–by Sandy Evenson
As I was walking across campus, from my office to the Dean’s, I overheard a scrap of conversation among three young men. One was wearing a short-sleeved white shirt, dark slacks, and a tie. He must have been the leader of a Bible study and said something about faith and “God’s plan for you.” As I continued on my way, I mused about that expression – God’s plan for you – and how it is the traditional Christian version of Joseph Campbell’s “follow your bliss.”
According to Campbell, you need to ask yourself what you are meant to do in this world, a calling, if you will. Every society has stories about “the hero’s adventure” in which an Everyman has one special gift that happens to be the very thing that is needed to save the day. David and Goliath, Gilgamesh, the Ramayana, Frodo and the Ring, Star Wars, and Harry Potter are all stories of the hero’s adventure. For Campbell, everyone is her own hero in her own life adventure. If you follow your bliss, the doors will open – the way may not be easy, but it will be clear.
I bought into the follow-your-bliss concept ever since I felt called to graduate study. The doors opened – I got the major professor I wanted, met people who eased my path, was funded to go to India, met my husband, got the job of my dreams, had the best baby, bought a house with a cat door, achieved tenured full professor mainly by writing books – and then wondered what was next. I followed my bliss and got it. What is my new bliss?
I’ve been asking myself that question for the last five years. I had the opportunity to try my hand at university administration and a two-year stint as interim director has become six. Is it my bliss? Should I go back to teaching? I have agonized over this to the point of exhaustion.
And then I had a game-changing experience, minutes after overhearing those young men discussing faith and God’s plan for individuals.
Being a department head is one of those jobs that someone has to do, and I figured it may as well be me. I’m a creative problem solver, not ambitious, good with money, and want what is best for the faculty. But, I’m no Sojourner Truth. I’m not a leader. In fact, I usually describe myself using that expression, “Either lead, follow, or get out of the way.” I like to stay out of the way. And I was raised to be a nice girl and not make waves. So, as an administrator I always felt inauthentic because I’m not political and really dislike confrontations. And that is much of what administration is, especially during a recession and after budget cuts. The good news is that I have learned to negotiate.
But, on this day, my dean and my faculty were not seeing eye-to-eye. A policy proposal was being contested – backs were up and tempers were frayed. I needed to communicate to the Dean how the faculty was interpreting his words and how I was interpreting has actions. I was creative in my approach. I was firm and direct. I was tenacious. And I was successful. The Dean leaned back in his chair, spread his arms, and said, “OK, I’ll back off.”
Even as I thanked him and the discussion moved on, I knew I had experienced a “speak truth to power” moment. David and Emma knew I was engaged in this on-going and painful negotiation and that it was ripping me apart. That evening Emma asked me how my meeting with the dean went. All I could do was smile and say, “I won.” The next day David called to say he thought I had really made a breakthrough as a person. I was glad my daughter got to see that capacity in me.
But now I am on the other side. I feel like a different person. Like after Emma was born – one day I was Sandy Evenson and the next day I was Emma Trayte’s mother. Last Thursday I was Sandra Evenson, but who am I today? I’m not sure I like the kind of person I had to be. It was emotionally and psychically about the most painful thing I have ever endured. If doing this thing was part of God’s plan for me, what on earth does he have in mind for me?
I was grateful to drive up to N-Sid-Sen alone on that Friday afternoon, the Day After. I was amazed that the programming for the week-end had to do with using one’s spiritual imagination to interpret experiences, to discover the kingdom of God in those events, large and game-changing or small and quiet.
As I write this, I am in the middle of the interpretation. Right this minute, I’m not sure I see the kingdom of God in being the kind of person I had to be to speak truth to power. Maybe. Maybe not. All I really know is that my best tool is my spiritual imagination. I have felt very far from my faith in recent years, but it is still down there, the only foundation upon which I can build meaning – and maybe figure out “God’s plan for me” or even my new bliss.