Yesterday I felt lost with where I’m going in life.
It started when I discovered that I’d made only $6 in the past month from my writing. After two years of sharing my stories with only my writer’s group, I told myself that this year I’d start putting my writing out in the world and see if I could make any money at it. Six months in and I’ve made $26. It feels surprisingly good, but it’s hardly a message from the universe telling me I’m on the right path. But is this really a valid measure? I have yet to submit a single story or pitch to one magazine, which makes the whole getting paid thing a lot harder. Instead I’ve got my blog and a lot of stories that “aren’t ready yet.” I don’t know if it’s fear or my perfectionist tendencies that are to blame (as if they aren’t the same thing), or maybe it’s something else altogether that I haven’t yet identified.
Meanwhile I’ve also been on a spiritual journey that has included Buddhist meditation retreats, doing native American healing work in Columbia and around the United States, seeing a spiritual director once a week, Ignatian prayer retreats in daily life, and starting to explore other faith traditions as well. I’ve surprisingly found myself attending church regularly again for the first time in over ten years and in the past couple weeks I am no longer the arrive late, leave early woman. I’m volunteering for activities to see if I want to add spiritual work to my career trajectory.
Yet, when I decided to research masters’ programs in theology or divinity near me, what I read seemed to confirm my fears that if I want that spiritual path, I’ll have to choose between a pastoral route (I’m thinking chaplain) or an academic route. But I want both. And I don’t want to add to my school debt to do it. It also seemed to confirm that my lack of strict adherence to any specific church doctrine is likely a hinderance. All while knowing that these are not the only options. I just don’t know yet what others there are.
With both writing and spiritual pursuits I’ve been reminded that in my younger years, I thought about pursuing both. I couldn’t see, though, how either could be an actual job unless I wanted to be a journalist, a pastor, or an academic, none of which interested me. Aisha Beau, in her piece, “Follow Your Passion: It isn’t just ineffective advice, it can actually be harmful” inspired me to think that perhaps I won’t have just one “job,” but many tracks that feed different parts of me. It’s about being creative and exploring where it takes me. And that’s what I’ve been doing and am happier than I’ve been in many years.
Yet yesterday, the more I researched, the more lost I felt. How could my spirituality possibly be a part of my professional life? Combined with seeing the sum total of my earnings on writing endeavors, I wondered what I was doing with these pursuits. Although much of my career fantasy has had me writing about my spiritual exploration both from an academic and a spiritual experience, I simply cannot grasp that it could possibly pay the bills. My inability to believe is reflected in my not even writing much about the spiritual exploration I’ve already done. A friend pointed out that it seems like I have this idea that if an activity brings me pleasure, then I can’t earn a living doing it.
To make matters worse, I looked at Facebook and saw photos of friends on amazing rafting trips with cliffs and towering mountains in the backgound. I wondered what I was doing sitting at my dining table writing blog posts and not taking an amazing trip myself this summer. Why not just go back to law and take vacations?
My fears that none of these new ideas for my life will pan out spiraled. I wondered, do I really want to make such a big change? Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life? What if I still want to be a lawyer? Some parts of it still excite me and I’ve invested so much in it. Am I just going to leave it behind? If only I could just choose one thing, a “normal” career path, it would be so much easier. At the bottom of my spiral I found myself worrying that I’m going to end up doing document review for the rest of my life – lawyer purgatory (at least for me; I have friends that enjoy it).
I note, however, that the place I go these days when I’m feeling fearful is document review, and not where I used to go, which was ending up homeless and dying alone. I get a kick of joy realizing that my current fear has become less scary; it tells me I am making progress in trusting this uncertain path.
In any case, when I end up in this fear place, it makes me want to watch t.v. to avoid thinking about it. After a pick me up of the show Friends, I sat down to my prayer and meditation. As I’ve written about before, and am still embarrassed to admit, ever since starting the Ignatian prayer retreats, when I pray, I visualize myself talking to Jesus and Mary. Actually, often Mary holds me or strokes my hair while we’re talking and it’s incredibly soothing. So yesterday I told them how I was feeling lost and scared and wondering if I’m making the right decisions.
Jesus, channeling a career counselor, asked me, “what would you do if you didn’t have to worry about money”?
“Exactly what I’m doing now except maybe with more vacations.”
Jesus continued, “who are the figures that come to mind that you’d most like to emulate?” My first thought was of my fantasy of being a sort of cross between Thomas Merton and Karen Armstrong – one who writes more about the feeling of his spiritual experience and another more academic, but both explorers of different faiths in their own ways. I had to admit that no lawyers came to mind. Not even the cool ones that have busted up mafia’s.
Except then I thought of Ghandi, who started his career as a lawyer. Setting aside some of the more troubling pieces of him that we’ve been learning about in recent years, he made a strongly spiritual pivot and ended up leading his country to independence. Thinking of Ghandi, I could see that it is possible to combine my love of the spiritual with my legal mind. So perhaps I just have to trust that I’m on the right path even though I can’t see much farther than tomorrow.
And today, I had lunch with a woman who started her adult life as a nun, left and became a psychiatric nurse, and then pivoted to becoming ordained as both a Lutheran Pastor and an Anglican Priest with many dark places, twists and turns along the way. The point of the story was to trust the divine’s voice that is pulling me forward. “Let go and let God,” she said.
I realized after my prayer was over that when I find myself scared that I need to rest in the decisions I’ve already made when I was feeling hopeful (Ignatius would be proud) – in this case to blog for a year, submit articles to magazines, and continue my spiritual exploration – and trust that they are carrying me where I need to go, until I need to make another decision.
As I’ve been travelling down this unexpected path, I’ve come to the realization that I’m unlikely to experience a lightbulb over my head moment. Instead, I have birthday candle moments. With each new small flame, I see a little more until I’ve accumulated enough luminosity to see the room I’m in. Each day I make small decisions – like calling this woman to have lunch – that light up one more little candle. Sometimes they burn out even while others are being lit. While I think I would love to have a clear cut answer so that I didn’t experience this fear, it’s also the exploration that excites me and I don’t think I’d want it any other way.
Also published on Medium.