If you’ve spoken to me in the last year or so and asked me what I was doing with my life, I may have given you one of a variety of answers. Like…
“Well, I just quit grad school, so I’m taking some time to rest and figure out what’s next.”
Or “I’m waiting for God to show me what’s next.”
Or “I’m planning to move by the end of the year, so I’m waiting for that to happen, and then I’ll see what’s next.”
Or, if I felt like it was safe to be a little more vulnerable: “I’m trying to learn how to be lost and not have a plan.”
Never once did I say, “Heck, I have no idea. I quit grad school, and now I’m floundering in the sea of my own broken expectations for life.”
Turns out, that’s what I probably should have just told everyone. Because that’s more truthful than anything else.
Sure, I was trying to rest and figure out what was next. Sure, I’d like to think I was in some way waiting on God, though I did a crummy job of it. And I was planning to move by the end of the year—something I barely pulled off—so that was true in its own way too. I wish the one about learning to be lost was more true. It’s what I was trying to do, but I wasn’t very successful. I don’t think I was trying very hard.
Like I mentioned, I did manage to move before 2015 ended. When I quit grad school, I didn’t want to be home for more than six months. As it turned out, I was home for a year. And that entire time, I was nothing if not lost. But I didn’t embrace that the way I needed to, I don’t think. Because here I am in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and I still don’t have a great answer when people ask what I’m doing. It is nice to be able to start with “well, I’m in Grand Rapids now” because that gives some semblance of progress, and some people don’t listen too closely after that. And I am working remotely for a company in Chattanooga, so that’s another nice tidbit to give the inquisitors.
But I’m still lost.
I wasn’t one of those kids who knew what they wanted to do in first grade. I knew that I loved art class best, and English after that. It was a given in my family that I would go to college after high school, so I did, and spent my first year there trying to figure out what my major should be. I chose Bible because my Bible classes were my favorites and because I saw so much knowledge in my professors that I longed to have. There was also something in there about helping others and all that. That was probably the first thing I lost sight of.
See, somewhere between first grade and college, I became tangled up in the idea that perfection is the goal. Academic perfection certainly, but other kinds as well. I busted my butt to get through high school with a 4.0 and was foiled by a newbie Algebra teacher who wasn’t very good at math (who told me after giving me a A- with no options for extra credit that I could “get my 4.0” back later). I took it in stride (eventually) and did post-secondary classes so I went into college with a year’s worth of credits under my belt. Luckily for me, a science course ruined my 4.0 that first semester of undergrad, so I aimed for perfection less literally defined. And somewhere in there, the dream to become a college professor of biblical studies was also born.
And then it died. Actually, it contracted a fatal illness and began the process of dying slowly and painfully until I killed it in December 2014. And then there was me at home for a year. I did spend a lot of time thinking and questioning and pouring time and energy into things I’d been neglecting in my perfectionistic academic fervor, but I failed to see one very important thing I needed to do during that time: grieve.
My boyfriend Joel just got a job as a textbook manager (or “Tome Master” as we like to joke) at a college campus bookstore, and while I was wandering around one day waiting for him, I found a book. I tachiyomi-ed (Japanese for stood-and-read) like a quarter of that bugger before I realized I absolutely needed to buy it and have it forever and ever. It spoke to my heart, even on the cover: The Road to Becoming: Rediscovering Your Life in the Not-How-I-Planned-It Moments by Jenny Simmons. I’m only halfway through the thing, but it’s brought me to tears—sometimes in public—numerous times. But beyond that, it’s made me realize two things: (1) that being lost isn’t bad and sometimes you have to embrace it before you can be un-lost and (2) that when dreams die, you need to grieve them.
Sure, in a lot of ways I was relieved and happy when I quit grad school. It was my decision, and I made it for a number of reasons. But even if I was happy to be getting away from the source of all that stress and anxiety, I was also walking away from the dream I had had for my life for years. A dream I had worked for and thought through and fought for. A dream that was The Plan. And now it’s gone.
I didn’t learn how to be lost and not have a plan while I was home because here I am in Michigan, still lost without a plan and not doing a very good job of it. I’ve had my temperamental days and my moments of absolute panic. I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m still floundering in the sea of my broken expectations. Or so it would seem. I think what I’m really doing is still living with the ghost of the dead dream now a year gone.
I still see posts on social media from my friends at seminary that make me feel like a failure. They can do it and not lose their souls; why couldn’t I? I still glance over at my Hebrew Bible and wonder if I can ever know Hebrew as well as I would have if I’d stuck with the original plan. I still get a lot of help from my parents, and I look at friends who have bought houses and had babies and gotten promotions at their jobs. I’ve found it impossible to truly enjoy the present moment when I’m haunted by the ghost of things that once were or would have been.
But I think I’m done. Once upon a time, I dreamed of becoming a college professor and teaching bright-eyed college students about God and the Bible and Hebrew. But that dream died, and sometimes I miss it. Sometimes I miss knowing what the next few years looked like, and I constantly miss having a good answer for when people ask me what I’m doing these days. But enough living with a ghost. I’m going to take some intentional time to bury that dream, to realize that it was good and I was glad to have it for the time that I did, but it’s gone now and it’s not going to be what my life looks like. Instead, I don’t have a plan and I don’t know what I’m doing and I’m scared.
But I also have an incredibly supportive family that will help me chase new dreams. I have a boyfriend who can now come over every freaking day after work, and we can just sit on the couch next to each other, drawing and writing blog posts and watching tv. I have an apartment that I love, friends who live in this city who I can count on to show me cool new places to go, and a future that isn’t full of papers and deadlines and grades and all the other things that stress me out. There is plenty here in the middle of this lostness to enjoy.
So dream, this is the end of the line for us. I lay you to rest, at last. I mourn your passing. I grieve the loss. But I do what we’re always told to do when we lose someone or something we love: keep living life to the fullest, honoring the memory. I take with me all the things you taught me, and I promise to use them in whatever lies ahead. I will not forget you; I will honor you by pushing forward and living and loving the next dream for as long as I can.