The Freedom in Saying No
Saying no to one opportunity opens up the possibility of saying yes to another. And sometimes when we feel like our "no" should be a "yes," time and God serve to remind us that following our gut also means following our heart. Last summer, as some of you remember, I was offered what seemed like a "dream" job: a dean position at a start-up school, and the ability to bring my youngest with, as needed. It spoke to my deepest desires: recognition, being viewed as capable, and a boost to my pride as a self-proclaimed hard worker.
My instinct was to turn down the position, as amazing as it sounded, and I didn't know why. After speaking with various friends (which can be both a good and bad tactic), I decided that perhaps I should accept the position. After all, I had worked my whole career to ascend the education ladder, hadn't I? I attended meetings for this dream school, helped interview and shape the vision. And yet. My heart hurt for reasons I couldn't articulate.
But soon I realized: by saying yes to the school, I was closing the door to other opportunities, dreams, and desires. After reflecting in a cabin in the woods in Wisconsin (how Thoreauvian of me), I decided to turn down the position. For a second time. And I have not given that school or the position a second thought. Truly.
A few days ago, I learned that my position teaching online humanities for a university in Oklahoma may be coming to an end, for no reason other than another professor, with more seniority, would like to teach those sections instead. Suddenly, I felt my own self-worth plummeting, and I was reminded how fragile we are when we place our worth in our work. We live in a world that confirms and celebrates our deepest desire to be recognized and validated. It is so easy to succumb to society's love affair with the illusion of work (and subsequently success,) being the measure of our worth. And it was tempting to look back on my past career decisions and imagine that perhaps I had made a wrong choice along the way.
But you (and I) are worth so much more than the jobs we work and the titles we hold. God created us to be whole beings, to create, to thrive, and most importantly, to love one another. Like you, I make the absolute best choice I can with the information I have available. As a minimalist, I strive to reduce my decisions and the demands on my life to as few as possible. Turning down the job last summer meant moving toward our dream of intentional simple living on the beach.
And so I will patiently wait to hear that exquisitely small voice inside to speak louder, to show me a new direction that allows me to craft a career out of passion and creativity. My hope for you, if you are feeling lost, unappreciated, or forgotten in your career field, is that a new path will open and you will find joy in your work once more and value as the person God created you to be.