I wrote before about how a mission was like an entire, miniature lifespan. An elder is "born" in his first area, forms relationships, gains experiences, and "dies" in his last area when it's time to go home. But when you think about it, that missionary can also build something of a "career" in that mini life, much like an actual career in the real world. Some are leaders. Some are athletes. Some are professional movers. Some work in an office. The list goes on, and each one of those jobs plays an important role in the healthy functioning of the mission as a whole--because, just as those years of missionary service form a parallel to the complete life cycle, so too does the whole group of missionaries become a complete society in and of itself.
As for me, my career in that society--the identity by which I was known throughout the mission--was music. On Preparation Day, when everyone else was in the gym playing basketball, I was practicing on the chapel piano. I played for all sorts of meetings, and never did keep track of all the special numbers I had the opportunity to accompany. Whenever my sister (who also lived in my mission field) had the elders over for dinner, if they didn't recognize my name she would simply tell them I played the piano, and they knew who she was talking about. What's more, in order to teach those elders who expressed a desire for piano lessons, rather than take away from our proselyting time, I spent a number of nights before bed writing a guide on basic piano methods and how to read music, then distributed copies.
A sample page
So, yeah, without bragging . . . it was kind of my thing. If only I had been paying attention!
I like to joke around with my Sunday School teachers. A couple weeks ago I walked into class as everyone was making small talk about the coming semester, and I told them I had changed my major again. "Oh!" they replied with playful grins. "And what is it this week?"
There was truth in the joke, of course. My habit had been to get excited about something, try it out, then discard it and start all over again. Discovery by trial and error--just a bit more drawn out than I might have liked. And that process led to somewhat of a crisis for me over the summer: one of those "swim or drown" moments that either defines someone's life or smothers it.
After spring semester I decided I wanted to go into public relations. I thought it fit me well, and it encompassed some beliefs I held and activities I was already interested in anyway. It just felt right; and after all the other fields of study I had tried, I thought for sure I had found my niche. I was excited, and got started right away.
Everything was going well, but about halfway through the semester I started realizing something: I didn't belong in public relations. It wasn't that I wasn't understanding what was being taught. Actually, my teachers thought I had a real talent for this stuff. But I noticed myself feeling a little more gloomy every day, and I didn't like what that spelled for my future in such a career.
Well, this was a problem. I had already tried every major that really interested me, and now that I was second-guessing public relations, nothing was left. There was no career that didn't absolutely depress me just by thinking about it. It was time to swallow my pride and be honest with myself: I didn't have even the faintest idea what I wanted to do with my life.
This was a devastating revelation, and I was scared. Sure, I might have been a good translator. I probably could have done well in public relations or accounting, even. I could have done it . . . but I wouldn't have been happy. Yet at this point, what else could I do? It seemed I would have to settle for misery. I would certainly work a job I hated in order to support my family if it ever came to that, but would my depression at work rub off on those I loved? What kind of man would that make me? What would my family have to live with? I was haunted by every dark question, and each one weighed more heavily on me than the one before it.
That's when I found it: the insight that led to the game-changing play. It essentially said (and forgive my sloppy paraphrase; it's much better in the book), "Consider what you think about in the shower--what you think about when you don't have to think about anything else. That thought might be a good thing for you to pursue."
Well, okay, I thought. I didn't really take it too seriously at first, but I started pondering. And nothing really came for a few moments. What do I think about when there's nothing else to think about?
When the answer finally came, I didn't like it. It scared me about as much as had my original ignorance of what to do. At first I was sure the exercise had backfired; that's almost what I really wanted to have happened. Music?! I thought. I'm pretty sure everybody sings in the shower. If they don't sing, they hum. If they don't hum, they think the song. No one escapes music when they're in the shower.
But I quickly remembered the things that made the answer completely valid: I live for music. I can count all my true passions on one hand, and that's one of them. I don't just sing in the shower--I analyze. I plan. I compose. I conduct. I dissect and augment. There's an air piano in there with me, and I know where the keys are. There's an orchestra, and sometimes I'm in the violin section, sometimes I'm at the piano, and sometimes I've got the baton. The audience has the printed program in their hands, and I know what songs are on it and in which order. I know who's playing the solo and when, I'm preparing to signal the drums to fade out, I'm waving the cello section into their melody. . . .
Music was the answer! . . . But I didn't want it to be. Throughout my life I had heard all about the downfalls of a music career, and I promised myself that I would never, ever, major in music. If ever there was a time I wrestled with God, it would have been that night in July. I was stuck in a corner, determined to get out. And here I was, going back and forth with the Almighty. I was not going to major in music. But you see, the thing about God is He's a better wrestler than I am. We stayed up together almost all that night playing our game, and in the end, He beat me. He beat me good.
But that's another thing about God: He's a good sport. He shares His victories; when He wins, I win. By the following morning, I was excited about majoring in music. I was finally at peace. I knew God was backing me up (because, after all, He did put me there in the first place). And since then, He's just been teaching me more and more about what I'm getting into. I do not regret the choices I made on the way here. I'm grateful for what I've learned about business, finance, customer service, life insurance, and a myriad of other things in which I've dabbled. Heck, even my (very) basic knowledge of the concepts of Arabic has helped me somewhat in my Gospel study and in my understanding of the other two languages I already speak. All these things have been, and will continue to be, for my good.
But my dream now is to be a high school music teacher, and it feels amazing. It's something I can think about and actually look forward to doing. It fits so well; and when I tell people what I'm studying, they finally agree. I definitely agree. In other words . . . it's a real dream.
So here I am now. The new semester has started, and so has my new path. All my classes are wonderful; I love being there, and I feel revitalized with every new lesson. I love sitting in the front and trying everything. My homework doesn't feel like homework, and I'm finally doing it because I actually want to. In so many words, I'm right where I need to be, and I'm happy.
Sometimes it's the answers we don't want to hear.