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What If...We Choose The Journey

Supporting the Profession New Professionals and Graduate Students
September 21, 2021 Annie Henning

Joy and fear are two of the five universal expressions. For me, a fear which I regularly confront is the fear of regret. Did I choose the right practicums in graduate school? Am I a good advisor to my students? Am I engaging in the field enough? The questions and the doubts never end in an epic battle worthy of the Marvel Cinematic Universe or the tears shed when Dobby says his final words in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows; yet, the stress of the questions themselves can feel like these climatic moments.

The choice of choosing to let the journey unfold has been the choice which has given me peace of mind. I hear you when you say the above statement sounds like I’m bending into submission to the will of the currents in life or reinforcing a toxicly positive perspective; in truth, I wonder these same things too when I remind myself to trust the journey. I am a Type A person with lists, spreadsheets, and notebooks filled with plans, dreams, and goals, yet, I feel like about half of these documents are collecting dust as I simultaneously wonder in a multiverse of possible lives and stand frozen in trepidation to all pressures I experience both internally and externally. 

It was in times of duress that the words of Rainer Maria Rilke came to mind. I was introduced to Rilke’s work through Dr. Franklin, one of my faculty member’s in graduate school. Atop Dr. Franklin’s syllabus was the following excerpt from Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet. 

“I would like to beg you, dear Sir, as well as I can, to have patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. Don't search for the answers, which could not be given to you now, because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday far in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” 

As a graduate student, I understood the literal message of Rilke: be patient. Well that was (and is) a challenging thing for me, since patience is not a strength of mine. It wasn’t until the start of this past academic year that I truly began to understand Rilke’s plea to the reader. From my perspective, Rilke was not invalidating one's planning nature nor telling one to become passive to the experiences of life nor demanding patience. Rather, Rilke implores the reader to trust themselves and be present so that they will not be distressed with the regret and uncertainty of changing/validating the future. Moreover, I feel Rilke also encourages the reader to have confidence and to carry that confidence through life. That’s a tall order when you feel like an imposter and/or trying to get your footing as a professional. 

As I complete my first full academic year as a professional, I have come to learn and feel Rilke’s call in a more personal way. Earlier this month, I said congratulations and see you later to the graduating seniors at our pick-up celebration. When the event was coming to a close, I looked out onto the Quad and saw students playing spike ball, sitting together and chatting, and walking across campus. As I reveled in seeing these students in community with one another, I remembered my own life as a student. Then, like a lightning strike, I realized I was living the life I had been working towards for years. I am a SAHE professional making an impact in the lives of students by creating spaces of belonging/community; I am competent and my work is valid and relevant. Somehow, step by step, I had lived my way into the answers to all the trepidations I felt upon graduating from my Master’s degree and felt a moment of confidence/peace about my vocation/profession in student affairs. 

In truth, this feeling of peace and bliss is not a part of my day to day experience; I regularly feel like an imposter. However, these rare moments give me the emotional recharge and validation in living my own truth. It is these moments that, I think, inspired us (new professionals and graduate students) to be a part of this profession. These are the moments we strive for with each early morning, late night, and student relationship. I hope these moments continue to encourage you to trust your own truth/story and live in the moment. So what do you think would happen if you headed Rilke’s call and chose to trust and be present? 

Author: Annie Henning is the Program Coordinator for the University Honors Program at Saint Louis University. She enjoys all things food, geeking out over fandoms, and connecting with her loved ones. Annie can be found on LinkedIn or contacted at [email protected]