When the “Real World Calls” – Pride, Perspective, and a Ph.D.
I went to a university where we were treated as autonomous, intelligent beings, able to be trusted and treated as full-fledged professionals by our senior year. As a psychology major with my sights set on a PhD program down the road, I was heavily involved with on campus research. Because there was no graduate program in psychology, I had responsibilities in my lab that people in graduate school or even people in “real world” jobs (i.e. me currently) get paid to do. I felt my advisor trusted me, relied on me, and was confident in my abilities. College felt like a potentially accurate microcosm of the “real world”.
But then, reality hit. My first job was not at all as I expected. I felt I had substantially less responsibility and flexibility than in college. While in college, I was the most senior research assistant (RA), entrusted with coordinating the junior RAs below me to do tasks like data collection and survey programming while I worked on analyses and writing papers. In my new role, I was back to spending my days calling participants (and frequently getting hung up on), collecting data, sending emails, and fixing minute survey programming errors. I felt like I was a freshman all over again. I was confused and frustrated, thinking “I was hired for this job, they chose ME, and therefore should think I’m great, right? My shiny new CV speaks for itself!”
Eventually, I had to take these questions inward. Who was I blaming for my own unhappiness? How was I contextualizing my own situation in a way that made me the victim, helpless, and stewing in my own emotions? As I grappled with such questions, here’s what I realized: (1) I had no traction with my new employer, I had not proven myself outside of my collegiate bubble. I had lost much of my claim to the capital I had built as testimony to my credibility as a researcher, and I had once again become that little fish in the big pond that I hadn’t been in about four years. (2) My new day to day life paled in comparison to my expectations for my fancy future career as “Dr. Tynan” and (3) my only real goal was to get to grad school ASAP so I could continue to claw my way towards that idealized future I had set out for myself. Thinking back, I did not set myself up at all to be satisfied, fulfilled, or even present in my current role.
After a few months of complaining endlessly to my mom on the phone (mature, I know.) and commiserating with my co-worker, I came to accept that this was my present reality. I had two choices, remain entitled, close-minded, and pouty, or be humbled by how much I have to learn, take advantage of my current resources, and make the very best of what was available. In short, be bold in my work.
I was not turning to my faith during this time, but it is true that Jesus does not forget His sheep who wander. Despite my stubbornness, my unwillingness, and my tantrums, God met me where I was and reminded me to call upon the great gifts, He bestowed upon me as His child. I was given courage, to advocate for myself and take chances, tenacity and dedication, to push forward when I was the only one invested in pushing, and direction, to mobilize and ignite desire in myself and others. This manifested itself in Him opening my eyes and my heart to opportunities outside of my daily responsibilities that more directly related to my drives and goals: part time work in a second lab, opportunities to display my academic writing so that I could get involved in publications, and engagement in conversations with the impressive faculty around me from whom I have so much to learn. I became acutely aware of this shift when, during interviews for graduate school a year into my job, I was able to speak to such a breadth of experiences and responsibilities. Both my interviewers and fellow applicants seemed fascinated by my conversations with such a wide range of participants including lung cancer patients and women undergoing genetic counseling for hereditary cancers, and I was one of the few who had a first author publication. But what surprised me most was the tone of excitement, positivity, and gratitude with which I spoke about my work.
I hadn’t realized the magnitude of the shift in my perspective over the prior year and I was gratified to see how God had opened my heart to my present reality.
Through this, I not only added a page to my CV and made an impression for letters of recommendation, but most importantly I began to lean back into my relationship with God, realizing that I am not self-sufficient, in my work, life, or faith. The liberating truth that we are fueled by God, and God alone freed me from my own self-imprisonment. I came to know more deeply that He loves me and provides for me in all difficulties I face, and, most humbling, that I cannot face them alone. Through this surrender and trust, God fortified in me vital skills that will help me be bold in all three domains of work, life, and faith moving forward.
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Mara Tynan recently moved to San Diego, CA where she is pursuing her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. She’s a graduate of Washington & Lee University and an avid runner, swimmer, biker, and traveller. Her perfect day includes good coffee, great company, and a hike up a tall mountain.