While I was flattered by her words of encouragement, I was also feeling quite lost in the wide open ocean of unemployment. I was reluctant to believe the truth of what she knew from her own experience. I was swimming around all sorts of interesting opportunities, but I had no real sense of direction. While she had the clarity and foresight to know that good things were indeed on the horizon!
Fast forward a few months. It is a new year with new writing projects on my plate. I’m taking Spanish classes, while still routinely searching for jobs and coordinating networking dates. In the past month, I have withdrawn from two potential job opportunities, eliminated a third option, and I’m continuing to pursue an exciting fourth. My discernment radar is running overtime these days trying to read the “signs” of what’s ahead!
I’m learning a lot from allowing certain doors to close, and I’m trusting that each “no” is paving the path to a deeper and more profound “yes”. Here are 4 things I’ve learned:
1. The Heart of the Matter
I really enjoyed this segment from the “On Being” blog by Courtney Martin. She uses the image of pruning and describes of spiritual art of saying “no” as essential to our very survival.
“You say no so you can say yes. It’s sad in the way that all limitations are, but also liberating. You are human and finite and precious and fumbling. This is your one chance to spend your gifts, your attention, most importantly your love, on the things that matter most.”
Every “no” along the way has helped me clarify what my heart truly desires. I see it most prominently in my writing – in each request for an informational interview, every cover letter, all the points on my resume, and even when I have to explain why I am not pursuing a particular lead.
For so long, all I could see were the pieces on the cutting room floor. I had no clear sense of where I was headed, but I knew for certain what I did NOT want to do. Finally, like a sculptor, I’m beginning to see a clearer picture of what my future is becoming. And much of that clarity has come from clearing away what no longer fits, letting go of what no longer belongs, and chipping away to the core of who I am – who I have always been.
All four opportunities – each one a distinct role within different organizations – fuel my passion for service and social justice, feed my desire to do meaningful work, combine my background in business and ministry, and open great possibilities for making an impact in the Church and in our world.
As it says in that beautiful prayer often attributed to Oscar Romero, “We cannot do everything, and there is a sense of liberation in realizing that. It enables us to do something, and to do it very well.”
2. No to Fear = Yes to True Spiritual Freedom
One of my favorite discernment exercises is a simple pro/con list, usually scribbled on the back of a recycled envelope, and later elaborated in my journal. Not long ago, a friend connected me to a job that initially looked so good on paper! However, there were red flags during the informational interview; and as I made my pro/con list, things became very clear.
When it comes to listing pros and cons, it’s not about “tipping the scale” in one direction or another. Rather, this exercise is really about paying attention to the movement of the Holy Spirit within. My list revealed a lot about where I am free to respond to God’s call and where I am stuck in fear.
One of the items on my pro-list was, “I am certain I can do this job really well!” I laughed! One would hope that I would apply for a job that puts my skills to good use, right?! So, what’s really behind that comment?
As I pondered my own pro-list entries about “being able to do the job”, I recognized my own fears. I don’t like asking for help. I hate not knowing the answer. I seriously dislike the awkwardness of the learning curve and those first few months of “being a beginner” that comes with any new job. While being good at one’s job is important, I quickly realized my own need to address that “fear of failure”.
Directly across, over on the con-list side, I wrote, “No clear opportunities for growth or advancement; pretty sure I would be bored after a year.” I knew immediately that God was calling me to something “more”.
The pro-list gave me a lot of fruit for prayer and discernment. As for a new job, the con-items were much more compelling. It did not take me long to realize that this was going to be a great opportunity … for someone else.
3. The Temptation to Do … Anything!
There is a part of me that is really itching to get back into full-time employment. To be honest, as much as I love the flexibility of being at home, I’m ready to go back to work. In between the job search and freelance writing, I have been very lucky to see my family and spend uninterrupted time with friends.
But over the past month, I’ve caught myself in the temptation to “do anything” even if it’s not related to my career goals. Recently, I was very tempted to say “yes” to a company that would have given me a short-lived ego boost, just to see their logo next to my name on my Linked In account!
Pride is a subtle thing. Pride gets the best of us when our self-worth is defined by our work, by a job title, how much money we make, by the status of people who surround us, and by measuring how much we can accomplish in any given day or week. A healthy sense of pride is not a bad thing! One of my friends is fond of saying, “It takes a certain amount of ego-strength just to get out of bed in the morning!” We begin to slip into unhealthy, even sinful pride when we place our own needs and egos above everything else.
One of the most fundamental definitions of vocation comes from Fred Beuchner. “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hungers meet.” Our vocation in life rests at the intersection of our deepest desire and the world’s greatest needs.
I’ve spent plenty of time reflecting on my skills, passions, and strengths. As the “heart of the matter” has become clear, I find myself paying more attention to the world’s deepest needs, hurts, and hungers. Where is the world in need of my gifts? I’m ready to give my heart full-time to meaningful work again, but it also means waiting for the right place and position to open up!
4. Who Do I Want to Become?
I have a very wise mentor who often asks provocative questions for which I do not have all the answers. Recently, she asked me, “Who do you want to be at 55? What do you want to be known for when you retire?” This was not a frivolous exercise of dreaming big. Rather, it was her lead in to say, “This next job needs to be the first step towards who you want to become.”
I thought about her advice when I said “no” to an entry level role that would have been perfect for me ten years ago. Similarly, I’ve declined roles that might be ideal in the future when I want to slow down and think about retirement.
Sometimes we approach discernment as if all these potential opportunities and decisions exist someplace far off in the distance, beyond our reach. There is great value in “death bed” discernment, which considers the question, “How do I want to be remembered when my life is complete?”
But discernment also invites us to recognize the things that are unfolding before our very eyes. Lately, I’ve been pondering, “How am I responding to the ways God is already at work in my life?” Or as Tim Muldoon says in his introduction to his on-line Lenten retreat, “I invite you to reflect on the work God is doing in you and for the world through you.”
My discernment has been a tenuous balance between what is unfolding here and now, and how that relates to who I might become 15, 20, 25 years from now. We need to do both!
I don’t know that either my friend or I could have predicted that I’d have four great opportunities arise all during the month of February! But as the month comes to a close tonight, I’m excited to report that there are some pretty exciting things unfolding for me!
As I wait for new information to be revealed, I trust that all of these moments of saying “no” were in fact a clear and faith-filled “yes” to something better that is yet to come!