I graduated from college a year and a half ago, and there are days when I feel like I have to have everything figured out.
During college, I thought I already did have it all figured out. Everything was structured. There was a schedule to follow. But now there isn’t a schedule or structure—only uncertainty. It freaks me out. I daily look to those around me at my job and compare myself. I follow Jesus, so I like to pretend that I don’t struggle with insecurity.
But in reality, I want others to think that I know what I am doing.
When I’m honest, I realize that I struggle with control. I’m not talking about controlling my money or deciding what’s for dinner. I’m talking about what others will think of me. I want their approval. I want to impress, and it’s a lot of pressure.
In my second year of teaching, I compare myself to those around me who have been in the profession for over 20 years. That’s my standard. I’m a rookie only two years into the job, but for some reason, I want others to think that I have it figured out just like the veteran next door.
But I’m learning there is value in the work that I am doing right now because every class period, day, week, month, and year prepares me for the next. Jesus spent thirty years doing things we don’t know about before he began three years of public ministry, and then finally completed the mission he was sent for. I so want to have already arrived at my full mission and be fully thriving, but I’ve learned three things I have to remind myself of daily:
1. I don’t know it all. It’s OK.
If I’m honest, I really don’t know much. I am humbled every morning (in a good way) when I spend time reading my Bible. I learn more about God, what he says about me and what he says about the people around me. I am just beginning to scratch the surface. The same thing is true for my job. It’s my second year teaching, and sometimes, it terrifies me to look back on the things I did last year. Did I really think that was a good lesson? I just think about what I will be saying in ten years about the things I think I am an expert on right now and the old and new things I will still be figuring out. I could choose shame or frustration at not knowing more, or I can remember this is how it goes. It’s all a part of a process. It’s actually progress—everything that happened early in my career is preparing me for things that are to come.
2) There is a difference between the textbook answer and life.
College taught me to write 15-page lesson plans for a class. Guess what—I don’t do that every single day (sorry, Professor). There was great value in it because they taught me the thought process behind what I do daily. But no textbook could have ever prepared me for my job in full. We work with people, and people have problems. Life happens. People need you, and sometimes you need to respond to situations with something that is not in the script. Jesus did this. Once He was walking around town when a woman who had been bleeding for years thought that if she could just touch the edge of his cloak, she would be healed. She touched it. Jesus felt something inside of him, and he stopped what he was doing to acknowledge this woman. I am sure this wasn’t in His plan for the day, but he went off script for someone who mattered. I want to take risks and go off my script for someone. Maybe even heal them.
3) People come first (definitely before having all my stuff together).
I like to get my to-do list done. I don’t want to go to sleep until the last email has been answered, and the final paper that is due at the end of the week has been completed. I want admiration for the time I am putting in. I tell myself that when it’s all finished I will be able to focus on people. It’s a lie. The papers and deadlines will never stop. There will always be something else I could be working on. The people I have around now might not always be there. I can choose to stop making excuses as to why I can’t be there with them right now or to do whatever seems more important at the time. I’m not saying be irresponsible, but I am learning to invest my time in what I have right in front of me.
In college, there were nights I gave up on sleep to go sit in a hallway with a friend after a bad night and literally just be a shoulder for them to cry on. There were days that instead of studying, I went to grab a coffee with the person that needed a friend. I still get thank yous from them today because of it. I didn’t do it for that thank you. But that’s how I know that putting them first (at the cost of something for me) mattered.
Maybe the most significant learning is that rarely will I figure it out by myself. The very few things I have figured out like buying a car, teaching subject pronouns, or dealing with difficult people have come as a result of letting others into my life. Those are moments in which I can choose to rely on myself or ask others who might be trying to figure out some of the same things help me out. If I don’t invite others in, I miss on the chance of growing, and that’s really what this is all about.
How we choose to grow can either be done independently in isolation (with lots of anxiety and comparison), or we can relax and choose to take it day by day. We can embrace mistakes and each learning as progress. Play the long game. Skip the shame and frustration. Enjoy the process with others.