“What’s your dream?”
“What’s my what?” I asked, hoping for a different question the second time around.
“What’s your dream? What do you want to do with your life?”
Nope. Same question. And no good answer.
It was my junior year of college. I had just changed my major from elementary education to English after trying really hard to love being a teacher. I slugged it out for five semesters, but when it came time to sign up for student teaching…I couldn’t pull the trigger. The prospect of spending a whole semester teaching (perish the thought) was enough to shut down my Stage 5 denial. Because I really hated teaching. I knew it. I loved kids. I did not love teaching.
So I switched to English. Basically out of pure desperation to be anything other than an elementary educator. It helped that all of my favorite classes were English classes and that I had already completed a good percentage of the major, but if the alternative had been elementary education or Anything Else, I would have picked Anything Else. Quantum Physics included.
I had a new major, but I didn’t have a new dream.
And the friend in my college dorm room that night called me out on it. He had noticed that we talked about his dreams a lot, and about other people’s dreams a lot, and about my dreams…well, never.
I felt like Chandler in the first season of Friends.
Chandler: You know, you have goals. You have dreams. I don’t have a dream.
Ross: Ah, the lesser-known “I don’t have a dream” speech.
I was the anti Martin Luther King Jr. I didn’t have a dream.
Which isn’t nearly as depressing as it sounds. It’s not like I was walking around dressed in black from head to toe battling waves of overwhelming sorrow. Quite the opposite. I’ve always had a sincere love for life. I get enthusiastic about things that do not require enthusiasm – things like sprinkles on ice cream and the 17th snowfall and finding sandals at Target for $1 and hearing a song I like on the radio. I was passionate about living life, I just didn’t know what that translated to in terms of a career. But I knew I had plenty of time to figure it out before I graduated in a year and a half. No big deal.
(You can guess what happened next.)
It’s been five years since I graduated from college, and career confusion has stalked me the entire time.
For awhile I thought that I was just leaving my future up to God’s direction. And that’s nice and holy, but it’s not the truth. The truth is that I’m a chronically indecisive commitment-phobe. And that trademark has stamped my entire life thus far. When I was a kid, I would rotate aisles in the toy store for hours, waffling between options. As an adult, I rotate aisles in the grocery store for hours, waffling between options. Most of my decisions are still plagued by the impasse of “I don’t know what I want.”
Last year, I decided enough was enough. I kicked indecision to the curb. I really did! I made a choice. I chose to quit all of my jobs, not renew my lease, apply to hundreds of jobs all over the place, and see where I landed. I had no idea where that would be, but I had an overwhelming sense of conviction that God was leading this charge. I knew He would provide for me.
What proceeded is what I like to call The Face Plant of Faith.
I didn’t get a single job. Not one. I had to move back in with my parents and start working at the new Starbucks down the street and explain to every well-intentioned inquirer why, exactly, I was such a loser.
You can imagine how much this turn of events helped my fear of making decisions.
I felt so confused. I felt like I got punk’d by God. Like He led me to take a leap of faith, and instead of providing a safe place to land, He made the solid ground disappear. I leapt…and then did a face plant on the pavement.
It was so wholly opposite from what I expected. In that season of mid-leap, I could have pulled out dozens of verses about God’s faithfulness. “The one who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” ” We will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” “God will provide for all of your needs.” In the season of face plant, I wondered where I went wrong. I knew those promises were true. I knew that God is good. But I couldn’t figure out why things didn’t come to fruition like I thought they would. Why would God lead me to take a leap, and then let me fall flat on my face?
It’s nearly a year post-face plant. I’ve spent a good portion of the year searching for more jobs, applying for more jobs, and not getting more jobs. One time, I sent in an application and received a rejection letter back in less than an hour. I like to think of it as my application process PR.
As noted above in my almost-education career, I’m awesome at denial. I’m also painfully stubborn. And I’m pretty good at putting my head down and working through things without complaint. That trifecta led me to be fairly effective at this lifestyle – the one in which I just kept plugging along to avoid the big question, the one that every mentor and loved one would inevitably bring up whenever we talked about my in-progress career move:
“What do you want?”
My answer would come out in vague bits and pieces. “I think I want to work for a magazine.” “I think I want to put down roots and hustle for a demanding job.” “I think I want to work in the sports world and do something with football.”
But there was no conviction behind it.
Because, yet again, I didn’t know what I wanted.
I didn’t have a dream.
I couldn’t imagine that this was what God had intended when He gave me the go-ahead last summer. And I can’t even begin to count how many times I’ve prayed since then, “Lord, just tell me what You want me to do, and I’ll do it.”
Right now, as I stare at the very clean slate He has constructed out of this year, devoid of a permanent address or a job title or any semblance of the regular life I thought I’d have at 27, I feel like I know what His answer might be.
“Just tell me what YOU WANT TO DO. And then move forward, confidently.”
If that isn’t the best dose of tough love I’ve ever gotten, I don’t know what is. Because He’s making me do the one thing I’ve never been able to do.
I thought I had already done that. I thought that’s what I did last year when I scattered applications throughout the continent and asked the Lord to open the right door. But that wasn’t deciding. That was asking God to decide for me.
And that’s not the lesson I needed to learn.
I needed to learn how to own who I am in Christ, trust the desires He’s put in my heart, and give everything I’ve got to move in that direction.
I needed to learn how to ask for what I want.
Because the truth is, my problem has never been knowing what I want. It’s been trusting myself enough to believe in what I want, and trusting that God actually does want to give me the desires of my heart.
And do you know where those desires lead – career-wise – every single time? Where, in hindsight, I can see I’ve already been living?
I desire to live a big, adventurous, meaningful life and capture all of it’s beauty in words and pictures. Not for a magazine or a corporation. Not on the side while I pursue “real jobs.” But to live life full-time and write it all down in the hope of encouraging someone else along the way. My dream is now, and always has been, to live a life that honors the Lord and makes the most of who He created in me. And I know for sure – without an ounce of waffling! – that he created me to do that through writing. There are other dreams and desires in my heart for other parts of life, but as far as a career goes? That’s it.
I want to write about living a life worth living.
A lot of people would look at that and say it’s not a career. And it might not be, at least not a conventional one.
But it’s my dream. And I’m going confidently in that direction.