The Search for Meaningful Work, Post “Mrs Q” – Advice please


My life has rolled on since I ate a year of school lunch and blogged it, published a book and appeared on TV. I’m grateful it has, because I don’t like getting a lot of attention. And while the cause of school food reform is a valiant one, I have blogged less and less as the years have passed. I even ditched my smart phone in January of this year. I needed a break and I highly recommend it if you feel like you have lost your ability to focus.

My absence in the school food reform movement, and in the larger food reform sphere, is not due to a lack of interest on my part. I had baby number two and there’s nothing like an infant to reorganize your life and prioritize everything else.┬áBut mostly I am trying to stay employed. While some considered me as “famous” because of this blog, I feel more “notorious.” I have not been able to shake that feeling of shame that came along with doing the whole thing anonymously. It was like a big scary secret for 18 months and even though I felt a ton of relief when I came out, I am left with some toxic emotions even now. Secrets aren’t healthy for people. I probably need therapy.

But I’m still proud of myself in quiet moments of reflection. I did something that mattered a great deal to me and to students I continue to worry about. I want to own what I did and be bold, but doing that does not seem to translate into professional opportunities. I work with similar kids now, but I do avoid the lunchroom. It’s school food PTSD.

What to do with myself professionally now? That is the question that only I can resolve, but I have not been successful in my search for an answer. Of course, I am working as I have been trained: a school-based speech pathologist. I love my job, the kids, and schools. But there is something missing and I’m trying to figure out what that is. I expect this to take some time to sort through, maybe years.

I’m throwing this one out to you, my readers. You have seen me through all these years. What now? Hypothetically if you were me, what would you do next professionally?

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10 thoughts on “The Search for Meaningful Work, Post “Mrs Q” – Advice please

  1. Please don’t feel shame. You did an amazing service by highlighting the need for healthier food in our schools. And you were always did it in a very polite manner; especially to the cafeteria staff.

    Our school has moved over to a much healthier menu, but due to federal regulations, there is so much food waste. Beautiful whole fruits, salads left untouched. So sad. It seems that there is a mandatory “meal” that each free/reduced lunch student must take. So if they’re not that hungry they just toss it. Federal law prohibits staff from reusing any food. Once a student has touched it, it’s off limits. Even if it’s in a package. Teeny tiny kinders are given the same portion as big kid 5th graders. It’s just wonkers!

    So, if you’re looking for a new cause, I suggest the crazy rules that go with the federal free lunch program.

    1. Fantastic suggestion! I remember Mrs. Q touching on this in her posts during the project, I bet there is a ton of interesting material and change that can be enacted there.

  2. What about some kind of advocacy work? Could you work for Moms Rising or a Chicago based non profit that addresses school food or health issues?

  3. I’m saddened to hear you feel any shame about the anonymity of your work on FUWL and this courageous, important project. You should feel proud, and nothing less. I’m certainly proud of you.

    As for the career question – What are you truly passionate about? What’s fundamentally important to you? What will you be excited to get out of bed in the morning for?

    If you love your current job – maybe the “something missing” isn’t career? Maybe it’s a side project (like FUWL was)? You don’t need to get 100% fulfillment from your job, of course… so if your job fulfills, say, 75% of your needs, perhaps the question is, where else can you get the last 25%?

    Finally, I’d say: Get out of your head and go DO something. Volunteer. Go visit a farm. Speak at another conference. Do something outside of the house and outside of your comfort zone. You never know who you will meet, and where something like that will lead you.


  4. I have been following you from the beginning, and I commend you for your honesty and bravery. I don’t know what you should do next, but I love how your journey seems natural, and not orchestrated. By that, I mean that as I’ve entered my mid-20s, I’ve realized that everything popular seems to be carefully calculated and planned by a PR team. By “everything”, I am talking a wide scope – from Rosa Parks (there was a previous woman that was going to perform the action, but she was an unwed mother, unfortunately a PR nightmare at the time) to Miley Cyrus staying relevant through choreography. Your honesty here with us, and the fact that you remain a concerned citizen looking to use your power in meaningful ways, rather than as a Twitter Machine, is commendable.

    PS – I feel the need to clarify: I am not riling against Rosa Parks or even Miley. It’s just that the narrative we’re taught is “Parks was tired, so she wouldn’t move”. Why can’t we be taught that Parks was carefully chosen to be a civil rights hero? That comes with greater implications of choice, agency, and heroism.

  5. If you didn’t feel like you had to avoid the lunchroom, I think that working in school food service would be good.

  6. What a question. I have been in a sort of similar situation where I just felt a bit ‘lost’. Every time I thought I had come up with my plan B it wouldn’t work out for some reason so I carried on and now things are improving. I hope so anyway!
    Just remember: What is for you won’t go by you.

  7. Two years, already . . . You did a wonderful thing, feel no guilt. I found working in the school lunch program to be very depressing, so many don’t want to shake up their comfort zone, remember Jamie Oliver’s experience, so very true. On the other hand working with a community garden project is very satisfying. Many of the elementary schools here in Missoula have gardens. Kids learn the value of good nutrition by growing their own food. They help in the planting, harvesting, and at the end of the growing season, they help in preparing a few items served in the school dining room, this year, salsa and kale chips, great fun!

  8. Sarah,

    You have so many talents, and you took on a tough issue. That made a difference. I would love to get you involved in work with the Center for Teaching Quality. One of their core issue is school redesign. Healthy food and addressing the needs of kids is one of the criteria in the process. Please email me so I can add your voice to an organization that focuses on Teachers who Lead but Don’t Leave. #youareinspiring #youmatter

  9. sorry to hear about your job worries. I would like to take just a moment of your time to tell you that I am a cook in a school food service industry. I have been at the same district for 12 years now and they have been wonderful years. when I started school food was just like it was when I went to school. in the last few years it has become more healthful. I happen to work with a wonderful director that has made quite a few innovations before they were required. In 2008 we underwent a renovation and she has a salad bar put in each serving line.Then in 2012 she made the salad bar unlimited for each and every student. They can take as much as they want with whatever they get.We do serve pizza and no it doesn’t have 27 ingredients. We also serve chicken nuggets but they have whole grain breading and they are made from real chicken. I am proud of what I do and of all the changes. I believe every student should be greeted warmly and encouraged to take veggies. I am proud of all we have accomplished. You should be proud of helping to be part of that change and I am sure you will find work soon. in the mean time keep up the good fight. some of us appreciate it.

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