On behalf of all graduate students everywhere, let me give you a piece of friendly advice. When talking to someone who works/lives/weeps in academics, DO NOT tell them that things will be better/worse/harder/whatever when they get into the “real world.” Also, DO NOT ask people who are about to graduate what they’ll be doing for a “real job.”
You, I hope, can see why this would be an irksome theme of conversation. We in the academic community have spent X amount of years having our brains stretched like Saran Wrap across concepts that we may or may not have actually signed up for in the beginning of our pursuit, and we’ve been doing that on top of various ways of sustaining ourselves. Our world is every bit as real as yours, and telling us that it’s not demeans the work we’re doing, the choices we’re making, and the ways that we enjoy spending our time. We are, in point of fact, productive members of society, just as much as you are.
I’m three weeks from graduating. Can you tell I’m getting frustrated with the job search and its attendant judgments?
I have two jobs currently, one of which is being a teacher, which is alternately the most awesome job and the most soul-draining job on the planet. (Okay, maybe not most soul-draining, but close.) But I “only” teach one class, so there have been many among my friends and family who are keen on wondering what I’m going to do next to “earn my keep,” as it were. Because teaching other people about the history and culture of the world in which they live is apparently earning no one anything.
And all of this doesn’t help my already quietly freaking out about what, indeed, I’m going to do next, because there’s this whole God Direction mess hanging over everything now, in that I’m trying not to just randomly do stuff because it seems like a good idea at the time. So, right off schedule, a job stumbles into me.
Here’s the thing; you know by now, Reader, how enamored I am of things like plans, right? I’ve certainly complained about it often enough, because we of the Western hemisphere are all about trajectories and purposes and, truthfully, Christianity doesn’t always help with its conversation about “paths” and “guidance” and deliberate service. I think we do ourselves a disservice when we have this idea that God has a way laid out for us that we need to find and follow and stop getting distracted by that lovely woodpecker off to the left.
Because this job is everything that I didn’t think was “right,” really. It would be for a longer period of time than I’d originally allotted, it’s not in a direct service/church track, it’s clerical (which is what I’ve been doing for a decade), and parts of it are way out of my training and experience.
And you know what? It’s kind of perfect. Blast it all—it’s with people with whom I work now and absolutely love, it would be fantastic experience to have down the line, and pretty much everyone has given me overwhelmingly good feedback on this possibility. My current boss is bending over backwards to guide me into it, and that kind of confidence is both horrendously intimidating and an absolute gift.
The timing, it was recently pointed out to me, would also be a gift, though it doesn’t seem like it at all—it would keep me here, where I am learning and growing and painfully, painfully understanding, one small aha moment at a time. And somewhere in the universe I feel God smile that I should see that; that I should understand it’s not about What I Will Accomplish but Who I Am Becoming, that service to Him isn’t dependent on where I am or what I’m doing but how I’m doing it, which is something my friend Boss (whom I can’t believe I’ve not mentioned before) has been trying to tell me for years.
This is not to say that I’m abandoning the idea of ministry in whatever format, not least because I definitely don’t have the job yet and am not at all sure I’ll get it. But it is to say that, once again, God is effing with my plans in order to show me that it’s about His plans, and if I’m serious about following, I have to let Him lead. Sometimes, that means being where you are, as Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove so very painfully and correctly put it. Sometimes, you need to have roots to grow, and that’s incredibly painful and tough, and God smiles and reminds us that He never said it would be easy—He only promised we would not have to do it alone. Perhaps this re-connects to Magister’s nod toward the leap of faith?
So don’t ask your friends who are graduating about their forays into the “real” world, as the one we’re in is excruciatingly real and filled with worries and choices and triumphs and joys. Ask us, instead, if we need a hand with this transition in any way, if we’re okay about shifting our lives so hugely, if we’d like to go to a movie just to check out for a few hours. We appreciate your care; we are, after all, real people too.
My plans aren’t your plans, nor are your ways my ways, says the LORD. Just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my plans than your plans. Just as the rain and the snow come down from the sky and don’t return there without watering the earth, making it conceive and yield plants and providing seed to the sower and food to the eater, so is my word that comes from my mouth; it does not return to me empty. Instead, it does what I want, and accomplishes what I intend. (Isaiah 55:8-11, CEB)