Nightmares are the worst. At 39, I still have some that have the capacity to make me sweat. On the rare occasion that it happens to one of the littles, they almost always climb into our bed for comfort. The first thing I tell them to do is explain the dream with their words. Tell me what it was about. Once the description of the offending dream leaves their lips and hits their ears, the fear begins to deplete. The imagination is a powerful thing when trapped in the mind, but as soon as you hear yourself describe a giant robot with laser beam fingertips, it starts to sound a bit silly. They are instantly relieved of their terror when they hear with their ears how preposterous is the idea of a kidnapping dinosaur. Peace returns, and if I’m lucky it’s followed shortly by sleep. I think the same goes for our daily fears and insecurities. When closeted within our dark and twisted imaginations, those fears appear to be much bigger giants than they really are. Once released from our mouths, the fear is no longer beholden to the movie plot of our imagination and it loses it’s power. Today’s post is my quest to say the thing out loud so that it doesn’t feel like the offensive kidnapping dinosaur that’s robbing me of my peace.
For secrets are edged tools, and must be kept from children and from fools. -John Dryden, English Poet & Playwright
So here’s the thing: I have a dirty little secret. Well, to be fair, it’s not dirty. And it’s hardly a secret, either. But it’s mere existence torments my mind like a dirty secret. Like the last pill torments the addict, like the truth torments the liar, my secret – the elephant in the room of my self-conscience – sits and torments as he waits for the next opportunity to expose himself. And he inevitably does in one way or another. Sometimes it’s in casual conversation with a new friend; sometimes it’s in a Facebook questionnaire asking questions like “what is your biggest regret?”; sometimes it shows up on a loan application. And in what feels like bright, bold ink from the editor’s red pen on life’s midterm exam, the answer is displayed in my mind like a big, fat F:
I don’t have a college degree.
There it is – my dirty little secret. Now, I know what you’re thinking…
“That’s it? That’s the secret? So what?! Big deal!!!”
I realize I join the ranks of millions of others who did not pursue a college education. And I also realize this is a first world problem. I promise I’m not over here throwing myself a pity party for something that isn’t eternal, but this is my blog and here is where I have come to process my very human feelings, trivial as they may be. My writing is where I feel safe to process and since I’m in a season of trying to discover my purpose, I want to lay it all out here, the good, the bad, the ugly. I’m sorry my secret isn’t something more juicy, but this seemingly banal fact about my life accomplishments, or lack thereof, sits like an anvil on my chest every time I ponder what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. It is my secret shame. I’m pushing 40, so purpose is something I think about on a regular basis. My lack of a college education is the sum total of regret that I have in this life, and I’ve been spending the last 9 months or so trying to get over myself. And truthfully, it’s not really about the degree. It’s about the feeling that I’ve allowed the circumstances surrounding some poor life choices to derail my dreams.
Before today, the only time I’ve ever really opened up about this subject is to my husband. Saying it out loud to him was cathartic. He’s my best friend and I tell him everything. Ever supportive, he affirms that this minor detail is not my identity. But hearing that from him is like hearing my mother tell me that I’m wonderful. While I know they mean it, they are blinded by unconditional love.
Saying it out loud here, however, feels like the beginning of not only forgiving myself for those poor decisions, but also owning and being proud of making a good life out of that mess. It’s the beginning of convincing myself that this void doesn’t define me and it doesn’t define my purpose and it most certainly doesn’t limit what God can do in and through me.
So I invite you to join me in the coming weeks/months/years/however long it takes as I embark on the search for my significance in this world in spite of the many times I have tried to sabotage my own potential. I’ll be writing here a lot more, as writing has turned out to be a pretty effective therapist. It is my prayer that as you follow along with me on my journey to take back my purpose, you catch a glimpse of yours along the way.