As I sit here at home, sick due to being run-down from overdoing it with serious projects + not enough sleep or exercise, I wanted to try and put to words some extended thinking I have done about the false split between career and helping people, ambition about accomplishing any goals in this world, and the changing (due to positive growth) nature of my path in this life! Forgive any rambling to follow, this was written over the course of a day and has a lot of things I have meant to say in sequence for quite some time, now.
I went to school in Washington, DC on the premise that I would be best-suited to learn how to help people there, specifically in an international capacity, if I got involved with the various coursework and internships that DC promised. In many ways, I got exactly what I wanted – all sorts of formal and informal experiences of JUST how complicated it is to do the right thing. Moreover, I got to see time and again that the best of intentions often go very far awry. I got to butt up against something Hollywood both fails to prepare us for and indeed inoculates us against: the reality of the mire of apathy; the insidious nature of evil-as-a-lazy attention to detail; and the ACTUAL disconnect between short-term good intentions, and the hard work and length of service required to see any lasting and wholesome results in this world. A personal example is working to eat right and exercise frequently (as many of us know, this is a real bear to achieve and maintain). How much harder it is to do any good at scale in the world. The core of the problem, as I fought with but came to learn over time, is that while it is very damned difficult to change yourself… it is damned near impossible to change anyone else. At best, you can help other people change and help themselves, to see any lasting positive changes to the world. I didn’t often get to go “do” things, but I cherished the portions of internships + computer science coursework + volunteer work which allowed me to actually do things. But I also found that I had a preference for helping teach smaller groups of people how to do repair and construction tasks, a la Habitat for Humanity.
During the later part of my undergraduate at American, I studied abroad in Israel/Palestine (blogs are not split by location, I simply ran out of space for photos) for 7 months. To make a long and complicated story short, I saw, survived, and become disgusted with all manner of awful things. There were triumphs of human decency, seeing people treat each other decently against all odds once in a while… but these were small specks compared to the meteors of suffering and hate crashing down. I intentionally went there to see things for myself, and to try and make better sense of things… and I am still but a novice at much of the details for that mess. In a weird way, the “Holy Land” was impetus for me to doubt both religion and secular sleights of hand, when it comes to improving people. Something about living in a dorm where Muslim Palestinians were scorned by Jews, where Ukranian Jews were looked down on by Russian Jews, where all parties looked down on Palestinian Christians, and where atheists of any stripe still managed to get their blood boiling over the situation in all sorts of ways… was indicative of the situation on the ground, and by extension, how outsiders with no actual understanding of the details on the ground… mucked things up further by having strong opinions with no thought or evidence. In many ways, I saw the religious problems in the area made worse by well-meaning secular types coming into the situation. I did what volunteerism I could, but I spent as much time as I could observing, silently or otherwise, as many different angles as possible for the whole mess of a land.
Having had a series of secular-focused training, internships, and coursework in DC, I decided it was time to balance out the equation, and to get some clergy-focused training. So, I went to Yale Divinity School, hoping to learn more about the intricacies of helping people in a nasty and brutish world; a task of extraordinarily high complexity at the best of times. In some ways, my time there helped teach me about this – and the core of my learning on this front came about from my conscious decision to live in the very poor Newhallville neighborhood, more than any class. I learned a great deal of theological and ministerial book-knowledge, sitting in class. But I also had my hard-won and not entirely positive experiences of JUST how difficult the world can be… turned sour by peers who either cleaved to the “very affluent and disconnected from the suffering of the world” or the “crazy left-leaning, who talk about crazy things like they are normal ideas and then explode when you try to disagree with them like an adult.” I was, to put it mildly and politely, dissatisfied with both of those sets of people I was stuck with for 3 years. Again, my strong desire to go do good was stifled by my environment and also choked out by my coursework and experiences. If you followed me during my time there, you’ll know I took on projects ranging from the beginnings of my self-taught automotive mechanical skills; to designing and building a shed in the backyard of the house I rented for 3 years; to designing and building a computer-controlled environment for Ike my pet bearded dragon. In short, I got more and more disinterested in the politicking and generally wasting my time with blowhards who had no practical life skills or experience. I had both and intended to keep growing those aspects of my life. Camping alone in -19 degree weather was preferable to the syncretic heresy that passed for chapel services at the Divinity School. So I did that sort of thing, in increasing quantities, over three years.
So, allow me the indulgence of summing up how I feel about significant swathes of my 8 years spent in school thus far: I no longer have tolerance for unbelievable bullshit.
I know that sounds simplistic, but I really did go to school for a whole bunch of years trying to figure out the “right” or perhaps the “best” way to go help other people. And in many cases, I crashed into the wall of apathy; or the Caring Olympics (who can CARE the most or the hardest and loudest, as opposed to having any actual skills or helpful wisdom applied in a service-oriented way). And so, slowly combining hard lessons in “it is impossible to ‘save’ anyone, and very difficult to help them help themselves” with “the majority of people with good intentions either don’t actually care, or care too much and are misinformed”… I realized that I need a GOOD long time away from the (international) development world and the world of clergy, and the academy in most ways. I had spent 8 years, motivated and genuinely ready to try and do good, and instead found myself beaten down by all of the above messes.
It was time, as I have discovered through accidental experience, to dive into an entirely different world.
I came home to Northeast OH, because I know I like the setting, the climate, the people, the environment here. And from that known-good basis, I looked into job options. And then, entirely separate of any plans I had made, as life has a tendency to do, I ended up being told about McMaster-Carr by a friend by accident. We were driving together to a mutual friend’s house for an afternoon of gaming. My driving friend said “oh, there’s this place here in Aurora where you’d LOVE to work” – and our mutual friend filled in the name. I applied that same day, and now I go to work daily to do sleuthing and problem solving, all surrounding industrial and DIY repair and prototyping projects. I *love* what I do, not least of all because I love my coworkers and company, but mostly because I get mental stimulation and engagement with sleuthing (“why did this product go bad, are there possible other issues at hand?”) but I leave every iota of stress (and there is little of it to start) at work, each and every day. I learn more and more about self-sufficiency and the various skillsets involved, by virtue of helping customers with their problems around everything from plumbing and electrical work, to precision metalworking. The more I learn about what we sell, the more I love doing my own projects – living up to the moniker “tool-using man” as much as I can.
In a weird way, the answer was always present and became ever-clearer as I gained more experience. Raised Lutheran, the notion of vocational calling, of being set up to simply be right for some tasks and some ideals, was something I took seriously as a kid. I have spent so much time in school, in many ways, because of a deep-seated need to take seriously the discernment of what my calling(s) ought to be. At the same time (perhaps even BECAUSE of that), I ended up with the notion that “it doesn’t matter if I am happy or not, so long as I am helping people.” I have gotten burned enough times to realize that I need to take care of me and myself first and foremost, to even be able to help other people. Hence, not interested in becoming clergy – why would I take on a low salary but be in a position of leadership telling people to live sustainably?
So, against all odds, here I am, happy to be at home to save money, working a job I thoroughly enjoy and putting the vast majority of my income into paying down debt as quickly as possible. I keep myself happy with edifying projects (currently automotive, as my posts typically highlight) and look forward to paying said educational debt down quickly, as my intention is to quickly buy land and then build my own house. Using a combination of salvaged shipping containers and then innards bought from McM. Stay tuned. Definitely still have stuff to work on (see the aforementioned completely healthy eating + consistent exercise schedule comments), but I am happier and healthier, generally speaking, than any time during the past 8 years. Funny, how getting a completely unexpected “short term” job might end up being the happy-making career in my life for a long time to come.
STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS: COMPLETE
There. “Miniature” homily/soliloquy complete. Thoughts are, as always, welcome.