I’ve been back to school after Spring Break for a week now, and have been ruminating over some thoughts from my time off. I spent the break at home, in an unusually rainy Southern California catching up with friends and family. Being home meant singing my usual, “The fun has arrived!” line (my best impersonation of Turk from Tarzan) as I saunter into Bible study. It meant cozying up with a good book and a big mug of Mexican hot chocolate on one of Zona Rosa’s upstairs couches. It meant In-N-Out and afternoons spent writing at Starbucks, Panera, Corner Bakery, or the floor of my best friend’s apartment. It also meant a lot of those questions – “What’s your major?” and “Do you have a job?” and “So, are you dating anyone?”
They are benign enough, ones it would be odd for friends and family not to know the answers to, so I can’t blame anyone for asking. But each of these is like a dog whistle to my slumbering anxiety. My palms get sweaty (knees weak, arms are heavy) and I play with my hair as I pretend to laugh and roll my eyes, “Oh you know how it goes…”
Contrary to what you may assume, I don’t like telling people how busy I am. It’s awkward, because they think they need to act impressed. “Wow, a triple major! You must be so smart.” Or just, you know, really indecisive and miserable. It’s a common topic between me and my therapist; I’m afraid of changing my mind, so closing any doors feels premature and terrifying. What if I major in Sociology, but in 10 years wish I had majored in Psychology? The horror. I’d better just major in both. That’s the logical thing to do, right? Right?!
I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up; it changes every day (there are few majors I haven’t entertained going for since arriving at Wheaton College). I know I want to write. I know I want to be a life-long learner. I know I’m an activist at heart. But it’s hard to know what I’m good at, if I have the right combination of strengths for this career or that. Funny enough, there is a quiz for agonizers just like me! And not a Buzzfeed one, but a real, respected test – StrengthsFinder.
Four of my Strengths are in the Strategic Thinking domain: input, intellection, ideation, and strategic (don’t ask me why three of those are nouns and the other an adjective). The fifth is communication, which falls under the Influencing domain. In some hypothetical ideal, you’d have a bit from each domain – the other two being Executing and Relationship Building.
I would die for one of my strengths to be positivity or includer (it’s actually paining me to type this out – why not “inclusivity” in keeping with the other nouns?!). I often wonder how good of a journalist or psychologist I would be with such poor people skills. It is hard to come up with a career I might like when my skill set does not include talking to people or actually getting anything done.
Even jobs that sound fun, interesting, important, and fulfilling are inevitably written off because I’m not “_____ enough.” I have long been obsessed with finding my faults and convincing myself that self-flagellation for them was more or less equivalent to wanting to be my “best, bold self,” as my high school headmistress would say in her ever-enchanting English accent.
If I’m having a good day, I am able to remind myself that even other 20 year olds who say they know what they want to do may change their minds another dozen times. And even if they don’t, that doesn’t mean they’ll get hired in their chosen field right out of college. It’s all a process, and it’s not as simple or clear as anyone who simply asks you, “What do you want to do after college?” makes it sound. On these better days, I can convince myself that pursuing my passions, honing my talents, and trying new things is the best preparation for whatever career (or careers!) I end up in eventually. But it’s still hard to make decisions when I don’t have an end game – when I have, in fact, a very wide array of possible end games. Is it better to spend my summer at this internship or that one, or neither and work on expanding my writing portfolio? In terms of classes, would I rather cast a wide, shallow net, or a narrow but deep one?
I was talking through this with my parents over dinner one night on break, and my dad explained that my dilemma reminded him of a question he, a lawyer, often asks his clients. He asks them to admit, honestly, just how much they’re willing to pay to settle a case, so he can best negotiate for them. He says, “I need to know where we’re going if you want me to get you there.” He repeated the line several times and my eyes widened – I was having one of those cliché, magical Jesus moments, when suddenly life makes just a little more sense, or feels just a little more peaceful.
His quote reminded me of a passage I had read just a few days before, during Bible study. It reads:
“Do not let your hearts be troubled…You know the way to the place I am going.”
Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where we are going, so how can we know the way?”
Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really know me, you will know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.
– John 14: 1, 4-7
I’m co-opting this passage a little bit, but the wording was just so strikingly similar. If my questions about the future are about how I can glorify God with my work (as should be my aim), and not about how I can glorify myself, Jesus’ answer to Thomas is for me as well. Facing the scary questions of what life after Wheaton will look like, I am reminded that I have a hard enough time choosing what to order at Taco Bell (despite getting the same thing the last four times I went through the drive thru that week), let alone making major life decisions. I have no idea what I want, or what I’ll be good or, or what makes sense. I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, and the weight of that is paralyzing.
But in one sense, I sort of do know where I want to go: toward God. I’m so preoccupied with what that looks like that I forget that, in reality, I don’t need to know. The “destination,” if there is one, will be revealed in time.
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord. “Plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.
– Jeremiah 29:11
Phew. My future is in good hands. And when I worry that I can’t get “there” if I don’t know where “there” is, I can rest in the assurance that Jesus is the way; I need to slow down and moment by moment choose Jesus: choose to pursue Him, listen to Him, worship Him. That is the way to a God-honoring future. When faced with nerve-wracking, future-altering choices (or even tough daily choices), I need only ask what will help me seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with my God (Micah 6:8).
So yeah, figure from my past who has it more together than I do: my major is a little bit unclear right now. I do some odd few-month job stints, but nothing super regular or traditional, and my bank account usually hovers between $8 and $50. I don’t have a boyfriend. My future is up in the air – but one step at a time, God will get me there. He knows where I am going; I just have to go with Him. Maybe that’s not as dazzling and impressive of an answer as I’d like to give, no flashy internships to put on my LinkedIn page, no big time awards. Little of this, little of that. Lots of attempts, lots of mistakes – but lots of learning.
I have to continually recenter myself on a desire to live a life that honors God (as my school motto says, “For Christ and His Kingdom”). If I wanted an Ellie-honoring future, a life lived “For Ellie and Her Glory” well then I would have reason to sweat, because MapQuest has no clue how to get there.