Above all, trust in the slow work of God
We are quite naturally impatient in everything
to reach the end without delay.
We should like to skip the intermediate stages.
We are impatient of being on the way to something
unknown, something new.
And yet it is the law of all progress
that it is made by passing through
some stages of instability—
and that it may take a very long time.
– Teilhard de Chardin
I graduated with my doctorate May 14, 2015, in a state of both elation and apprehension. Sure, I had just completed one of the most character-building experiences of my life, but I had also reached the end of knowing what's ahead. Despite grad school being a grueling intellectual marathon, it also follows a plan. There are established milestones, measures of "progress," and ideally mentors and peers to support you along the way. The goal is mostly clear (get the degree) and the path mostly straight (complete the dissertation). But once I had my degree in hand, I found myself wondering the same question every graduate gets asked: "So what's next?"
I found out early graduate school that while I appreciate higher education, tenured faculty life wasn't for me. This meant I had to figure out for myself how I was going to use my degree, and more importantly my knowledge and skills. This soul-searching led me back to some of the journals I kept from my college campus ministry retreats. My senior year at Loyola Marymount University I spent time learning about vocation with my CLC group, led by Father Tri. I read a lot of books on the topic obsessing about whether to go to graduate school or post-grad service. As Father Tri would remind me, I had no "bad" options only "good" and "good (in a different way)" options, and most importantly God trusted ME to know what path was best. He did, however, offer a helpful diagram to understand vocation better. As I remember it from my journal reflections, it looks something like this:
This diagram reminded me that my vocation and the work I would find most fulfilling would lie at the intersection of my deep desires, my talents, and the world's greatest needs. My deep desire were the causes, ideas, and experiences that touched my heart and made me feel most alive. My personal talents were both my God-given gifts and my cultivated talents that made me unique. And the world's greatest need was the cause(s) that made me want to set the world on fire (not literally, more like St. Ignatius). I knew if I could somehow fall into the right path I could find the sweet spot of my vocation, but as I would also discover I had to trust the slow work of God to get all my circles to align.
And so I think it is with you;
your ideas mature gradually—let them grow,
let them shape themselves, without undue haste.
Don't try to force them on,
as though you could be today what time
(that is to say, grace and circumstances
acting on your own good will)
will make of you tomorrow.
– Teilhard de Chardin
The first few months after graduation were a glorious haze of enjoying Funemployment. After seven-plus years of grad school, I felt I deserved a break before taking on the next big adventure. It was cute for the first few months. Then the months started adding up to a year, and it wasn't so cute anymore. I continued to work on a variety of projects, committees, and research. There were a lot of starts and stops. Job prospects that didn't pan out. Projects that lost funding. Organizations who wanted my expertise but lacked the resources to bring me on. One year turned into almost two years, and it was not cute anymore. I began to feel restless.
I was precisely how Chardin says we all are – hasty to arrive, to skip all the years of uncertainty and disappointment. It felt like a long time. And yet there was a light. I was "not working" and living at home which meant I had much more time with my family. I tried to practice gratitude by reminding myself of the gift to be with my aging grandmother and cousin Denzyl just starting college. I learned a lot about living with my Dad again, now as an adult, settling into a true friendship with him. Even working out with my cousin Lea, supporting each other as we both talk about the jobs we would have one day. I tried to be present to my family more, knowing honestly, there was no way I could have survived without their unconditional support. Practicing gratitude helped me make the most of the in-between time and gave me strength while I was passing through the stages of instability with my professional career.
Only God could say what this new spirit
gradually forming within you will be.
Give Our Lord the benefit of believing
that his hand is leading you,
and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself
in suspense and incomplete.
– Teilhard de Chardin
However much like falling into the "East Australian Current" (Father Tri's favorite metaphor from Finding Nemo), when you fall into God's grace, you arrive right where you are supposed to be. Toward the end of 2017, my previous supervisor Dr. Susan Harris at USC's Joint Educational Project (JEP) reached out to me about an opportunity. I had worked for JEP during the final years of grad school and absolutely loved the staff and mission. While a little out of my wheelhouse, JEP was USC oldest service-learning program committed to student learning and community engagement. Susan had even chaired my dissertation committee and was a major reason I survived and graduated at all. At our lunch, she shared that one of my former senior colleagues was transitioning out of his position to be with his family and she immediately thought of me for the position. At that lunch it clicked – work I could be passionate about, a position suited to my skills, and an opportunity to support student and community learning. I had just meandered my way into my vocation, thanks be to God.
I was by no means patient during my journey and I only really understand it (just a little) now looking back. Gratitude sustained me, and it is what remains. I have learned that the struggle is real but so is God's grace. And so I pray I can more fully give God the benefit of believing that his hand is leading me, gratefully accepting the anxiety and suspense. Because even though the journey seems slow, I know God is always working with me.