Four years ago, I packed up my meager belongings and moved down to D.C. to pursue a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Studies at the John Paul II Institute. I had just graduated from college several months before, and like so many other 20-something year olds, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. I was ready to start this new chapter in my life- I was starting at a new school, living in a new place, had a new job. I was excited to begin fresh. I didn’t have a clue what I was going to do with my life, but I did know one thing: I loved school. I began at the Institute with the simple desire to learn as much as I could. I had no thoughts for what I was going to do after I graduated. I had no idea what kind of career I would excel at. I was newly single, and had already decided that I would dedicate my time to school and my friends. My break-up had been rough, and I was nowhere near ready to get invested in another relationship. I moved down to D.C. planning to focus on my education, and that was exactly what I did…until everything changed.
By the end of the spring semester, I had chosen to leave the Institute to enter as an aspirant with the Salesian Sisters. A year later, I decided to leave the order and took a job as an Assistant Parish Catechetical Leader at a nearby parish. I applied for the job because I was desperate. I never thought that I would discover my life’s vocation in Religious Education. It did not take long to fall in love with my job, and soon enough I was absolutely convinced that this was how I was going to spend my life. Several months after accepting the job, I took another step forward in my life and began dating my future-husband Andrew. As things got serious, we began talking about the future, about marriage, moving in together, and starting a family. When I returned to my job after Christmas break, I informed my boss that I would not be renewing my contract with the parish in July. A few months later, I once again found myself packing up my meager belongings to move down to D.C. to continue my education at the Institute, but that was where the similarities ended.
A great deal had changed between my first year at the Institute and my second. My intentions were not as pure as they had been when I began. During my first year, I’d had no idea what I was going to do with my life, and I was able to dedicate myself entirely to my studies. This time around, I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and my focus was split between school, work, and wedding planning. I found life incredibly more difficult, and not simply because I had less time and more to do. From Part 1 to Part 2, my entire perspective had changed, and this was the principle source of my difficulties.
To be completely honest, my intentions during my first year in the program were a lot more in keeping with the philosophy of the Institute. I had one purpose: to learn. My education was an end in and of itself, and I was able to take pleasure in every one of my classes, enjoying everything that was taught. I gave no thought to what I would do after I graduated, and I was able to soak in everything I was learning. There was no need to apply it to daily life; I did not need to figure out how my lessons could be beneficial for my career. I learned for the sake of learning, and I was incredibly happy.
During my first year, I was at the perfect point in life to focus on my studies. I was working part-time at a bookstore, a job that I knew would terminate once I had graduated. I enjoyed the work, but there was never any push to apply my courses to my work at the bookstore. I was able to dedicate most of my time to reading and studying, and I excelled easily. I was driven and motivated, and I even contemplated the possibility of pursuing a Ph.D. after graduating. I was a natural student, and I was quite at home in the academic environment.
It is amazing how much can change in just two years. As I was preparing to return to D.C., I hoped that I would easily settle into the life of a student again. I hoped that my classes would come easily. I hoped that I would be just as motivated to succeed as I had been the first time around. I was wrong.
My circumstances had changed dramatically since the last time I had been in school. I am working part-time again, but my job is much more demanding than the few hours that I had once put in at the bookstore. I am living further away, which means that I spend more time on the roads than ever before. And most notably, as I struggle to balance school and work, I am also planning a wedding. Yes, I have a lot more on my plate this time around, but that’s only the tip of the iceberg.
The true cause of my struggles is not a lack of time, but a lack of motivation. My intentions are not as pure as they once were. I am not in school simply for the sake of learning. My purpose is much more directed now. Two years ago, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, and I was largely lacking direction. Now, I have found a career that I love, and I am less than four months away from marriage. I can no longer truthfully claim that I am studying purely for the sake of knowledge. I am studying so that I can have a Master’s degree. I am studying because the courses will presumably make me a better Director of Religious Education. I am studying because I know that this is a way to increase my salary somewhat. I am studying because DREs with Master’s degrees are preferred over those without them. There are a lot of reasons why I am back at the Institute, but my desire to learn is not first among them.
My struggles are largely the result of a shift in focus. There is a clear direction that my life is taking, and all my actions are chosen in light of that direction. Two years ago, I fell in love with my studies, and I took a part-time job to pay for my education. Now, I have fallen in love with my job, and I am taking classes to prepare me for my future. I’ve seen a complete change in motivation, and it has not always been easy. Life was much simpler when I had no direction; now that I know where I am going, things are more difficult, but it feels good to be walking with a destination in mind. It feels good to know that in less than four months, I will graduate, get married, and God willing, be employed as a full-time DRE, doing what I love.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!