After college, I was constantly preoccupied with a quest for a clear sense of purpose in life. What I was supposed to do with my life was an all-consuming mystery that I believed could be solved with enough prayer, persistence, and pondering. The problem was that I expected the answer to come fully formed, as in, “You are to be ‘X’!” I envied my sister, who was a Nurse, had come to the realization of her calling at age 20, gone to nursing school, graduated and had a good job helping people. Once I knew the answer, I expected it to give me as much peace as the question had given me angst.
My first job after college was at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. I was hired as a “Public Information Assistant”, part of a two person department that oversaw or created all the writing and publishing associated with a scholarship program administered by Georgetown that brought students from Central America to the United States to study practical skills in community colleges then return to their communities where they were expected to become leaders. Though most of the writing I did was unexciting, at least I believed in the goals of the program and it seemed an acceptable place for me to further my ultimate Discernment.
Less than four months after I started, our entire department was eliminated and I wound up in a job I had neither applied for nor really wanted as the Assistant to the Ph.D. running the research side of the Center for Immigration Policy and Refugee Assistance. I had no experience with refugees or immigration, and having recently left a college in a part of the country not known for its liberal leanings, especially towards immigrants and refugees (Houston, Texas), I found little that was compelling in my work. For a time, I borrowed books from my boss, and attempted to become invested in the cause, but could muster no connection to the plight of refugees and displaced persons. Moreover, I was incensed that I felt that I was little more than a glorified secretary and had been forced to swap my office with a view for a cubicle with three feet high walls. What was I doing in a job like this?
It’s shocking to me now what an opportunity I squandered by needing my experience and the people I worked with to fit some preconceived idea of what was interesting and meaningful. I was working with an internationally known scholar on immigration and refugees in a job that lent itself to growth, learning and being mentored. I was part of a three person research team investigating the Office of the Special Ambassador for Refugees in the State Department on a Ford Foundation grant. I met the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And I could go on.
The lessons are many: the folly of predetermining the shape and form of what is desired, the consequences of a closed heart, the sin of hubris. But regret is also a form of sin, because it persists in robbing us of the present and its possibilities, blessings and richness. And yet how do we determine whether our dissatisfaction is merely malcontedness or a very real sign that something needs to change? I suppose the reality is that nothing would have been lost had a embraced my work and colleague with an open and loving heart, rather than resisting it all as not what I wanted. The reed that bends with the wind does not break.