6:00 a.m. and head to bed by 8:30 p.m., or the fact that I have more cardigans in my closet than “going-out” clothes. Maybe it’s because I use the term “going-out clothes.” But it swiftly feels like my life is at the cusp of turning into something that I can’t walk back from.


Here’s where it all comes full-circle: I think that trying to figure out a career path is actually a lot like trying to pick the best possible combination of ice cream off of the massive menu at the ice cream place. It’s like gazing at the wall towering over me, knowing that I’d be happy with many things, but not knowing which one would make me the happiest.

I would be happy doing any of the aforementioned jobs, but are any of them really what I want? Are any of them my favorite? Would I excel at any of them? What am I even good at? Of course, some of these questions don’t necessarily come into play when choosing an ice cream flavor, but the anxiety over a surplus of choices is still there. Because of course it is.

I was lucky enough to go to school with a lot of driven and focused people. They knew what they wanted, and they went out and got it. It took persistence and hard work, grueling internships, shitty jobs, and no real free-time, but they knew what they wanted and they got themselves there, or are in the process of getting themselves there. I feel very fortunate to be surrounded by these types of people– people succeeding in their fields or on an impassioned path.

I’m so profoundly proud of my friends and I’ll cheer them on endlessly. But it’s a blessing and a curse, because, as someone who still needs to figure out which exact path to take, I can’t help but feel a little lost and behind as I watch those around me succeed.

I don’t know where I stand as a soon-to-be twenty-four-year-old. I know that the people who laugh at how young I am and who say that I have all of the time in the world are right in a way. But simultaneously, I don’t feel like I have all of the time in the world on the inside. I feel like it is time to pick the flavor of my career.

I suppose, though, that this is the essence of being in your twenties, right? A swirl of confusion and passion, possibly for one too many things, sprinkled with the doom of time, until one day or a year or a decade later you figure it out, and…you’re there? Maybe?

I hope so. And that’s all that we twenty-somethings out there who still feel kind of lost can do. Hope with everything that we’ve got. Hope for the best, prepare for the worst, but throw ourselves into whatever new and interesting things we can in order to find our path. Our flavor!

To figure out what our passions are, what we are both good and terrible at, and ultimately what kind of ice cream that we want to get, we simply need the courage to say, “To Hell with it!” and just try the flavors.

I think that I will make that my first step.

Cheers to Figuring “It” Out, 

Harper ShawverHowell

Do you agree that picking out a career path in your twenties is a lot like choosing ice cream flavors off of an expansive menu? Have your own metaphors/analogies or tips and tricks for keeping centered as you explore different professional routes in your twenties?

Comment with your thoughts in the reply section below!

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Comments

  1. Kelly H

    Very well expressed! I’ll chime in from the prespective of an almost 40, stay-at-home mother…. I still have no “idea what I’ll be when I grow up”. I’m starting to realize that some people do, and some don’t, and that’s ok.

    I’m happy with what I have, so I try to not worry about what I don’t.

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