I've never mentioned this, but for the past two years I've participated in a post-grad leadership-ish program for people who attended Jesuit universities. 12+ of us met once a month to discuss, study, and hear about different schools of thought around things like how to marry social and financial obligation, how to navigate a work environment that doesn't support growth or individuality, or - most poignantly - how the hell you're supposed to figure out what you're supposed to do in the first place.
If you went to college with me - it was like a post-grad Casptone on how to be a sane adult. If you didn't - stop rolling your eyes at me.
Last Tuesday was my group's final session, and we were charged with presenting a synthesis paper sharing our thoughts slash progress as the experience came to a close in 6 minutes or less. I don't tend to have thoughts that come out in less than 10 minutes increments...
The process was an interesting and incredibly valuable one for me. Not only did I make a dozen amazing friends, but it hit at a time in my life where I needed (and still do) a re-education in what's called discernment. This isn't a religious blog nor am I a very religious person. The idea of discernment does come from Ignatian spirituality - the foundation of the Jesuit order of Catholic priests - but for our purposes today, think of discernment as the process of figuring big shit out.
There is an insane amount of shit to figure out between the ages of 18 and 30. What should I do for work? Where should I live? What should I do in my free time? Who should I date? Who should I marry? Am I happy? Am I fulfilled? Am I going to be able to live like this for the rest of my life?
We've talked about it a million times, but these are the formative years. We're laying groundwork that - yes - can be torn up and re-paved, but conventional wisdom tells us these 10-or-so years to decide how we'll spend the next 50. That's why most/many/some of us fall into the overexposed-but-painfully-true quarter-life crisis.
My "speech" was about that idea of figuring out where we're supposed to land. I suffer from this non-problem problem of "nothing is wrong but I know this isn't right." I've enjoyed what I've done and succeeded in doing it, but always with a lingering feeling that my here and now isn't absolutely right for me. Something tells me that's a common feeling...
As I prepared to write I couldn't stop thinking about this speech we heard from a BC professor slash priest on the very first day of college orientation. Michael Himes was famous for cutting the most complicated life issues down to a simple-step process, and the most famous of these lessons was his advice around discovering your vocation in life.
"Discovery your vocation" sounds heavy because it is. It's not necessarily about the 9-5 job you land or the hobbies you pursue. You can enjoy financial planning but find that your vocation is volunteering with the poor. You can work for a non-profit researching AIDS in Africa but discover that your vocation is playing the guitar. It doesn't have to be the way you make your living, it's about the way you guide your life. I know that's still vague, but Himes's 3 questions give it a little more clarity:
He says there are three key questions to help people make a decision on where their life is going:
- is this a source of joy?
- is this something that taps into your talents and gifts—engages all of your abilities—and uses them in the fullest way possible?
- is this role a genuine service to the people around you, to society at large.
What next? will be a question for as along as we live, but what next in the context of a 20-something is so much more significant because there are such endless possibilities. If at 22 you decide you want nothing more than to be a professional musician - you could. If the goal is neurosurgeon, you could do that too. Problem is, we aren't all blessed with trust fund cushions that make it easy to dabble in life-paths until we find the right fit and we don't really have limitless time to decide.
What Himes and my post-grad Capstone class are saying is that it's a process of questioning and answering. Exploring what we enjoy and testing it against these three key questions. For so many of us the three questions are more like Will it make me money? Will it give me status? Will it be bearable? or Will it create a life for me that I like?
For the past two years my 12 friends and I practiced screwing all the "sensible" questions and working on asking ourselves the simple-yet-difficult ones above. Who am I really? What are my strengths? What do I love to do? What can that mean practically, but also what can it mean impractically?
The gist of my 6-minute-speech-that-landed-somewhere-closer-to-8 is that you have to decide you're going after a vocation instead of just a job or career and there's no guaranteeing that decision won't cause more pain and frustration than the other route. In many ways, the process is like deciding to open up the biggest life can of worms you've got. Once you say, "I want to figure out what's absolute right for me" you're admitting that a lot of things are going to be wrong. And trust me, it's absolutely possible to live an entire life where nothing's ever wrong but nothing ever arrives at absolutely right.