The Final Goodbyes

Even though I didn't know as a kid what I wanted to be when I grew up, I eventually came to believe my most satisfying version of an adult life would find me doing one of two things: teaching in a university or working as a book editor. Thankfully, I've already had time to try both, and it's been a very surprising ride to learn that neither of these roles are ultimately the best fit for who God created me to be in this world.

You already know how God turned me away from a collegiate life, but even after I faced this realization I went back to the college honors program to teach for one more year. I shared in my last post that my second year of teaching in this program found me relaxing into a bit more of a personable creature. This third year (and three years had elapsed since that second one) made even more clear how much of a metamorphosis I had undergone.

Students who remembered me from the previous era warned others that writing for me required a pretty ambitious game face. As a result, younger students flocked into my office, eager to learn what they could do to survive. "Um," they would begin, a bit nervously. "I wondered if you could share what you are looking for when you grade?"

The first few times I faced this question, I almost laughed aloud, so clear was it to me that I had changed from my previous incarnation at this job. The last time, I would have upheld the written word as a pristine entity to be respected, learned, and preserved. I would have required that students learn its technical aspects in order to earn my esteem. I would have railed against undisciplined writing as evidence of undisciplined thinking. And probably those things are true. But it wasn't my job to campaign with zeal for those things anymore. God had changed me too much. (This isn't to say I didn't still teach these things. I did. But my heart was no longer enflamed with passion to uphold these tenets the rest of my life.)

What mattered most to me in that third year were the conversations students carried with me about who they were. Most of the time, all they had were questions. But those moments of vulnerability and questions and doubts, and the moments of sheer epiphany that sometimes followed, were the real reason God had me there. I wouldn't trade those conversations for the world. I've come to believe those moments literally expanded the kingdom of heaven.

Like I said in my previous post, it took about half a year to settle into the knowledge that this was the case, that creating a safe space for real conversation was what He had created me to offer those students and had brought me there to do. But once this clicked, the conversations took off. I could hardly keep up with it all, and I loved it. I fell in love with many of those students, and I was sad to let them go in order to move to Florida. I'm thankful, though, that God used that year to show me more of who I am, and also who I'm not.

Over the course of the next year (meaning, this last year of my life), I had the opportunity to experience that second life I always thought I wanted: that of a book editor. I made some great friends, developed relationships with some wonderful writers, brought my technical merits to bear on my work each day, and learned just how many projects it's possible for me to manage at one time.

If I had found this job about five years ago, I probably would have been in heaven. For some of us A-types, there is a certain kind of high to be found in managing a busy production schedule and bringing an editorial eye to a diverse handful of projects each day. But I was no longer just an A-type, and no longer just a strident editorial eye. I needed more relational and creative expansiveness if I was to flourish in life.

The greatest gift I received in that time was the opportunity to work with novelists and champion their projects from the first time the agented submission came through our office on into the acquisition process, and from the time the contracted manuscript came in until it uploaded on deadline to the printer. I say it was a gift because, for one, I loved working with novelists. They have such extensive creativity and depth because they have to inhabit whole stories and characters. The phone conversations and e-mails we shared were among the most satisfying of my career at that publishing house. Since I loved this part of my job so much, I thought perhaps my greater involvement with this line of books would provide the expansiveness I sought in that professional corner of my life.

I also say it was a gift because it was through the fiction line that I was able to witness more concretely how the publishing process unfolds. I was invited into acquisition meetings to represent novels, and I saw the kind of decision-making that necessarily goes into contracting a book. Again, my five-years-ago self would have flipped out in ecstasy at the challenge of learning this process and getting better and better at pitching books to the acquisitions team. But my fire for these things had just burned out. I cared more about the relational side of life and the unique stories each of us inhabit than working with pitches and sales. In the end, I saw that life as a book editor was, in fact, too closed-ended a life for me. Being invited into those meetings was a great gift because, again, it showed me who I had become and who I had moved away from becoming.

It was also along about this time that I looked around to discover myself in a wilderness. Most of the things I had used to define my life previously had suddenly fled the landscape, and I was left with nothing. Nothing that could be seen, at least. All I could do was wait. It was hard, but I found myself surprisingly willing to endure whatever process was having to take place because God clearly seemed to be up to something. I had no idea what it was or where it was headed, only knew that it required my letting go of my plans and ways of defining myself until He showed back up on the scene. And eventually, of course, He did.

My next post will (finally!) detail what He showed up back on the scene to say, what I've walked away from full-time work to do, and how you might even play a part in helping me design it.