The past sixish weeks have been a flurry of traveling (six cities! and at least as many flights), job-deciding, and helpless-feeling in various configurations. Now where to next? is mostly sorted: I’ll be teaching at a school just outside San Francisco next year. San Francisco! It sounds very exciting and glamorous and all (more so than, say, Cleveland, though I rather loved the schools that I visited there). I’ve never lived out on the West Coast, so it’s a big move—but I’m looking forward to sun and another adventure.
So is it weird and ungrateful to say that this is actually a disappointment? I actually wasn’t hoping to teach next year: my plan was to be back in (more) grad school, but I didn’t get in. Aside from a couple very generous emails from kind professors, I rather felt like I got hit by a train over the last two weeks of February. We regret to inform you that we cannot offer you admission this year, etcetera. I’m mostly okay, though at times feel more resilient and other times less.
The prevailing theme of the past few anxiety-riddled weeks has been: where is my life going? Is it going anywhere? Oddly enough, though I love teaching, I can’t see a path forward with it. It feels like a placeholder (though it’s not, and is so worthwhile in and of itself) as I’m stuck in holding pattern, trying to find a place to land. I know I’m super nerdy and weird for wanting to head back to academia, but at present it feels like the place of deep gladness and deep hunger.
I keep telling myself and telling friends that this flux (generally speaking) is all fairly normal for being in our early/mid-twenties (I’m still 23! albeit for another two weeks). If I recall correctly, the associate head at the school where I currently teach was working at a box/packing factory and trying to be a poet post-B.A., and it wasn’t very fun. (Then she got a PhD from Harvard and is leaving at the end of this year to be a head of school elsewhere, no big deal.) A playwriter my students love sold hotdogs and tended bar, then worked as a hospital clerk, for some portion of her twenties. Most people don’t have it all sorted. (And to think that some do is actually a bit frightening, to be honest. But if you’re one of those people, I say yay for you, in all sincerity.)
Part of me, then, is trying here to normalize and honestly depict what uncertainty and failure look like. I’m taking it with some humor and relative thankfulness, I think, although I’d be pretending if I said the angst wasn’t there too. I don’t like not having control, and I don’t like not knowing what’s next. Obviously I have a lot to learn.
What’s hardest, I think, is not being able to master my feelings and fears. If I could only not be anxious, not be afraid, and take everything in stride, everything would be easy-peasy. If only I could be okay with messiness, then I would be, well, okay.
Yet the best sense I’ve been able to make of this mess is actually: maybe non-mastery is the point. I’m trying to trust, to be thankful, to be still—and I’m failing rather miserably on most accounts. But Richard Foster, in his Preface to Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home, describes the predicament of prayer (and, I add, of the with-God life) precisely as such: “[W]ho can ever master something in which the main object is to be mastered?” If in fact “the main object is to be mastered,” perhaps my sense of non-mastery is just right.
So I’m sort of s/tumbling along, s/tumbling my prayers (see the tumbling reference here), holding peace and stress in tandem and not trying too hard to wish either away. It is enough (at times) to trust that in all this I am being mastered by one who loves me. For that, I say more yay with sincerity. (Also, I am getting excited about teaching at this school!)