Recently, a wise woman and dear friend got a saying stuck in my head: “Transparency breeds freedom.” It wasn’t until I chose freedom over being trapped in a cloud of “I’m doing my best to look perfect” that I actually understood what that meant.
Let me explain.
For the last 20 years of my life, since my adolescence, I have been focused on being “the person with the coolest story.” I’ve gone out of my way to make sure I was always the one who did things unconventionally. I went to college for a zillion years. I have fourteen trillion dollars in student loan debt. I was going to get a PhD. I went to Kenya for $214.00. I always, always wanted to have big, booming, exciting stories to tell, so I put myself in a position to do things that were worth telling whether it was the thing I should be doing or not. Nothing had rung truer to that sentiment than this past year.
In December of 2013, I had graduated from seminary with a M.A. and just started a new job as the Director of Faith Formation and Youth & Family Ministry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church. It was my first full time ministry position, and a job that I actually was qualified to do, and would be good at. Not all recent grads can say that. The things is, when I left seminary, I left with over $150k in student loans, and I knew my new job wasn’t going to be able to pay the bills. So my first instinct was to go back to school. My dad had recently graduated with a D.B.A. and my mom was looking at a Ph.D. program, so I thought, “Ok… I’ll go to school for psychology just to give myself something extra to do, and that way I an continue to defer my loans because if I defer them long enough, they’ll disappear, right?” Not right. More on that in a later post.
So I started school again, wanting to prove to myself that I could be better than I had been before. Proving that I had a new direction, that I was ready to keep opening doors, seeing what God had behind each one for me. And hey, if anything, it would leave me with a really impressive story to tell at dinner parties of how I worked full time, went to school full time, blah, blah, blah full time. If my goal was to impress, I’d definitely be on my way.
Shortly after I started school again, my grandpa was diagnosed with ALS which would take him from us just 3 short months after, and my attention was being spread in a thousand different directions. I ended up withdrawing from or failing all of my classes that semester, and promising myself that I could do better. After grandpa died, I started anti-depressants, and suddenly I felt my brain just flip. I was still grieving, but I was determined to make my grandpa proud by making sure I did the best I could at everything I did.
The problem was that I didn’t want to be doing some of the things I was doing… namely school. All I had time for in my life was school and work. And I only liked one of the two. But I was determined to be impressive, so I soldiered on. Fall semester ’14, I ended up with a B-, a C, and an A-. Not my best, but considering my year, I gave myself a break and decided that spring would be mine. I would dominate. In the words of my boss, I’d be a “warrior f***ing ninja.”
Then spring semester came… and to tell you the truth, I don’t even remember what spring semester was like. I, honest to God, couldn’t tell you what classes I took or what my grades were. Does it get any more unengaged than that? “Ok, fine,” I thought. I’m GOING TO DO THIS, and I’m going to do it WELL. So summer semester rolled around, and I was ready, finally ready to take this school thing by the horns and do it and own it.
I’ll give you two guesses as to what happened. Well, the semester started out strong. I had a flexible work schedule that allowed me to work a half day every Thursday, and I got to “escape” by going to class for 9 hours every Thursday night. I took a class from one of my favorite professors ever, and I was finally going to tackle (and do well in) statistics. I had this really steady momentum all through June, and most of July. And then I stopped. Like a stubborn dog on a walk who won’t go anywhere anymore, I stopped. I stopped partly because I had work stuff every Thursday for three weeks in a row. But between that, a huge project going on at work, and the inability to find any joy in stretching myself this thin anymore, I just stopped.
During this period of “stop,” I was doing a lot of praying and discerning. Did I want to stay at my job? Did I want to move on? Where would I move on to? Did I want to regroup, and try to start my own business again like I’d planned to do after grad school? Did I want to just throw in the towel completely and move to New York? I had a lot of self-rediscovery time in front of me, but it didn’t take long for me to figure out what was going on.
My boss, since the day I first told him about all my lofty plans, had always tried to tell me that I was a drifter, unwilling to commit, and had a strong refusal to close any door in case something better ever came through one that was still open. I always shrugged him off like he didn’t know what he was talking about because whatever he said, I had big, lofty dreams and I was going to chase them, by God. The funny thing is (and I’ll deny it if you tell him), he was right the whole time. I have spent so much of my life looking for the “What’s next?” “Can I do better?” But the reality is that I never gave the “what I’m doing now” a chance to be the place I’m supposed to be.
A lot of you know that I recently took up running and am training for a marathon this coming October. Shortly after I ran my first Half Marathon in June, I came across five extremely poignant and earth-shattering words.
RUN THE MILE YOU’RE IN.
When you’re running a race– let’s say it’s 13.1 miles– and you start thinking about mile 7 before you realize you haven’t even finished mile 1 yet, your brain isn’t in mile 1. Your brain isn’t with you. Your brain is making up scenarios about what mile 7 might be like. The danger in that is that you need your brain in mile 1. Your legs, feet, arms, lungs, and knees are all still at mile 1. Your legs, feet, arms, lungs, and knees need your HEAD to be there too. If you’re head isn’t at mile 1, then your legs, feet, arms, lungs, and knees are going to get tired, and run out of energy.
My head was 5 years ahead of me. I kept thinking about these goals and dreams I had without giving any energy to the life I had right in front of me. I kept planning for mile 7 when I needed to be focused on mile 1. For people who are dreamers, focusing on the mile you’re in can be a challenge, and no one is telling you to stop dreaming. But you have to be present. Because if you’re not present, you’re not going to be able to take the steps you need to into the future. You won’t get to mile 7 unless you run miles 1-6 first.
So, I’m looking at my story now. I can tell you that I’ve decided not to continue with school. In fact, I decided to email all of my professors yesterday informing them that I wouldn’t be finishing and accepting whatever grade my current work had earned me. The last day of the semester would have been today. I will fail out of this semester. But that’s the consequence of focusing too much on different miles of different races than the mile I’m in right now.
Right now, I’m the Director of Faith Formation and Youth & Family Ministry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church. I’m in the middle of a huge initiative to increase our children’s programs by 10 times our current registration. I’m in it. I’m all here. I’m a “warrior f***ing ninja” who is being the best Director of Faith Formation I can be because this is the mile I’m in right now.
When you’re running a race, it’s nice because the miles are the same length whether you’re on mile 4 or 14. In life, it’s not that easy. So when I get to my next mile, I’ll let you know. Until then, I’ll be over here, just running the mile I’m in, and running it as hard as I can.