When I was finishing my BA at Whitworth, I was pretty much a grad school fiend. I read APA journals for fun. I had “brain crushes” on developmental psychology researchers. I was ahead of schedule according to the multiple drafts of my color coded “four year (turned three year) plan” for graduation. I was so excited to start working towards a clinical psych PhD and couldn’t think of anything else I could possibly be happy doing after graduation. Beginning my senior year I could only imagine myself doing one of two things after graduation: starting grad school…or sulking all year long over rejection letters until starting grad school the next year.
Eventually, however, I started to wonder if there might be something a little unhealthy about that mentality. Of course, it’s important to have goals and it’s good to be determined about them, but I worried that I was getting too obsessed with moving forward forward forward. I think I was more shocked than anyone when I decided to join Salesian Lay Missioners instead of moving on to grad school that year. I couldn’t explain why I made that decision; I just knew I was called to it.
I remember a friend asking me what I thought would be most difficult about my year abroad. I said that all my life (as typical of…well…just about everyone my age) I had been preparing for the next step, pushing towards the finish line, striving for the goal. But I knew that in Bolivia, there was no finish line, no ultimate goal, no “next step.” Past volunteers had talked about the importance of being present, of simply sharing life with the girls in the orphanage one day at a time. I didn’t know how to do that. I just knew how to race onward. But now there was nothing on the horizon to run towards. Just the long, unconquerable year stretching out ahead of me. I left knowing that God had something meaningful in store for me, but I truly doubted I would be completely content until I was in grad school where I belonged.
Well, guess what, folks. Two years later I have received my fifth and final “thank you, but…” letter from clinical/community PhD programs..and l am the most content I have ever been. All five programs only accepted between 2 and 4 percent of their applicants, so my feelings aren’t too hurt. More importantly, however, is the fact that I really did learn to “just be.” Yes, psychology, especially research, is still my vocation. Yes, I want to be in school still. Yes, grad school is essential to prepare me for the work I feel called to. But the person I am today looks at the degree-hungry girl of two years ago and pities her a bit. I want to tell her she’s more than her resume. I want to warn her that at this rate she’s going to spend her whole life preparing to “do” and never actually “doing.” I want to tell her that she is capable of meaningful things without a string of letters after her name. I want to tell her that everything happens in its proper time, and that what looks to her like a tidy path forward is actually a graceless trampling of the experiences and people she’s ignoring on the way towards her unknown future. I can’t tell her these things, but it looks like she figured them out eventually anyway.
I’m happy to announce, friends, that I did it. Or, rather, God did it to me. Though I still happily anticipate the career path of tomorrow, I have finally discovered the beauty of today. I explained to a friend recently that I honestly have nothing to worry about. The most beautiful thing someone can do with their life is wake up in love with God and eager to serve the people around them. My plan for now is to do exactly that every day. Then, when it’s time, I’ll do it someplace else. Maybe in Oregon, maybe in Hawaii with my sis, maybe in Chicago or Alaska or Rwanda or Bolivia or Antarctica. I don’t really know. If you have some ideas, send them my way. But above all don’t be worried, because, to my own surprise, I’m certainly not.