"To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness." ~ John Dewey
October has shaped up to be a fantastic month for me. A few dips here and there, though for the most part it's been about exploring new opportunities, meeting new people, and getting a better handle on how my life is moving forward. In other words, I am deep into the first piece of John Dewey's statement: "finding what one is fitted to do".
Tonight I had dinner with my friend, Richard, and we were talking about this exploration. I suppose one of the reasons we've become such good friends is that we are natural explorers. This is true of so many of my friends, nearly all of them have gone down many different paths, learning a lot along the way, and eventually finding their groove. I'm the late bloomer in the bunch. It took me a long time before I realized how that I could build a life around the idea of a securing a quality education for every child, how adamantly I believe in Frederick Douglass's idea that "It is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men." I am a product of this idea and I am now at a point where I've been in the world enough to be able to fight for this principle in a thoughtful, compelling way.
So now the trick is the how, John Dewey's second piece of the puzzle: how (and where) to secure an opportunity to do what I am fitted to do. On the one hand, I am fortunate that my passion has many different avenues for me to pursue. I could go back to a nonprofit that has a mission to help children. I could teach. I could do research in this area. I could pursue an advanced degree (and there are several types of degrees that would be suitable). I could go into government work. I could simply volunteer as I have been doing for many years. I could write. In actuality, I could do all of these things, and likely will. On the other hand, how will I make a choice among all of these options? What is the right way forward for me?
One thing that has amazed me is that it's the first part, figuring out what we're fitted to do, what we're passionate about, that takes the most time and effort. Once that piece is firmly planted in our minds and hearts, and we begin to share it with others, opportunities to do what we love abound. People rally around us, support our dreams and efforts. Somehow, the way opens once we know what way we want to take.
This abundance didn't hit me until I was speaking to Richard tonight. I was telling him what I was interested in and why. I am in the midst of researching doctoral programs in public policy and there is one in particular that just feels right, that lights a fire in my eyes and heart, the same way that the Darden School was the absolute right fit for my MBA. There are others that seem fine as well, though I just can't seem to feel as excited about them as I am about this other program. And then a little panic set in. What if they don't take me? Then how will I ever get this work done that I now know I am fitted to do?
I thought about this on the subway ride home, actually I worried about it. And I played it through in my mind. What if this program didn't want me? What if the other programs didn't fit quite right? What if this degree just wouldn't be possible for me to get? I felt this way when applying to Darden, too. The only other program I applied to was Tuck, and after visiting Tuck, I knew that wasn't the right fit, so Darden quickly became the only place I could or would or wanted to go. On my drive back to DC from Charlottesville, after my interview and visit to grounds, after I had fallen deeply in love with Darden and the prospect of being a student there, I wondered what I would do if I didn't get in. I decided to do one of two things: I'd join the Peace Corps, also a lifelong dream of mine, or I'd move right back to New York where I knew I eventually wanted to make my home. That's it. Very simple.
As luck would have it, I was accepted at Darden on December 1st. I distinctly remember jumping for joy, accepting over the phone, and breathing a great big sigh of relief. I got exactly what I wanted. So now, I'm at that same point again. What will I do if this one program that seems perfect for me doesn't take me? Now there are many more options for this new road - maybe I'll teach full-time, go back into nonprofit work, start my own business, write, and continue to be an active volunteer. Maybe New York City government will prove to be the way for me. Yes, I confirmed, I have lots of options.
I emerged from the subway a few hours ago with a lighter heart. John Dewey would smile knowing that there are so many opportunities I could secure to go about doing my life's work. After all, he is the one who said we climb mountains so that we can see other mountains. From where I now stand, there are so many peaks in my landscape that a valley is scarcely able to be seen. With so many routes to happiness, the work for me now lies not in the finding but in the choosing. And that in itself is reason to smile.
The photo above is not my own. It can be found here.