Friday, February 28, 2014

A Square-Peg-Round-Hole Experience

Ever been in the wrong place in life? Things just don’t fit. It feels like you’re a square peg in a round hole or “butter spread over too much bread.”

It sucks.

My square-peg experience was shortly after I graduated. I was working as a nanny and decided to continue leading in my fellowship (college Christian group).

The year before was amazing: with my roommate I led a girls’ group that became family. We didn’t just study the Bible. We hung out at an elderly home; conquered fears; and talked about boys, careers, anything on our hearts. We were there for each other.

I learned so much from leadership—deferring to others, getting quiet people talking, asking good questions, and crafting studies that stick to the Bible (not wandering the realms of conjecture) and have relevance for real life.

I wanted to do that again. Both for what I learned through the experience and in the hope of creating a similar haven for girls.

So I signed up.

The first school-week marked Welcome Week, with events put on by every campus organization, our fellowship included. As a leader, I was expected to attend all events, even the ones for freshmen, which I did. I had the problem that as soon as I said ‘graduate,’ freshman eyes would glaze over. I could relate with their lives, but they couldn’t relate with mine. Their whole world was so full of classes and dorms and new things that there was no room to consider something so wholly different.

I get it. But it still hurt to know that just walking that stage had put a wall between me and them.

But it didn’t matter after that first week; my study was upperclassmen. More settled and stable, they weren’t weirded out by someone who worked all day with a toddler.

Yet something didn’t feel right.

The role didn’t fit and I couldn’t figure out why. I loved the gals in my small group. I loved teaching. What was wrong?

Small things began to frustrate me. Someone’d ask to meet up during daytimes when I was working. Get-togethers were held late at night—but my job started early. I wasn’t on campus for school events. I was out of the loop.

I began to have friction with the gal who took care of us leaders. I worked with her the previous year, meeting weekly to chat and pray together. My mentor and friend, she made sure I was healthy so I could provide a healthy environment for my girls.

Yet we started getting frustrated with each other. Instead of catching up, we met for a mini-biblestudy and small assignments to help us grow in our walk with God.

Cool idea. But they rankled. I felt like my whole world was changing and I needed help finding a new balance; all I got was one more thing to do. Nobody asked how I was.

The meltdown happened when she assumed I would attend fall retreat. You want me to use my pitiful savings to not get enough sleep and feel lonelier in the crowd than I do by myself?

Don’t get me wrong: leadership is about taking care of other people. And I wanted to. But you can’t do that if you have nobody taking care of you. Graduating early, I had nobody.

The retreat argument ended unhappily. Something in our relationship was broken; she was confused why these things were so difficult; I was hurt she didn’t see my isolation.

Biblestudy began to feel like a drag. I was often one or two minutes late—a lot of time when you only live a couple apartments over. The joy from the previous year’s study wasn’t there this time.

I was depressed. My nanny job was disastrous: I’m not a kid-person. I finally realized I was in the wrong job and quit, feeling stupid for having no explanation. How do you say, “I just don’t like your child”?

I was so low.

I knew I needed to not lead biblestudy anymore. Whatever the initial reasons for the bad fit, more and more were stacking up every day.

I realized I’d never asked God before committing. I just assumed. Wrong. Doing life my way, things were falling apart.

But I’d committed for a year. Too ashamed to admit I needed out, I prayed for an excuse. I should’ve prayed for courage. But God gave me an excuse anyway.

I couldn’t find a job. I’d quit without any prospects, knowing that I’d go crazy if it didn’t end NOW. I expected God to provide a new job. He didn’t.

I got nervous. I was running out of money. I’d have to move back home with my parents, something we both wanted to avoid.*

I finally had my excuse to stop leading. My savings would run out by the end of December and I’d be moving 500 miles southward. I told my mentor and we began seeking a replacement.

I was relieved when another girl stepped up. I trained her and I left.

Funny thing: then I found a job. My unemployment lasted just long enough to answer my prayer for an excuse.

It’s hard knowing that the leaders I worked under see me as selfish and untrustworthy. It shouldn’t matter, but I valued their opinion. Still, while their perspective is incomplete, I’m the one to blame for it.

Don’t commit yourself before praying first. Before checking out every angle. Before weathering through any other life changes first. I always think I can anticipate what life will be like post-huge-life-change, but I don’t really know. How can I commit my time and heart when I’m not even sure I’ll have those resources a few months down the line?

When you’ve got a huge change coming in life, clear your schedule. Give yourself room to breathe, change, and grow. Then jump in. Don’t commit too early and find yourself in a square-peg situation.

Word count: 993.

* I have to add a foodnote for my Southern friends: on the West Coast, moving in with your folks is considered a sign of failure. I know here it’s not that bad; a majority of twenty-somethings I know live at home and are okay with it. But not in California. I wanted my autonomy and my parents wanted it too, for my sake. It’s not that we don’t love each other, understand. We show our love by pushing our kids out of the nest.