My inner, sensible voice has been talking to me a lot lately. This sensible voice has been with me for as long as I remember. I was brought up to carefully consider my thoughts, impulses and the consequences before making any important decisions. The truth is, I was brought up to treat most decisions as major decisions. Nothing was too trivial to escape some form of scrutiny. Sometimes what and when I ate would be dissected, sometimes clothing. And it wasn’t just my silent inside voice that I heard. My parents would ask me questions so that in the future I would know the right questions to ask myself. They weren’t wrong to do this. The skills I learned from their questions have helped me to survive some pretty difficult periods in my life that were filled with hard decisions.
A couple of years ago I realized that I had fallen into the habit of using those same old questions to make new decisions. This set of questions I always used were partly my parents and partly my own. But they were all formed during my youth and early adulthood and really, when I looked closely at them, didn’t serve me well at all in my maturity. So I began the process of remodeling my decision-making process. There have been a few bumps along the way but thankfully there is no permanent damage from the process. It was a pretty close call for awhile, but there are no tattoos or additional piercing, no silicone or hairdos to regret. I make no promises for the future though, I still sometimes consider a tattoo. No I don’t know why.
The big question in my life right now is…am I using this college degree that I spent so much money on? Well, technically you all pitched in to offer me the opportunity to borrow money for college at a lower interest rate, and someday soon I will start paying you back. But the question remains, now that I have it, am I using this education fully? I have actually been thinking about this for quite some time and I have an answer. Not the answer I would have with my youthful set of questions, but the answer for me as I am now.
Because me “as I am now” was only possible because of college. Sounds corny, I guess. But I would never have been pushed to ask new questions or to try new things if I hadn’t been at Augsburg. I wouldn’t have friends from widely different backgrounds and lifestyles. I would have continued to think the world outside a twenty mile radius from my house was a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. I learned some very valuable skills that built on the foundation my parents help me to create.
I learned to reflect on my experiences. Being able to examine separate moments and an experience as a whole has helped me to define not just what I like or don’t like, not even simply what I want, but to better understand what I need and how to meet the needs of those around me without sacrificing myself.
I discovered my spiritual side. Please don’t try to put a label on it. It is not Christian or Buddhist or Islamic. It is simply an understanding that this life we know is not an accident and that a great power exists to manage it all. It provides what we need, not what we want. It always seeks balance. It is love. I found my way to this personal peace through classes and discussions with classmates and professors. And by the way, not always religion professors. Almost every prof I had was willing to discuss the possible spiritual aspect of their given topic, and that was a great gift to me.
I have learned to trust myself. For many years I thought that my parents gave me all those questions because they didn’t think I could find them on my own. I was wrong. But I learned to distrust my own thoughts and needs, and then I began to lose my trust in other people as well. I figured out that my parents have total faith in me, they just did what parents do…offer advise they never expect to be taken. So I trust myself like a two year old. I believe that if I want to do something then I can. I know that I will never make a decision that could hurt me or the people I love permanently. And I am learning to trust other people again. This one is hard, but is something that was absolutely necessary for me during my years at college. I became too involved with activities on campus to shut myself off from others and so had to trust that when someone said they would do something, they actually would.
The most important thing I learned, if you can learn this, is courage. None of the other things I learned would be possible without courage. It takes courage to honestly look at yourself and name those things that make you unhappy. It takes courage to admit that you are powerless, and that instead of making you weak it gives you great strength. It takes courage to trust anyone, and I think that hardest of all for me was to trust myself. And it takes courage to take all these discoveries and do more than pat myself on the back for becoming more enlightened. I was able to define what I wanted my life to look like, and then find a way to make it happen.
So to answer my initial question, no, I am not using my degree as a degree. But I am using the experience I took getting the degree to live a life I never imagined possible before I went back to college. I wouldn’t change a thing about my past…it got me to this moment and it is, to coin a terribly overused phrase, priceless.