Know Thyself (P.A.C.E. Session 1)

It’s no secret that both of us don’t really have any idea of what to do with our lives. Instead we have enough childish and scattered half dreams and wishful fantasies to keep a dozen twenty-somethings up at night.

Oh, I’ll be a teacher!
Oh, I’ll go to law school!
Oh, I’ll be an accountant!

They just get worse and worse.

To be clear, we do not lack ambition – it’s just that when we start to picture choosing a path, any path, that will last longer than a few months our palms begin to sweat. The temporary work experience agrees with us – low on commitment, high on experiential learning. We wish that we could just build a flourishing career cycling through different fascinating summer stints without the need to pick just one.

We spent a great deal of the beginning of this year staying up very late having the same conversation over and over.

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We got a little tired of feeling sorry for ourselves and decided to take steps toward finding direction. Funnily enough, one of those steps was starting this blog together. This silly little exercise has brought us so much joy, I can’t even tell you. Working on something, working on something together has been such a gift. It was nerve-wracking to start, but a beautiful thing to grow, and we have been grateful for it ever since.

But a blog with a few followers (and we mean few, but, dear reader, feel free to change that) could not assuage our fears of the future. The poor advisers at our school seemed positively bowled over by our angst and quickly referred us to a program called P.A.C.E. – the Program for Advancement of Career Exploration.  Over the course of ten hours we would take a few personality tests (including the Meyers Briggs Indicator Type and the STRONG test) and receive some individual counseling on paths we should pursue.

It essentially sounded like having our career fortunes told – but with science. Perfect for a couple of indecisive hacks like us.

The ten hours are split into four weekly sessions, the first of which was this past Tuesday. At 10 AM, hoping for coffee, we shuffled into a conference room along with 20 or so others.

Two young women stood before us, backed only by a modest PowerPoint, and began the seminar. One was timid, the other brazen, and they both shared their stories of stumbling through young adulthood and into a masters program at our school to pursue youth counseling. Leading this seminar was part of their internship.

It was then time for us to go around the room and share our own stories.

What is your name?
What do you do?
Why are you here?

The room was mostly filled with other undergraduates – antsy people like us, only 20 years old and already afraid that we have waited too long to get started with our lives.

One woman sitting two seats to our right was a 35-year-old PhD candidate and mother of two. She told us she was there because she didn’t know what she wanted to do with her life. I wanted to shake her. What do you mean, you don’t know what you want to do with your life? You’re doing things with your life right now! You’re already one of them!

And I realized she was probably sitting there looking around at the rest of us going, what do you mean, you don’t know what you want to do with your life? You’re only 20! Calm down!

Following the introductions, the leaders of the seminar led us through a few exercises. They asked us to write down a list of every single dream job we have had throughout our lives, no matter how trivial or silly or childish hindsight might have us believe they are.

Sam and I both began to laugh as our lists grew and grew and grew. It was what has hamstrung us for so long – our interests appear to be too varied to find a coherent thread.

People began to share their lists for group analysis, an act so vulnerable my heart raced just at the thought. One woman’s list ranged from magician to masseuse to hairdresser to surgeon, and from that the group extracted that she was independent, hands-on, and liked helping people.

I kept scanning my list over and over again, adding new items as I uncovered new little phases and infatuations concealed behind the cobwebs of time with my other childhood memories. Clouded little vignettes kept trickling back to me. I remembered printing a family newsletter several times a week until I reached high school. I remembered scheduling a lunch meeting with my fifth grade English teacher to go over my latest manuscript (I also made a mental note to see if it would be possible to reach out to said teacher with an apology/thank you).

I remembered overhearing another student in my 8th grade science class telling other people about the book he was writing with shock and horror as I realized this passion wasn’t uniquely mine. I remember realizing with despair that, not only was it not uniquely mine anymore, it had never been all mine to begin with.

And so, around the age of 14, writing was relegated to Phase 2. Everything I’ve been doing since, the economics degree, the internships, the feverish search for my “dream” corporate job, has been Phase 1 of a long-forgotten two-part plan to become successful and then retire early and then write.

It’s a plan almost as fanciful as hoping to exclusively make a living out of writing, but I thought it was the practical route, and it became so entrenched that I forgot about writing altogether. It is no wonder I’ve been so lost.

So, I didn’t come out of our first session of P.A.C.E. with much more direction than I had at the start, but I feel now as though I am floating rather than drifting. I feel more in touch with myself. I feel more comfortable with who I am.

I am a writer. Here I am, writing. Here I am, at peace.

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