“What if” questions and taking a step back

I’ve been asking myself a lot of “What if?” questions lately. What if I never leave my hometown? What if I never get married? What if I never go back to school again? What if I never condense down that list of interests, or I never have perfect friends/family, or I never am all that great at parenting, or I never leave the country again.

I guess that these questions might seem daunting, but to me, they aren’t. You get this sense of freedom from not being defined by your circumstances by asking these questions, and I think it’s ultimately good to ponder how you’d feel if you couldn’t achieve the goals you’re using to measure your life. If I meet none of those goals, I can still live in peace. My hope is in the Lord.

Why do so many older adults encourage students by saying things like “You’ll do great things”. I understand the intentions, but it feels like so many people expect today’s college graduates to solve all the problems everyone else has failed at fixing. The burden people place on students feels ludicrous. It’s like when parent’s garner insecurities indefinitely, and they pass them onto their children because they never felt all the way validated by not achieving them themselves. I can’t help that the world was never one generation’s burden. Why are we encouraged to make empires of ourselves in our minds, and not just have contentment in God? There is an easier and more effective means to find the contentment you’re seeking.

By pondering these “What if” questions, I have the opportunity to drag out the expectations I have for my life, and reallocate their authority back to God. I can practically address these unnecessary self-esteem busters without toiling for years to satisfy them. For example, I change my mind so often. I can’t tell whether I have changed over time, the world has changed around me, the labels people use to describe me are different (and it’s not really me who has changed), or that I have changed so much that the way I frame those questions is a continuously shifting plastic bag. It bothers me to no end that I don’t have cut and dry little answers, but it certainly keeps life interesting. Recognizing that I am never one to stay in place indefinitely, I can recognize that if I write kid’s books or write professionally, I probably want to stick to short stories, poems, or shorter books. By the time I’m done with any one story, I will already be trying to move on. It is what it is.

The best case scenario for when I graduate to date is that I stick around my hometown, get an entry level job in something related to what I care about, and write. Partially, it’s for the writing. Partially, it’s for figuring out who I want to be once I’m not in school. And partially, it’s for character development, so that I can keep learning from people at my church and try to take things from there.

It’s not the most glamorous thing in the world to want to take another year living with your mom, but I think it’s better than moving far away and trying to connect the pieces from there. I’ve already had a couple overseas adventures so far; I’m not concerned about being able to live by myself and whether I’d make it in the real world.

I’ve written before about being afraid to move on and make such a serious change and moving away (again), but even without fear, I think this is the better choice. Instead of trying to alter my circumstances drastically, I’m focusing on what makes me afraid or anxious to consider sticking around, and what I would use the time for. As much as it is unhelpful to rely exclusively on my own plans, I am a planner at heart and organizing my next steps after carefully considering what is needed is how I approach any kind of problem solving, across the board. Taking some time and seeing what is out there before I make any major decisions makes the most sense.

There are no guarantees, and as of today, I’m still learning. I’d rather not be in complete control of my life, and I still think it’s ultimately good to wait to address your purpose. As long as I can find a mostly-fulfilling entry level job, I can take a step back.


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I am a second-grade teacher and pastor-to-be who loves people. I spend my weekends with friends or wandering the museums of DC alone and with a journal, trying to put words on the places of the soul that still feel wordless. I spent most of my days at school trying to learn patience through my students and running on sheer nerdy passion. I follow Jesus Christ, and savor that as my most important identity--that I am a child of God, as are infinite others, regardless of their other identities. Christ is my one thing.

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