This week my diploma finally arrived. When I saw the package I audibly gasped. All by myself. Just gasping on the driveway.
A lot of people told me I would never get my degree if I didn’t go straight to college after high school. I’m proud to say they were wrong, but I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that many times they were almost right.
The past 3 and a half years have been long and busy and hard and overwhelming as I have juggled multiple jobs, ministry, and life transitions, all the while trying to speed my way through school. I am overwhelmingly grateful to be surrounded by some of the most gracious humans who have traveled this journey with me. I texted my boyfriend a picture of my diploma yesterday and added that I thought he should get some kind of medal, too, for bearing with me through the thick of it all. He agreed with me.
Even though I finished my classes a month ago, seeing my diploma in real life was the greatest sense of relief. I have harbored this secret fear since I finished that I was going to get a call or email letting me know something was miscalculated and I actually have more classes to take. I’m very glad to put that fear to rest!
After I had finished texting pictures to all the important people and racing around to show it off in-person to anybody who was nearby, I experienced the strangest realization that was followed by a question.
I arrived… am I real yet?
You see, whether or not I ever verbalized it, I have lived the past several years with this idea that once I graduated and held some sort of title I would be real.
Once I had some certification, some proof of my efforts, an area of expertise—then I would be valid.
And you know what? There’s definitely some truth to that. No, not that accomplishments provide validation of inherent worth or make someone more valuable as a human. But in other ways, they do provide validation and value. And that’s perfectly fine!
What isn’t true, though, is the confidence that I thought would come with the validation. This idea that once I had earned my degree, then I would know what I was doing. Then I would lose the self-doubt. Then I would assert myself with boldness.
The reality is that I am still me. Whichever of those qualities I lacked before a piece of paper, I lack after the piece of paper.
But how many things in life do we view in this way?
Once I finish school….
Once I get that job….
Once I get married….
Once I move….
Once I have kids…..
What am I doing right now to develop the qualities I hope to have with each of these achievements?
The achievements are good and are things we should desire! I think when this topic is addressed, often it is addressed in such a way that minimizes achievements and downplays their worth. I don’t think that’s the answer though. As long as the things we are going after are truly worthy things, I think they should be celebrated and encouraged. We just have to acknowledge that they are embellishments to who we already are, and that they will not change who we are fundamentally. If that needs to happen, we need to face it head on and not expect it to be the result of an accomplishment or life change.
The process of accomplishment can be a great teaching tool and through it we can see how we need to grow and what character qualities we want to develop. Humility is vital for this process to occur. We need to approach our goals and desires with a teachable heart so that the challenges they pose can be utilized to help us grow into the person we want to be, and so that we can also be aware of the things we lack on a foundational level.
The thing is, while we can learn through accomplishments, we can’t wait for accomplishments to start learning. Humans are so lazy. It’s just the truth. We want to wait for a situation to force us into growth, and thankfully we have a God who knows us well and often provides those situations. But I want to develop the foresight to be proactive and to see the qualities that I want to possess and start choosing to place myself in a posture that is conducive to growth, rather than expecting it to just happen on its own. That’s hard though!
We have to start by doing some honest assessing of ourselves. Get a pen and paper and start by identifying what you want. Where are you going? What do you want your life to look like, and who do you want to be when you get there? Remember, this is far more personal than it is task focused. I’m really good at charting out goals and tasks to accomplish, but this time it’s about the character rather than the accomplishment—it may help to make side-by-side lists of heart issues vs. goals to help distinguish between the 2.
Maybe by the time you graduate, you want to be prepared to confidently network, interview, and negotiate salary, etc.
Okay, so are you lacking confidence? Assertiveness? Conversational skills?
Great! Now you know what you need and you can make a game plan to get it. Maybe you start going to job fairs and make a goal to converse with a set number of employers. Even if you are chatting with people you would never work for, you are taking a step in the direction of your goal so that when you graduate you will be ready to talk to the people you do want to work for!
See how this works? It can take so many different forms, but the point is that you identify who you want to be upon reaching a certain life stage and then figure out what hard things you need to do in order to be that person. Hard things are the key here—the one thing I can promise you is that it will not be easy, but it will be worth it!
I have some things I want to accomplish over the next couple of years that I am walking through this process with so that I can hopefully be more of the person I want to be upon reaching goals. As I map it out, I am working on creating a PDF that you can print and use for your own character-goal setting process. This should available sometime in September, so stay tuned!