By Danielle Marie Clark
In 2013, I dropped out of college to join Missionyear, a year long service program. I’d been ambling through my college experience, desperate for something that rooted me to a purposed vocation. At the time, I was one of those students with an ever changing major. It seemed every semester I stepped further and further away from what I thought I wanted to be doing as I explored more about myself, my environment and my passions. I was always annoyed with this kind of growth. The more I learned, the more I floundered to come up with what I should major in, and the more purposeless I felt in conversations with friends and family about my time at Grand Valley State. I knew I loved people, writing papers, and learning. I knew I loved reading and singing and rap music. Yet there wasn’t a degree in Beyonce and Jay-Z’s marriage (something I’ve always been invested in) or a degree in staying up with friends until two am talking about faith and justice.
Some days were better than others. Some days the unknowing felt like an open door for exploring— what random class could I take? what professor could I connect with? what conversation with a mentor could help me feel okay in the mystery of barely being an adult? Then other days I felt completely hopeless— why was I spending so much money on classes that weren’t even going to help me get to graduation? why had G-d put me in positions of leadership when I could barely get out of bed in the morning?
So when I went to Houston,Texas and worked in a school, I decided I had to become a teacher. I’d toyed with the idea before (maybe even declared it as a major once) and I enjoyed the work. I spent a lot of time subbing for teachers and I spent even more time sitting down with kids one on one testing their literacy. Finally, I thought I’d found a cause I could jump behind. I loved being able to read and write, and share my passion for reading and writing, with people daily. In the great mess of feeling directionless, I thought I’d found a sliver of the divine purpose G-d had called me towards.
I shared my intended major switch with friends and family back home. Everything seemed to fall into place, except in my head. Every time I told someone I was going to go back home and be a teacher, it was as if a dissonant chord struck in my heart. Often in times of prayer and solitude, I skirted around the question that I knew I needed to answer as I got closer to going back to college… “Do I want to be a teacher?”
After moving home, I read a book called Let Your Life Speak by Parker J. Palmer. As I registered for classes feeling overwhelmed and unsure, Palmer gently instructed in his book to look at the reasons why I was making certain decisions in search of vocation. He gave an example of his own life— as a child, he loved airplanes. For hours, he would work on airplane books of his own design. Palmer would carefully craft the pages and write descriptions of airplanes and as he grew older, he assumed that his love for airplanes was a deeper calling towards being a pilot. After failing miserably, Palmer gently allowed God to guide him towards his true passions. Instead of asking, “How can I get myself to fit in that space?” Palmer encouraged me to ask, “What spaces do I naturally occupy, and what vocational choices compliments the gifts that I already have?”
Palmer, a Mennonite teacher and activist, is not a pilot. From the beginning, he was a writer and educator, sharing his knowledge through the written word. As I contemplated my choices in choosing to become an elementary school teacher, I took a few notes on what I told people as I created a dialogue around changing my major (again). Often, I would say, “I’m really passionate about people, reading and writing, and so I’m going to be a teacher.” I would say, “I love writing, and I want to be able to practice writing with people.”
I began looking underneath my desire to be a teacher and digging into the motivation behind the choice I was making. While in Missionyear, I participated in National Novel Writing Month and wrote 50,000 words in the month of November. I was writing back and forth with friends, practicing antiquated letter writing. I was writing poems and blog posts and essays and constantly searching for places where I could send in my work. I was writing songs and singing them to myself as prayers in times of desperation.
The longer I moved away from thinking about what I wanted to be, and started to focus on what I so naturally was, it was obvious that I could be nothing other than a writer. When I returned to Grand Valley State in 2014, I became a creative writing major. There were divine flickers of affirmation along the way. When I signed up to be in positions of leadership that were so not meant for me, the projects crumbled and the failings taught me painfully to listen to the dissonant chord guiding me towards my vocation as a writer. Other times, there were moments of divine YES— getting published in a student journal, or being asked to coordinate the Student Reading Series on Grand Valley’s campus. To think that I wanted to be a teacher seems a little ridiculous now. I have always been a writer and if I operate in that vocational gift, then other opportunities within that thread are bound to show themselves along the way.
As I step closer to graduation in 2017, and as I take on larger responsibilities in the Grand Rapids literary community, I reflect on the years that felt completely directionless. Even in that time, writing was a healing well I drew from. Maybe you have something, a passion or a vision, that has been your comfort or joy as well. Even in our most purposeless times, we still hold within us the power to move forward. All of us carry multifaceted gifts and Swiss Army knife talents that helps us to grow and stretch, bend forwards and backwards, and experience deep feeling with others. Whether you are still searching, or whether you have just begun to see the peek of light in the dark, vocation is journey, a work in progress, a path. Our failings, our mistakes, however irreparable they feel, are simply one step closer to the wholeness of finding the truth in ourselves, in others, in vocation, in Christ.
Danielle Marie Clark is a poet living Grand Rapids, Michigan. Passionate about encouraging young creatives to write and read their work, Danielle coordinates young writers readings in partnership with Great Lakes Commonwealth of Letters and Grand Valley State University. She enjoys yoga, drinking wine, and procrastinating when filling out grad school applications.