Some things – and people – look really good on paper. Or a computer screen. They seem like a perfect fit for you, just what will make your dreams for your life come true. But those things oftentimes don’t turn out to be what you thought. They might still have a purpose in your life, teaching you things or helping you grow, but they might not bring you the happiness you thought. Whereas other things or people your friends were skeptical about or that you never anticipated would be part of your life end up being bigger blessings than you ever could have imagined.
I guess it’s an irony of life. And a reminder not to discount things or people. And, for me as an anxious person who likes to map things out, it’s a reminder to have faith that things will work out apart from my own power or wisdom. I need to let go and trust that I will end up where I am supposed to be.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t be proactive about applying for jobs or meeting people or trying to figure out potential next steps, but I think it is wise to be open to possibilities and to be aware that sometimes doors to opportunities or relationships open or close for a reason. Sometimes you just have to listen to circumstances and walk through a door that opens that might not have been your first choice…or walk away from something that isn’t panning out.
I think it’s comforting to know when that when you find yourself on a path and feel like “what on earth have I gotten myself into,” there might be a reason that you’ve ended up there. Currently, I’m partway through a road trip to my next stop in life: another museum internship at a living history museum in New England. Part of me is excited for a new opportunity – even driving myself on my first road trip is an exhilarating feeling – but part of me has been plagued by doubts about whether or not I made the right choice in taking this particular path.
I’m not sure I should have moved so far away from home. I’m not sure I’ll like the work I will be doing. I wonder if I should have waited for another internship that involved writing but started later. I wonder if I should have tried harder to get a job instead of an internship. I wonder if I shouldn’t have let a desire to be close to a certain person have influenced my decision so much…Plus the more bad experiences I have where something I thought would be really cool ends up just being stressful and disappointing, the more hesitant I feel starting new things. And it doesn’t help that everyone I talk to has their own opinion about what I should be doing now that I’ve graduated.
But the reality of life is that sometimes the cards just fall a certain way and because of time constraints or money issues or relationships or other situations that arise, we get pushed onto certain paths. When we’re making decisions, we can only see and know so much information to help us make our choice. And even when we make seemingly well-thought-out, logical, wise decisions, there are so many factors that can end up influencing our experience that it ends up not being what’s best for us. So we can’t put too much pressure on ourselves to figure out what the right place or person for us is, and at a certain point we just have to trust that life will take its course.
This may sound like a downer, and it is an extremely frustrating reality, but I think there’s a comforting flip side to it. If you currently are afraid that maybe you should have gone to a more prestigious school or chosen a different job or moved to a city closer to home, have faith that maybe you are supposed to be here. If people are rolling their eyes when you tell them what’s next, don’t let it get you down. People like to make their own judgments about everyone else’s life, but ultimately it’s your call. And there isn’t a right or wrong choice. And the responsibility isn’t all on your shoulders. If you’re stressed out about figuring out where you’re “supposed” to be, trust that things will work themselves out.
Case in point, I chose a college for my undergraduate experience that, on paper, looked like pretty much the perfect match for me. I ended up disliking most of my time there and transferred after my junior year, after chickening out twice on transferring or doing a semester study program at a different school. Looking back, I think in some ways it was the right school for me to be at, even if I wasn’t happy there and even if I wasn’t able to take classes in what really interested me, museum studies. I felt safe there and I was far enough from home that I was able to build more self-sufficiency because I couldn’t just go home when I was miserable.
But in the end, I’m glad I transferred, even if I never, ever anticipated that I wouldn’t finish my degree at what I once believed was my dream school. At the time, it seemed like my life had gone totally awry, but I ended up at another school that built my self-sufficiency through living at home instead of a “campus bubble” and commuting. Not to mention I had two wonderful professors who really mentored me and introduced me to public history, social history, and material culture studies, which I now love. I finally felt like a valued student who was part of a community, but I never would have guessed that the place where I finally felt that way would be a state school.
Life takes you through a lot of difficult terrain, but you also sometimes end up in the place that’s right for you even when you didn’t even try to get there. And I guess even the places that don’t feel right still are. I’m not sure if this post is really saying anything worthwhile, but maybe it’ll be encouraging for anyone else out there who is afraid they screwed up their life with a bad or hasty choice or took the wrong path or whatever. I like to think everything in life has purpose, any situation can be redeemed, and somehow we end up where we’re meant to be.