I have had a really hard time writing this blog. I have been trying for days and days to make it right and to get down what I have been thinking and feeling, because let me tell you, I have never quite experienced a situation quite like this.
To start, I’m going to tell you a story about my brother John. A few years ago, he was trying to decide which university to attend. Forgive me a moment for being one of those people, but I’m going to be a proud older sister for a moment. My brothers are all awesome, and they not only rock it on the tennis court, but they are also super smart and really hard workers when it comes to school. So John had the tennis skills and the academics going for him—enough to be recruited by a bunch of top schools. We’re talking Harvard, Princeton, Columbia, Notre Dame—and a bunch of other super legit schools.
Johnny boy went on all these recruiting trips and each time he went, he would get super pumped about the schools and he would decide, “This is the school for me.” And he would make the choice and plan on going to that school. But then he would just feel awful about it. He went through that process quite a few times. He was going to Harvard. He had decided. But then he felt awful. And this just kept happening. Finally, after all these different schools and decisions, he was finally like, “Fine. I’m going to BYU.” And that was the first time that he felt at peace and good about a decision. When people ask him why he chose BYU, he always just says, “Because Jesus told me to.”
You can’t argue with that. Leave it to Johnny Boy to just say things like they are. Jesus told him to, so he was doing it. And he never looked back. I was on my mission as all of this was happening, and I don’t think I ever asked how he felt about saying no to all those awesome schools that he dreamed about for so long. But this story will come into play a little later…
Now, as some of you may know… I’ve been trying to decide whether to go to Cambridge, Boston University/Teach for America, or stay here.
I just can’t even tell you how many pro/con lists I have done. How many times I have tried to “picture” and “imagine” my future with the different paths. How many talks I have read about decisions, priorities, education etc etc. How many people I have counseled with and sought advice from. How many scholarships and applications I have filled out to make things work for all of the options. How many times I have tried to make a decision, but just kept putting it off…
Well, last week I finally reached a point where I couldn’t put it off anymore. This is not an exaggeration at all when I say that literally with all of my options I was given the deadline of “by the end of the week” pretty much. If it hadn’t been so stressful, it would have been pretty dang hilarious that I was forced into decision-making mode for all three options.
Now, this is where it gets a little confusing sometimes because you always hear that after you graduate from high school you enter like this “decade of decision” era. So you know that you are going to have to make tons of decisions, but I feel like there is this expectation that the decision-making gets easier. And you have people telling you things like “You’ll make the right choice” and “Heavenly Father won’t let you make the wrong choice” and “those all sound like pretty good options.” I’m not saying I don’t appreciate comments like that and I’m not saying they aren’t true. But sometimes when you are in the midst of decision-making you just hear President Monson’s words ringing in your ears that “Decisions determine destiny” and you just hope that you are doing your part to figure out what the right decision is. Sometimes you have been weighing options so long that you just get confused and start to question why you wanted to do ANY of these things in the first place.
Then you have like this little mini-crisis and start questioning your life up to this point (Kind of kidding, but kind of not!) and you start wondering what you are doing with your life… And sometimes you cry in your car. And if truth be told, you cry in your parent’s car as well. But we will get to that. Don’t even worry.
As you might have guessed, this blog is sort of my “declaration” of my decision. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not presumptuous enough to suppose that too many of you actually care and stuff. I like to think that my parents do and perhaps other relatives and friends. But just like all of my blogs, I write this more for myself. It helps me wrap my mind around the situation and sort through my thoughts and try to make sense of things that just don’t want to make sense. So just bear with me.
I feel like in order to properly tell this story, I have to give you a little background and I hope that I convey my thoughts as I would like. I know I have mentioned this before, but it really is such a defining part of who I am that I feel it can’t be left out. But when I was young, I was terribly awful at writing. Like so bad. I was also really determined though and I was willing to work hard. I always knew that I wanted to study English and be an English teacher, so I knew that I just needed to figure out the whole writing thing. I was never interested in anything else and choosing something else never even crossed my mind. Something about literature just called to me and that was what I was going to do.
I honestly think that keeping a journal helped my writing progress in a lot of ways and I was lucky to have really good English teachers who gave me opportunities and who didn’t crush my soul too much. I wrote for the school paper and stuff and that helped me too. But, honestly, more than anything, I just had to stick with it. I just had to keep fighting. It was a battle of time and I was determined to win that battle. I am a pretty stubborn person, but being stubborn and being determined are just different manifestations of the same trait, I think. I was just stubborn enough to not give up because that was what my goal was.
I think because I was so bad at it, it made me want to be so good at it. I felt this need to prove that I could do it and that I wouldn’t give up. I was simultaneously compelled by my desire to be a good English teacher and serve and help others with my education, and my desire to not just be mediocre like I had been in my youth.
I always knew that I wanted a master’s degree, but I was always torn between pursuing the literature side of things, or the education side of things. I think my dreaming heart made me want to study literature, while my idealistic side made me want to pursue the education/teaching stuff. I made the promise to myself that if I ever did do a master’s in literature, I would do it at some ridiculous, way-too-good-for-me university. It was one of those secret dreams that seemed so out of reach for me. One of those dreams that you have a hard time admitting to yourself because you are so afraid you won’t succeed and you can’t live with that kind of disappointment. Sometimes it is just easier to pretend like you didn’t want it or think about it in the first place.
I’m not always perfect at this, but in my life, I have always tried to make the “brave” choice. When it comes to taking risks and putting myself out there, I try to always think “What is the worst case scenario? Can I live if the worst happens?” And if I can live through the worst, I refuse to let myself back down. The funny thing about that, is that the worst is usually not actually that bad. And even when it happens, you can always pick yourself back up. I could give you cliché after cliché about this idea, but let’s just say that I tried to make sure that the “fear of striking out didn’t keep me from playing the game.”
So when it came to even applying for Cambridge, the doubts crept in and the voices telling me I wasn’t good enough chimed in. I’ve kept a pretty decent GPA and such, and done a decent job in school, but even with all of that, I just did not feel like Cambridge material. Why on earth would one of the best schools want me?
But I couldn’t help myself. I got the idea in my head and couldn’t let it go. I went for it. All in. And I remember one night in particular, I was driving home from something and thinking about my life and my goals and I was thinking about Cambridge. This is going to sound cheesy, but it was a real thing. As I was driving, I was just filled with this absolute desire to go to Cambridge. I don’t think desire captures the feeling just right. But in that moment, there was nothing more in the world that I wanted than to get accepted into Cambridge. I felt so strongly that going to Cambridge would open all these doors for me so that I could try to make a difference with the things that I have learned. I knew that going to Cambridge would help me become a better instrument in the Lord’s hands and I wanted that more than anything. There was part of me that recognized that I also really wanted to prove myself. I wanted to feel that, for once, I was good enough at something and that I had overcome my past weaknesses.
Again this is one of those clichés, but as I sat in my car, I offered a very sincere and desirous prayer. A plea to my Heavenly Father to please help Maria Nikolajeva and Zoe Jaques (those are the ladies that interviewed me-they also happen to be some of the best in the field) see my potential and give me a chance. I begged for the chance to learn and serve in this way. I wanted it more than anything I had ever wanted in my entire life.
So when I woke up the next morning, November 25th at roughly 6:06 am, to an email from Cambridge, offering me a spot, I had no doubts that Heavenly Father had answered my prayers. I could see myself punting on the cam and taking a train to London on the weekends. I was already picturing my Christmas in Italy.
For me, the minute I got that email, I knew that I would stop at nothing to go to Cambridge. That is when I started the applications for grants and scholarships and everything I could find. I was even prepared to sell my soul for a summer and do summer sales in Missouri. Not to stereotype or be offensive or anything, but I have pretty much made fun of the “bro” club that usually is associated with summer sales for at least the last six years of my life, but I was ready to become a “bro” for Cambridge. It was worth it to me.
This is where things get a little sticky. See, this whole time (so basically from November 25th on) I had insisted upon the fact that I was “still trying to decide” what to do. I convinced myself that I was “keeping an open mind” and more importantly, an “open heart” and all that. But I wasn’t. But I didn’t actually realize that I wasn’t, until I realized, in a big way, that I wasn’t.
That moment came for me last week when I realized that I had to make a decision for reals this time. Because here’s the thing, about a week before, I had officially declared that Cambridge was my choice and I felt great about it and I was moving forward with that. But there was something about the decision that just didn’t quite stick. It’s not that I felt bad about it, necessarily, it’s more that the decision just didn’t really seem final to me. Which was weird, because Heavenly Father had helped me find a way to make it work financially, I had actually been accepted, and it seemed like everything would work out just fine. Teach for America was a thing of the past and I wasn’t really that sad about giving it up, to be perfectly honest. But the decision didn’t stick. I still kept having options and uncertain feelings come into my mind and heart.
At this point, I was just incredibly stressed out by the whole thing. I felt paralyzed. I knew I had to make a decision, but making a decision seemed impossible. And this is where crying to my parental figures comes in. I knew I needed help and I had thought things over so often in my own mind that I couldn’t think anymore. I had literally been praying/fasting/templing/scripturing about this decision for months. It weighed on my mind every single day. Not a day went by that I didn’t think about my decision. I don’t think I offered a prayer in that whole period of time that didn’t include something about the decision. I kept asking for guidance to know which option was right. Then after I had tried to make a decision, I prayed for that confirmation and that peace that I so desperately sought. The peace that comes when you do the right thing.
I don’t like to admit this, but I was in this dark place and didn’t know what to do. I talked with my parents for a good few hours and a good portion of that time was spent with me quite literally sobbing. I cry sometimes and stuff, but this was pretty bad. I think my parents were starting to get a little concerned, and probably a little annoyed at my dramatics. We had gone to drop Josh off somewhere and so we were in the car and my dad just kept driving around because I couldn’t stop crying. I also had a cold at the time, so I was a mess. There was some serious ugly crying going on. Finally we had hashed through things so much that there was nothing left to say, still just a decision for me to make. I think I sobbed the whole car ride home and then just sat in my car crying. It was really pathetic.
Normally, I try to pretend things like that don’t happen, but I share that part of the story for a reason. And that reason is this: that night I didn’t necessarily understand my emotions, I just knew that I was upset and confused. But later, I came to realize that I totally lost control with the crying because I knew that I was going to have to give up something that I really wanted. I knew that I was going to have to give up on my dream. And it was hard for me. I wish I could say that I was super noble and everything, but I wasn’t. I feel that my reasons for wanting to go to Cambridge were noble and good reasons, but that was certainly what I wanted. I wanted to go to Cambridge. So though I was praying and things, I might not have necessarily been listening super well. Or, rather, I was asking the wrong questions. I was asking questions along the lines of “Is it right for me to go to Cambridge?” or “I’ve chosen Cambridge, will you help me find a way to make it work?” or “Is this okay?” That was the general direction of my pleas for answers recently. And those aren’t the questions I should have been asking.
I didn’t realize that, though, until Wednesday night, sitting in Institute. I’m sitting there, kind of paying attention, but also thinking about my decision. I have started up yet another pro/con list and along with that, I have my list of priorities. At the top of my list I have written down “Serve the lord.” And as I thought about that alleged priority of mine, I realized that I wasn’t doing a very good job of that. I was telling the Lord how I wanted to serve him. I was telling him, “Look, I’m going to go to Cambridge and then I’m going to do this…blah blah” and all that. When instead, I should have been asking, “How can I best be of service? Where can I go to best help others?” And at the same time, “Which of these options will be best for me? Which option will help me become the person that you want me to become?” I wasn’t asking these questions, but I started to that night.
When I started asking better questions, it didn’t actually take long to get an answer. But I also think that those months and months of asking the wrong questions helped humble me and helped me get where I needed to be when it actually came down to it. I think my tendency would be to berate myself a little for my foolishness, but at the same time, I had things to learn and I learned a lot from my months (and really practically a year) of indecision. I learned more about myself and I learned that sometimes there really isn’t a bad decision. I truly think that all of the options placed before me were good and I could see and feel that Heavenly Father had already helped me with each of them, and I knew that He would continue to help me. I sincerely thing that all of the decisions were “right” decisions. But this time it wasn’t a matter of “right” so much as “good, better, best.” And I guess one could argue that the “best” is always the “right.”
This brings us to Thursday. I had changed my tune a little, but I was still really at a dead end. I had just a few days left to make my decision and it felt like I was no closer. Could not think about anything. I have never quite felt so mentally blocked. I felt nothing about anything.
My parents knew I had to make a decision and, being the great people that they are, they kept checking in with me to see if I had decided yet. I was talking to my mom on the phone on my way home from work and I told her that I just had no idea, that I was completely blocked. She was about to say something and then stopped herself. She didn’t want to meddle or interfere, but I wanted to hear what she had to say and so I pestered her until she told me. What she told me was pretty simple, but she said, “You know, a stupor of thought is a real thing.” And my immediate reaction to that was, “Yeah, I know, but I have made all of the different decisions and I feel that way about all of them.” I don’t know if she was convinced, but as I hung up the phone, the thought crept into my head, “No you haven’t.” I tried to tell myself that at some point or another, I had chosen to do each of the options. But I couldn’t lie to myself anymore. I had convinced myself that I was keeping this open mind, but I never actually let go of the Cambridge choice. I was leaving no room for any other options. So sort of flippantly, I flung back, “Fine. Then I guess I’ll just choose Teach for America and see how that goes.”
This isn’t one of those moments where it stopped raining and a rainbow popped out, there was no overwhelming feeling of peace or anything. If I’m being completely sincere, it was more this regret that filled me. Regret because something about actually making that choice made me realize that this choice was going to stick. I couldn’t think about making any other choice. Teach for America became the only probability for me. I can’t properly explain it, but it was like any planning or scheming for Cambridge became impossible. The only thing that I could think about when it came to Cambridge was how sad it was that I would have to say no.
Like I said earlier, I wish that I could say that I reacted nobly to this and that I felt so great and at peace and stuff. But I didn’t. I couldn’t even bring myself to admit my decision out loud. I don’t think I even told my parents for a few days. I realized then that deep down I truly had known since Sunday what I would choose. I knew I would choose Teach for America and that is why I completely broke down. My dream of Cambridge meant a lot to me and it was a blow for me that I had to give it up.
Sometimes I think that I have this mistaken idea that once we make a decision and it is the right one, everything is happy and butterflies and everything. Don’t get me wrong, I think I felt peace for the first time in months at having finally made a decision. I no longer felt that weight of the decision. But that doesn’t mean that I wasn’t totally bummed. I didn’t want to talk about it. Like when my super cute colleague came and showed me her powerpoint presentation about “Why Tara Pearce should go study at Cambridge University, “ I had to fight back the tears.
I would get these texts from dear friends and they asked me what I had decided and I couldn’t even answer those texts because writing it down just seemed too real. If I sent a text saying I wasn’t going to Cambridge, it would feel like I was giving up on my dream. I had never given up on anything before, and it felt like I was surrendering.
Finally I started admitting my decision, but I still had a hard time being excited about it. When I would tell people it was kind of like, “Yeah, unfortunately, I felt like the right thing was this…”
Flash-forward to this Wednesday, back at Institute. I’m sitting there thinking about Jesus. I don’t remember any scriptures where Jesus was asked to do something and he reacted like I did. I don’t remember him saying things like, “Yeah, unfortunately, instead of going to __________________, I had to go and ______________ instead.” I hope that doesn’t come off as sacrilegious or flippant. It was just this moment where I realized that I was complaining about how the Lord had asked me to do my part. I told Him that I would go wherever and do whatever, but then the minute He told me what he would have me do, I started complaining about it. I was not being very Christ-like.
So I tried to start having a better attitude and stuff, but it has not been smooth sailing. Finally, I started thinking about Boston and Teach for America and I was talking to a friend about the situation. This friend has taught in pretty rough circumstances and has been in situations similar to that of Teach for America. He reminded me that there are kids out there who have no light. They don’t have the hope of the gospel, they don’t have the support they need, they have experienced awful things, and many of them have given up. My friend said something that will stick with me and serve as a reminder to me. He said, “Cambridge will never need you as much as those kids in Boston need you.” That was a very humbling moment for me. First it was a great reminder, that truly, Cambridge could care less if I come or not. And then, to realize that really and truly, there are kids out there that I can go and help and serve. There are kids who need to be encouraged and strengthened. They need to be taught. They need to be taught more than English or history, or any other subject—they need to be taught about following dreams and believing in themselves. And I can do that. I may not be the best at anything, I pale in comparison to many, but I am very desirous to use the gifts and talents that my Heavenly Father has given me. He has told me how he wants me to use them for the next two years of my life and I am going to do my very best to help lift the hands that hang down and strengthen the feeble knees. I have an opportunity to be a light. Not because I am anything special, but because I have been blessed with the knowledge of the gospel and of the saving power of the atonement.
So instead of feeling foolish that I turned down Cambridge, instead of feeling sad that I “gave up” on my dreams, I am going to proudly declare that I have been given a rare opportunity to go and work with kids who need me and that nothing will bring me greater joy. I really do believe that Heavenly Father knows what is best for me and He knows where to lead me. I’m just trying to have the faith to let him guide and the courage to go where He wants me to go. I’m going to move to Boston in June because “Jesus told me to” and I’m going to do it with a happy, enthusiastic heart.
In a way, it's like that moment at the end of Tangled when Flynn has been stabbed and is going to die and then Rapunzel is all, "You were my new dream." She was super excited about the floating lanterns and waited her whole life to see those. Then she found something else, something better. Different, but better. So instead of, you know, a recovered criminal with a slightly aquiline nose, I get a roomful of kids who will probably not want to learn English. Teaching them is my new dream, and I get to do it in Boston. Floating lanterns are overrated anyway.