He is so desperate, I am so blessed.

He is so desperate, I am so blessed. 

I found myself saying this to myself today after a series of coaching appointments with clients facing deep struggles in their paths toward finding meaningful work. Or any work at all… sigh.

Days like today weigh heavily on my spirit. Seeing the very real barriers – internal or external – that complicate the job search process can break my heart. Especially when I look at how blessed I am in my own life and my professional path.

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I struggle the most when the barriers individuals are struggling to overcome are the result of structural or systemic oppression. Where language, access to health care, disability, mental health status, cultural differences, or poor self-advocacy skills create huge roadblocks that overcome even the last glimmers of resilience.  I feel helpless.

I worry I am not doing enough, and on the really tough days:

Am I causing more harm than good? 

Considering my own blessings in contrast to those who are sincerely struggling to sustain daily living can leave me feeling guilty. When I was first exploring my identity as a white person I thought a lot about the guilt I felt being born part of the privileged dominant group in my country. I also think about the ways I can use my privilege to fight systemic oppression.

As I have grown in my field, I also think more about the ways my own privilege can get in the way for clients I serve who are from underrepresented groups. I know I find myself in the “buffer zone,” as social justice educator, writer, and activist, Paul Kivel, describes:

“If most people receive minimal levels of care and those who die do so in hospitals, at home, in rest homes, or in prisons, it is less likely that people will add up the total impact of the concentration of wealth. So there are many jobs for people to take care of those at the bottom of the pyramid: nurses, attendants, social workers, teachers, youth workers, child care workers, counselors—poorly paid jobs that are primarily done by women and that provide minimal services to those in need.

“Taking care of those in need is valuable and honorable work, and most people do it with generosity and good intentions. But in our society, it is also unsupported, low-paid, exploitative work. It serves to mask the inadequate distribution of jobs, food, and housing, and to hide the full impact of the concentration of wealth” (Source here).

It may be honorable work. It may be valuable work. I may dedicate my whole heart to supporting those I meet with. In turn I hope that I am supporting a vibrant and equitable community. However on days  like today I feel so overwhelmed trying to parcel out all the pieces at play. The struggle to do my part of  the work towards social justice can feel overwhelming, especially when I struggle to even sort out what “right action” looks like in the moment.

I feel called to serve, to support, and to empower. The idea that the very act of trying to help can get in the way and perpetuate all kinds of inequality — it just feels too big. Too daunting. It makes me feel so small, so unsure of what my next right choice should be.

Comfort comes in faithfully believing that I am doing my best to put my heart to the work, praying for grace, and as Rainer Maria Rilke reminds us, living the questions:

“Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

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Hold fast to your passion

The natural human spirit is irrepressibly radical; it wants the unattainable, yearns for the impractical, is willing to risk the improper. But as we conform ourselves to the practicalities and properties of efficiency, we restrict the space between desire and control; we confine our intention to an ever-decreasing range of possibilities. The choices we make — and therefore the way we feel about ourselves — are determined less by what we long for and more by what is controllable and acceptable to the world around us. After enough of this, we lose our passion. We forget who we are.

Gerald May, from The Awakened Heart, as quoted in Wayne Muller‘s book, A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough

Are we asking the wrong questions? (Part II)

How will I decide? Will I be okay? 

In my post on Part I, I suggested that college students and working adults ponder these same questions. Many struggling with the same fears about the future. In my work coaching students and joining with colleagues to help college students find their way, I have found that we sometimes linger too long considering the wrong questions.

What if instead of trying to help students look out in to the great world to find their place, we instead invited students to turn inward. To look deep inside them for the truth — the wisdom of their very nature that would unlock the answers they desire?

At the heart of decisions about major and career plans is this question – will I be okay?

Am I enough? Do you see me fully?

During my time at a Jesuit institution, we invited students to consider these three key questions:

  1. What are my gifts?
  2. What brings me joy?
  3. What does the world need?

What a difference it makes when we begin by asking the right questions. Rather than dedicate time dwelling in their fears about what could go wrong, students begin to open up to a new sense of freedom. Maybe we are not just good or bad? Maybe we are each here to share some spark of creativity, some twinkle of a strength, a perspective not yet considered? Perhaps greatness does lie within us all?

Reframing the questions to invite students to consider the possibility that they may already be perfect just as they are tends to open students up to far greater potential for meaningful contribution through their work. Their aspirations extend beyond surviving, to thriving.

There is an aliveness about them when they are invited to grow their wildest dreams beyond the most stringent limitations they have outlined for themselves. 

This moment, when it happens, is magic. What a privilege it is to see the wisdom and spirit working deep inside these students as they search for who they are, and the ways in which they are uniquely needed in our world.

What might it be like to accept a deep sense of trust in ourselves?

To have a faith that in the end all will be well… and all will be well…. and all will be well.

In the middle at the New Year

This New Year snuck up on me like a fog and vanished just as quietly. Typically I would spend a lot of energy thinking about the upcoming New Year, reflecting on the last year and jotting down my hopes for the year to come.

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But this year felt different.

I took a yoga class on New Year’s Eve and our teacher grounded the practice in being in “the middle” – inspired because the holiday fell mid-week this year. This got me thinking about the many ways I feel “in between” in my own life right now. Not yet settled in my new life after dramatic changes this year, but also not a stranger here. This “middle” place has become its own season of life.

Today is the middle of January – some time has passed since the New Year:

    • In what ways do you find yourself “in the middle” at this time?
    • In what was do you see yourself emerging?
    • In this dark and cold season – are there places still healing while others inch towards new growth?