I stood on the beach over July 4th and watched the surf creep forward then retreat back, reflecting the ebb and flow of my emotions – so excited to officially begin the dissertation phase of my doctorate and yet anxious to know what’s next.
When life presents forks in the road, it can be disorienting. Where do I go? What path do I choose? I am experiencing this in my own life now, and it pops up often with the students and recent graduates that I coach. It’s also a major question in the research I’m doing for my dissertation on career callings.
As I’ve been learning through my dissertation, scholars argue that constructing a life narrative is the primary process of adult development. What this means is that individuals design their lives based on stories that they construct as they learn through life experiences. Depending on what script a person internally “writes” about themselves and their world, the following “chapters” to that plot will vary. We rely on these stories that we create to make sense of our experiences and guide our future decisions. So if someone’s internal story is that change is too hard, then they’ll stay in a less than ideal job. Or if someone’s script is that they aren’t talented, then they’ll make decisions that reflect this belief about themselves.
However, the thing about narratives is that we also write them as we go. So while we use our self-narratives to frame our actions, we also simultaneously write new scripts as we gain new experiences. For example, when the change-averse person confronts a situation that requires change – and then has positive results – the internal narrative can change.
We oftentimes want to see what the final chapter is before we proceed in writing our career stories. However, work and the world are constantly changing, which requires individuals to adapt.
I thought I had the narrative composed for my vocation. But new chapters come into view as you live out your story – like me becoming a mama. It’s similar to a novelist who doesn’t know what a character will say or do until it’s done. The novelist knows the main themes of the story but is open to twists and turns as the plot morphs.
Staring at the beach waves, I realized that my fear of choosing the wrong next path immobilized me. My internal narrative was that I had to know the grand vision for my career before I could take a step forward. But this fear of the unknown diminished my joy in the present.
Spiritually, I wanted to know God’s will for my life. What next career path is the “right” one? But I was asking the wrong question. As Henry Blackaby says in Experiencing God:
“What is God’s will for my life?” is not the best question to ask. The better inquiry is, “What is God’s will?” Because people are naturally self-centered, we tend to view the whole world – even God’s activity – in terms of our own lives… Once I know God’s will, then my life gains its proper perspective, and I can adjust my life to Him and to His purpose. In other words, what is it that God is purposing to accomplish where I am?
I had the faulty assumption that (a) my next career move was all about me, and (b) there was only one correct path to choose. From a spiritual perspective or not, there is freedom in knowing that I can be present and experience the switchbacks up the mountain, confident that my story is a part of a much larger one. Whether you take a spiritual approach to your career path or not, look for the opportunities that are already occurring around you. What is already going on that you can join in on?
Personally, Proverbs offers wisdom that I can trust in the path set before me. I envision a map of hiking trails with multiple different routes marked out in blue, green, red, and yellow. There are a lot of options and turns to choose from. However, in seeking out God’s wisdom we can trust that we will “find all the good trails.”
“God gives out Wisdom free, is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding… So now you can pick out what’s true and fair, find all the good trails!” Proverbs 2:6-9 (The Message)
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
“[Wisdom’s] ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.” Proverbs 3:17
Sometimes we have choices in life where it’s not one option is bad and the other is good. Instead, we must discern which is the “best yes” for us right now in line with where God is already at work. The wisest path is the one leading to peace. What gives me the greatest hope and assurance is that as we seek to follow the way of wisdom, God will redirect us on the good trail of His story and what He has already written.