Friday, February 19, 2016

To my twenty-somethings...

Well, the time has come for me to write this post. I’ve been teaching a course focused on professional development for juniors and seniors for the past 6 weeks; I’ve advised college students for nearly 5 years; I’ve informally advised my TRIO kids as they progressed through college for 13 years. AND I’ve lived my own life. So, the time has finally come for this announcement:


So, Beloved Student, just STOP. STOP with the freaking out already. STOP with the posts about panic attacks and how “grown-ups” just don’t understand the pressure you’re under. STOP ruining college by obsessing over the things that don’t matter – like every point you miss. Because why? You are missing the point.

1)      The point of college – of your freakin’ life, actually – is to LEARN. It is to GROW. To be a better person tomorrow than you are today. So you know what? No one actually expects you to have it all together? None of us expect you to know it all – and we’d like it if you would actually chill out and listen to us when we try to talk you off the ledge.

So, the next time that you miss a point because you didn’t read directions that clearly, just own it – and don’t do it next time. The next time that you get a 2.5 (or C+) on a test that you thought you understood, go to office hours and ask your professor or TA to show you what you missed. Explain to them how you understood to do it – and then pay attention to the example they give – and notice the gap from what you did to what they did.

That gap that you just noticed? That’s where learning can take place now. When you address the “dissension” between what you thought and the reality/right version is where learning can take place.

All those reflection papers you have to do about the process? Again, that is to help you acknowledge learning. The person you are at the end of the semester should be different from the beginning because you have discovered more about yourself. Processing how your writing, speaking, application of information has improved recognizes the growth – learning – that has taken place.

2)      More schooling does not help you know what you want to do with your life. If you’re not employable with a BS, what makes you think an MS will make you employable? Being employable is about experience, skills, and talents. So, get out of the library and get some experience!

3)      Your elders – parents, bosses, professors, advisors – are not unreasonable, unfeeling monsters that lack an understanding of just how “real” “the struggle is.” I. GET. IT.

I vividly remember telling my mom as a 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 27, 28, and 29-year-old just how much SHE did not understand what it was like to be my age and have no idea where your life was going. Truthfully, her life was very different from mine. She married at 22, and a lovely, delightful daughter at 23 – and, to me, her life was just pretty settled after that. I don’t know that my mom ever struggled with the feelings of restlessness and unease, anxiety and doubt, like I did. Because, you know what? She made a choice and she lived it. She didn’t obsess about the goodness or badness of her decision. I imagine that she reasoned if she was really on the wrong path, God would make it abundantly clear to her.

I remember, as a 23-year-old, feeling desperate in my singleness – alone and wondering how I would ever meet that person – having dinner with an older (read: 29 or maybe 33) single person, and wondering how in the world this person could be so content. It seemed to me that would be the end of the world. (hahaha, God. I was 31 when I got married and the timing seemed just fine then)

So, I can’t speak for all the adults in your life, but I do “get it.” I completely understand the turbulent twenties, and that is why I write this post. If I could go back and tell myself one thing, it would be this:

Eliminate RIGHT or WRONG from your life plans.

The “right” college? Is a college that fits your interest and has your major.
The “right” major? Is a major that you enjoy learning about and prepares you to get a job.
The “right” job? Is a job that pays you a living wage and allows you to contribute to society (oh and benefits are a plus, too). Preferably that job is in your field – but it doesn’t have to be. It’s okay. You can get a job for a tech company and be an animal science grad – and still be engaged in the animal world.

I obsessed so much over doing the right thing and wondering if it was what God really wanted for me…and much of the time, I believe His response to me was: you have a vast space that I’ve put you in. I’ve given you talents and desires; I’ve give you My Word to guide you and My Spirit to direct you. If you are in line with me, feel freedom to choose.

If the decision you are about to make really matters to the outcome of your life – and you are about to go contrary to where that is: God will let you know.

There are many examples of God intervening in individuals’ lives throughout the Bible and lives of the saints in dramatic fashion. In one instance so far, God has also done this for me.

It was February 2008 and I was ready for a change – career change, mostly. I was 27, had just finished as Iowa MAEOPP President, and really had gotten a sense for my ability to accomplish real work. I started to get a sense not only of my calling, but of my desire to be more than what I’d thought in college.

At the beginning of January, I started reading [Journey of] Desire by John Eldredge. The premise of this book is to realize that the desires you’ve “always” had, your natural talents – those are gifts from God. You have been created in Christ Jesus for good works – and those don’t require you to divorce yourself from your self to be from God. This was a revelation from me. You mean the things that I’d always desired – to be married, to be involved in the ag community, to help others enact their potential – those could be good? Those could be used by God? He gave them to me?  Whoa. [When I was becoming Catholic, I realized this part of the beauty of the incarnation of Jesus as man.]

Fast forward to mid-February. I had a job interview to be an Upward Bound Director in Minneapolis on the 12th; interviews for assistantships at the Ohio State University’s Student Personnel graduate program (or whatever the full name is) on the 14/15th; interviews for Iowa State University’s Educational Leadership & Policy Studies’ assistantships. BIG deals. BIG game-changers for my life path.

One night, I woke up around 3am and could not get back to sleep. Try as I might, sleep evaded me. So, I decided to pray. I prayed for EVERYONE and everything I could think of (except my upcoming interviews), and still no sleep.

“God! Why can’t I sleep?” I demanded. I had the prompting of a thought: “What do you have coming up this week, Jessica?”
“Well, I have these 3 interviews….”
Then, this vision popped in my head:
I was in a hallway with 3 large, heavy, wooden doors – closed – in front of me. I knew what each door represented, what was behind them – and I could sense just how heavy and how closed they were.
“What would you like?”
“Ugh. I don’t know, God! Show me which one to go through!”

Jessica, if you knew the One who was showing you these, who had the power to…”
Then, I saw it: a window appeared beside the doors. But, the window – though also closed – I could see through to a field basking in full sunlight; rolling, golden-green hills. I knew: this was my desire. This was what I really wanted. And, this could only be mine if opened by God. Only God could make this window into an open door.

“Open the window, God! God, I want you to open the window!” I cried out pleadingly.

Like that, the vision was gone. It was 5am. I was wide awake and full of energy. I knew that I would go to each of those interviews – but I would not be choosing them. I didn’t know exactly what I would be choosing – but within a day, I did. I chose to get a Master of Science in Ag Ed with an emphasis on Extension.

If I had gone to Minneapolis or Columbus, it is highly unlikely that I would be where I am today. If I had done ELPS, I don’t think I would have been happy in what I learned. I truly love learning about learning – and teaching to engage learning. ...and, who knows if I would have met Dan?

In Dan’s life, he had a similar redirection – but not quite as spiritual. He was all set to go to grad school at Colorado State and study meat science. ONE WEEK before he was to move to Fort Collins, Dr. Hogberg called and offered him the Graduate Shepherd assistantship – and he came to Iowa State instead.

So, my dear young friends: when God needs to change your path, HE WILL.

Until then, go forward with some confidence that if life was a series of do or die decisions, He would give you a blueprint. Remember that He is a loving God; He isn’t cruel. As my dad said once, “If you are faced with a series of choices – and none seem to be closed, and none are out-of-line with His plan (outlined in the Bible), and none are immoral – then, God is allowing you to use your God-given intellect and freedom to choose. So, choose with confidence.”

Lastly, I would love to urge you to find joy in this time of life.  Personally, I worried so much about how my life would turn out at times, and if I could speak this truth to me, I would. Would I have believed this sage advice? Probably not. Some things, I am unfortunately hell-bent on learning MY way – through experiencing all the feelings, and feeling all the bumps in the road – until I let God shine some light upon my understanding.

But, 14 years after being a senior in college with no life plan after August: I now see that what God has guaranteed us is this moment (and eternity). So, find the lesson in this moment. Feel the feelings – and then find the peace and the joy only found in the presence of Jesus – and just live this present circumstance.

…and above all, ENJOY COLLEGE. At the very least, listen to your friend who wants to take you out for your 21st birthday even when you have a final the next day. That’s what college memories are made of. Right, Pam?

1 comment:

FACS Education Advisor said...

So sage, Jessica! I think this piece has the potential to be shared more widely. I just read a few pieces from Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. This would fit there and elsewhere.

I enjoyed reading it, my friend, I like the way you express your thoughts and miss hearing them!