Now maybe for some of you out there this does not come as a major revelation, yet for me this hit home. I was on a Confidence Coaching call with David Kaiser from Dark Matter Consulting and David said "Work is not like school. Your boss does not give you assignments and then you turn them and get approval." Yet I realized when he said that how much I unconsciously expect life to work like school.
You see I am good at school. I played school as a child (it comes honest, my mother and grandmother were teachers), I have a degree from Georgetown, a Masters Degree from the Jesuit School of Theology at Santa Clara (ok it was Berkeley when I graduated) and enough credits for an M.Div. thanks to my years at Wesley Theological Seminary and my year at Starr King. See I got very very good at school, not to the point of being top of my class or earning top honors but I know how to do school. I know exactly how much work I needed to do to get the grade I wanted. I had teachers who pushed me and inspired me to do my best. Probably if I had had some good mentoring and support, I probably would have done great getting a PhD and spending my life teaching.
What I realized on that call is that I keep expecting, again not consciously, for life to respond to me like school. That life will give me assignments, with clear directions as to completion, my job is to create the product that has been assigned. Now granted graduate school did give me the opportunity to explore some of my own ideas, to create my own final project for my MTS (which was terrifying by the way). For the most part however, I was given the assignments, did the work and rewarded for my efforts.
Yet work does not work that way, certainly life doesn't work that way. Life doesn't give you assignments, it gives you experiences and opportunities. Life is about what you will do with those experiences and opportunities. There is no guaranteed outcome. You can do the very best job at an opportunity and you can still fail or be fired or someone won't like it. You can be the most qualified, amazing person for a job and may not get it or you may get fired from it. It is a myth that we base things on merit. Only school, and even then not always, rewards merit.
What it all means? Well that it is really up to each of us. For some people being fired from a job is the best thing that has ever happened to them. They are overjoyed (oh sure it may sting) or if not overjoyed they are relieved. Others it is truly the end of the world and they can't recover. They may take their life. They may sink into a depression that it will take them months or years to emerge from. Some are born into situations of incredible adversity and they are able to overcome it and for others, far too many others, they can't. Yet somehow we expect them to. It is about the story we tell ourselves and too often the story we have been told to tell ourselves. Far too often others tell us what an event or experience is supposed to mean, and far too often we listen and believe it. So if you are told often enough - you will never amount to anything, your circumstances are too far gone then chances are you will believe it even if your soul is screaming "No No No No!"
Also key is that in life we are not in control. You see school taught me that I was in control. That as long as I did the work assigned and got the right answers I would be rewarded. I was taught it didn't matter if I didn't like my teacher, it didn't matter what other students did or did not do, I was master here and whatever I did or did not do was all that mattered. Yet in life other people do matter. In fact those people who overcome all the odds, behind them you will find teachers, mentors, parents who supported them, believed them, coached them. They help silence the voices that say it won't ever be different. I was blessed by amazing educational opportunities and yes while I created some of that myself so much of it came because of my family, where I was born, what I was given, what I was not in control of in the least.
In addition, somewhere along the way, maybe because I went to all Catholic schools growing up, my initial ideas about vocation were very much like school. God has a plan for each of us, each of us has a gift to give the world. Our job is to figure out what God has planned for us - the assignment - then we are to live that out as best we can and then at the end God will let us know how well we did. Now obviously if you read this blog, you know that my ideas, thoughts and reflections about vocation have grown beyond this. Yet this still resides within. One thing we often forget in developmental theory is that whether we are talking about stages of moral development, faith development, emotional development etc. we all still have the stages within us. Just because I am not just at the magical thinking stage of faith development doesn't mean that part of me doesn't still practice it - particularly at times of stress. So sometimes when it feels really hard, I think I didn't get the assignment right, or that I am not doing the assignment the way I am supposed to (goodness knows there have been enough people letting me know that they don't think I have it right or that I am doing it the right way in the least) - then I need to stop. I need to be reminded that life is not school, there is no assignment and I am not necessarily doing it wrong. It is just hard right now - so as one of my favorite memes right now says "Yell Plot Twist and Move On."
So life is not like school. It is not about assignments and checking off requirement lists. God doesn't hand out assignments along with hair and eye color. Life is more like home school. You have to dive in and figure it out. You have to follow your interests and figure out they ways you learn best. As a homeschool parent who was schooled, my first task was to let go of what it means to "learn" to be "educated" and what school "has" to look like. Our home school does not look anything like school as I experienced it. Our homeschool is experimental, involves cooking, videos, books, and lots and lots of talking. Oh and the thing that is the most different? We do it as a family. While Donna takes the lead, I get to come along on the field trips. If I post the article about the lunar eclipse at 3 am (why are astronomical events always at 3 am?) then I am the one getting up to see if we can see it. School does not happen between 8 and 3, M through F with summers off. Homeschool happens whenever and wherever - like life does!
The key to vocation and to life is making a study of yourself, of who you are. It is understanding who you are at your core, not the person you are supposed to be, not your parent's dream of who you are or would be, not the person society says you should want to be. Life and vocation are about fully and authentically becoming the person you came into this world to be. The person you have to be because your soul will not let you be anything less! When will you graduate? Only when your life is done!