Although I considered a variety of professions in my childhood, from lumberjack to FBI, I eventually landed on physician. It was held out as an honorable profession for smart children. And amid a very chaotic and dysfunctional family system, it was a beacon of certainty that would guide me to leverage my gifts and talents through a tumultuous adolescence. Everything I did going forward was focused on the certainty of becoming a physician - everything.
As I reflect on this seminal experience, I can now see how my decision was a reaction to the chaos and lack of guidance in my life. For most of us, chaos and the unknown can be strong attractors to pursuing certainty to the exclusion of any other curiosity about the matter. Certainty is wonderful in that it eliminates the need for any future thought or feelings. Even though fear may be lurking underneath the need for certainty, the case is intellectually closed. No more thought or feelings are required. However, there is a key that will open this up again – courageous curiosity.
While in my freshman year at the University of San Francisco and certainly pre-med, I was offered the opportunity to do an eight-day silent retreat of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuit order. I felt rather spiritual and enjoyed exercising, so I said yes. I was so young and naïve!
Eight days later, I decided to change my major from pre-med to theology. Most people thought I was crazy! What about becoming a physician?! It was a great question, and I had no immediate answer. I just knew in my heart, where courage lives and thrives, that I needed to make space for something else. The rest of my life has been about embracing the curiosity of that decision in a variety of professional careers.
In these times of chaos and uncertainty, it can be so comforting to pursue and embrace any given certainty. Another alternative is to drop into your heart and find a different path – one of courageous curiosity. And you need not journey this path alone. Find some folks who don’t think you are crazy and let them support you along the way. I am sure glad that I did.