Once we got to talking though, she told me that she's going to school to become a grief counselor. I asked her a lot of questions (I love finding out why people choose their career path; what kind of classes/training they take; etc.), and she was happy to answer.
One thing that really stuck out was when she told me about going through a death of a close family member. The support she received during that time made her realize how important it really was. She just knew, after that experience, that she wanted to help people deal with such a powerful and emotional time in their lives.
A light flicked on at that moment - the one thing (for me) that is missing from the academic life is that connection with people: being able to help or influence or teach someone. Now, before someone jumps down my throat, I realize that, yes, you do get to teach students and collaborate with colleagues. But it's not the same. That kind of interaction seems very arms-length to me, and it's not what I'm looking for, or need.
I do enjoy my research, and I like the part of science where I'm working on something that's never been done before - but it's not enough. It's not my passion.
So, I'm about 96.71% sure I have decided what my next step in life will be: I'm going into education and public outreach.
I'm not sure what direction within EPO I will go - be it teaching at a college, getting certified to teach at an elementary or high school level, working at a museum/science centre, finding a position as an outreach coordinator at a college or university, or starting my own outreach program - but, as far as I'm concerned, I'm just happy to know the general direction I'm going!
It's exciting to feel this way: to know what my next step will be. It's almost like a big weight has been lifted off my shoulders. I just need to stick to my path, and not let the opinions of others affect me.