My primary vocation is as a counselor. I have had other professional roles as well, but my heart is most in my work as a counselor, and this is where my greatest strengths lie. This is a vocation about which I knew absolutely nothing when I was growing up in a blue-collar family in a small farming community on the western Minnesota prairie. I value those roots, and they remain a strong part of who I am. Still, I was drawn to a larger life and I always wanted to go on to college. It was a cultural transition of sorts when I entered Luther College as a first-year student in the fall of 1970. Neither of my parents nor any of my aunts and uncles had attended college, and I had little idea of how college worked. I knew nothing about psychology when I took an introductory course my sophomore year. Two years later, I was applying to graduate programs in counseling psychology. I went on to spend five years in a doctoral program, followed by six years working as a therapist in a large, urban mental-health center. Academia and a professional health-care setting were definitely very different worlds from that small Minnesota prairie town.
Personal and family quality-of-life factors led me back to Decorah and Luther College. This was much more an intuitive decision about where it felt right to be than it was any kind of rational, strategic career move. I came to Luther in 1985 for a one-year teaching position in the psychology department, replacing a faculty member who was on sabbatical and hoping that other options would emerge before that year was over. The position of “college counselor” opened up, I applied, and began my work in the Counseling Service in the fall of 1986. I never imagined when I started my career in psychology that one day I would return to Luther College, let alone that I would be in the Counseling Service here for 20 years.
My experience of my vocational journey reminds me of a passage from a book called Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. Lamott discusses how one must trust the process of writing or of living:
“E.L. Doctorow once said that ‘writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.’ You don’t have to see where you’re going, you don’t have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.”
While I have made thoughtful, reflective decisions along the way, my vocational journey has not primarily been something that I have logically planned and controlled. Rather, in retrospect, it appears to have been more a process of being led in a spiritual way to the places I think I was meant to be. When I was able to be still, to be patient, and to listen keenly to my deepest self, I could get a sense of at least the next piece of the road. Only later could I see the entire journey from a larger perspective.
I believe that I have been called to the places where I could best use my strengths to do God’s work in the world. So far, that work has been primarily as a counselor and as the administrator of a counseling program. In my work as a counselor, I hope to be present with those who struggle toward greater wholeness, to bear witness to that struggle, and to nurture hope, courage and change. There are two quotes that resonate deeply for me and that relate closely to my sense of my role as a counselor. The first is by Jean Shinoda Bolen from her book Crossing to Avalon:
“I am convinced of the importance of having a significant person bear witness to our lives….It is no small matter to be a witness to another person’s life story. By listening with compassion, we validate each other’s lives, making suffering meaningful, and help the process of forgiving and healing to take place.”
The second is from a poem by Adrienne Rich (XXII from Your Native Land, Your Life):
“No person, trying to take responsibility for her or his own identity, should have to be so alone. There must be those among whom we can sit down and weep, and still be counted as warriors.”
I have known many such “warriors” over the years I have done this work, people who courageously faced very difficult life experiences and went on to create lives of greater wholeness and hope. As I have walked with them on their journeys, I have felt obliged to live my life with the same kind of endurance, courage and hopefulness. In that way, our journeys weave together and strengthen us both.