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  • Melissa Westemeier


Smörgåsbord is one of those Swedish words that sounds suggestive of its meaning. Smörgåsbord has a rich and satisfying sound, filling the mouth with hard consonants and easy to pronounce, and it literally means a hot and cold buffet of food prepared for the diner to take and eat without waiting so they can enjoy it at their convenience. The Swedish language isn't intuitive for me. I've been to Ikea and nothing about "Vildkorn" suggests a soft fluffy pillow for my bed. I don't see "Gnarp" and conclude "oh, a 3-piece kitchen utensil set." But I hear "Smörgåsbord" and I do think "Yum!"

My understanding of this word is of course influenced by Templeton from Charlotte's Web. Actually, the book doesn't use "smörgåsbord," the animals refer to it as "a rat's paradise." The word "smörgåsbord" was added in the film version's musical number (rhymed with "orgasbord") when Templeton hitchhikes in Wilbur's crate to the fair and escapes at night to devour all of the discarded, leftover, and trashed food. His character is a glutton, and at the fair he gorges himself on leftovers galore. Cotton candy, cheese, doughnuts, fried chicken, candied apples, sandwiches--Templeton leaves Wilbur's crate and pigs out.

Overwhelmed and overjoyed by the offerings at the fairground, Templeton's indulgence makes him bloated and sick. We've all been in his shoes, whether it was Halloween night with the bag of candy dumped out on the living room carpet or Thanksgiving dinner where we loaded up our plate without leaving room for pumpkin pie. It's tough to resist a buffet full of every good thing.

I feel like I've been standing in front of a smörgåsbord since late spring when I decided to quit my teaching job. I have spent months contemplating a smörgåsbord of choices. This started with "Oh, I've got a week at a lake house planned at the end of June, I wouldn't want to start anything before that." Then it evolved into, "I wouldn't get paid until the first of September anyway, so I've got all summer to decide." Now it's the second part of August and I haven't made any progress. I'm standing here holding my empty plate and staring at the options. Everything from remote work as an editor and content developer to trying my hand as a salesperson or trainer sits on the buffet table. Some opportunities offer terrific salaries, some offer flexible schedules, some offer a great work environment where I can be creative, some offer the security of not requiring much training because I could walk in shovel-ready. I've read there are two jobs for every worker right now and my new account on Linkedin appears to back up that claim. I'm overwhelmed by the options.

It sounds stupid for someone in the middle of life to feel stuck about what they want to do next, but here I am. A little petrified of making the wrong call because I'm not a spring chicken, it's not like I can afford to spend a few years making a huge mistake. Yet mistakes are part of how we learn and why can't I screw this up? More importantly, how badly can I screw this up? What's the worst thing that happens if I choose poorly? (Answer: I quit and make a different choice, but I burned some time in the process.)

I've done the self-assessment, drawn up the old T-chart of pros and cons, likes and dislikes, skills and interests. I've concluded that while remote work sounds awfully appealing in terms of flexibility, it probably isn't for me. I possess the discipline to work alone every day and solitude doesn't bother me, but I don't particularly care to be tethered to a computer screen for that many hours of my week. I don't want to go back to school to add to my credentials for more than a couple of years, tops. Salary doesn't appeal as much as working environment. I quit my last job out of sheer frustration with people's continued bad decisions and a lack of support (and believe me, I tried all I could to change the situation, but ultimately everything making me furious was out of my control). I want to use my brain, but I also want to stand up and walk around, so sitting at a desk all day would not satisfy me.

I want to feel fulfilled, use my talents and skills productively. I'm a good teacher, a fairly decent writer, I edit well, and I have super organization and communication skills. I want my work to matter more than just supplying a paycheck, but I don't want to give away my work for free either. My work-life balance will shift after this year, when G goes off to college and I have an empty nest, so there's flexibility on the horizon. I can move if I want. I can work more, or differently, or less if I want. Every day I pray for wisdom and direction, but there's this balancing act in faith where you wait but then you do have to lean in and act or else it isn't faith, right?

As you can see, it's a smörgåsbord. A few things on the buffet look like the three-bean salad (always giving that a hard pass) and a few things look like smoked salmon or cream puffs (gotta grab them). I can't take too much or I'll regret it. It's easy to load up on a bunch of things and think you can handle it all. But I can fill my plate and go back for seconds later if I want.

Stay tuned. Eventually I'll figure this out.

Meanwhile, spill it. What smörgåsbord item do you always put on your plate?

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