Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

O’BRIEN: Which Career Is Right For You? God Knows

Around this time every year, seniors drop by my office with the same anxious expression and the same pointed question: “What am I going to do next year?”

They’ve just taken the LSAT or GRE, interview season is in high gear and grad school or Teach for America applications are due soon. They knock because many have heard me talk about my own life story in class, in Dahlgren Chapel or other places on campus: How I went to law school after graduating from Georgetown, how I practiced as a corporate litigator and how I ultimately joined the Jesuits. (Some students come to me thinking I’m Fr. Collins or Fr. Steck, which I take as high praise!)

The Jesuit tradition of discernment offers some helpful advice when making important decisions. The first suggestion is to reframe the question. Instead of simply asking, “What do I want to do?” invite God into the conversation by asking: “What does God want me to do?”

If you have an image of God as remote, disinterested, mercurial or vengeful, then it’s a scary question. If, however, you have a different image of God, the question becomes much more inviting. For Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits, God is like a teacher schooling a pupil, working with us faithfully, patiently and gently. For Ignatius, God is intensely interested in each of us, desiring a relationship. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius counsels that we speak to God as one would speak to a friend.

The simple truth is this: What God wants for us is what we want most deeply. Our deepest desires are not opposed to God’s will, but rather reflections of it, because God is the one who plants those deep, holy desires within us. So we do well to dig deep. The problem is that we make that digging so difficult because we put so much clutter in the way. We have to sort through this clutter to reach those desires that set the heart on fire.

What is the clutter? We each need to do our own digging, but I can generalize based on these annual conversations and my own life. First, while soliciting counsel from parents, mentors and friends is helpful, we can become excessively concerned about what other people think or what other people are doing. Second, we can become excessively concerned with wealth, titles, perks and privilege. When these become fixations, our priorities get skewed. Third, we indulge our fears. Now, it’s justified and acceptable to be afraid when a bear is chasing you, but usually fear is a distraction. We are afraid of the future, afraid something won’t work out, afraid we won’t be happy, afraid we will be alone. We need to let go of such fears. Fourth, we lack creativity, neglecting to imagine a life different than what we or others have planned for us.

Finally, we resist choosing. I’m one of those people who has a hard time choosing food off a menu. I want to have it all, and I fear missing out on a delicious thing. I cannot accept the loss of the excluded option. I lose sight of the present and the real when I escape into the realm of “what if.” What if I had chosen something different?

We are human beings with limited time, energy and talent. That means we have to choose. Seduced by the lie that we can have or do it all, we run ourselves to the ground, or we live very superficial lives, flitting from one thing or person to another, never really committing to anyone or anything.

A fully human, joy-filled life is one where we make commitments. If we never really choose anything or anyone, then we become nothing.

Often, these annual conversations are really about summoning the courage and confidence to deal with the baggage we haul around, confronting our fears and our limits and recognizing unrealized potential. Such attention to our interior life frees us to choose from the deepest place of who we are, the place where God’s desires for us meet our own. From this place of commitment, we become what — or who — we choose.

The pressure is off. As we make decisions and take some necessary risks, we do not have to be afraid that God will leave us, even if we take a wrong turn. God is faithful and generous, offering us many paths to happiness and holiness — if we dare to accept the invitation.

Meister Eckhart wrote, “The kind of work we do does not make us holy, but we may make it holy.”Sometimes the answer to what we should do is really about asking the question of who we are. That’s a very Jesuit question, and that’s why my door is open this time of year.

Fr. O’Brien is the vice president of mission and ministry. Fr. O’Brien, Fr. Maher and Fr. Schallalternate as the writers of As This Jesuit Sees It … , which appears every other Friday.

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