Let’s consider your problem bit by bit.
- About to graduate, you need to decide what to do, and you’re anxious.
- A social work major, you had planned graduate study in the same field, but you’re having second thoughts.
- You’ve been praying to God for guidance, but you are impatient with His seeming silence.
It’s not unusual to have butterflies in the stomach as graduation day approaches. I realize that knowing this won’t make them disappear, but perhaps it may keep you from adding to them by thinking, I’m not supposed to feel this way! The first step into a new life is always a little scary. After all, you’ll be out of the womb. Your relationship with your parents will change. You’ll have new financial responsibilities. What you’ve prepared for will finally happen — and you’ll be committed.
If your anxieties have no further basis, they’ll probably fade, and you needn’t think you need to change your plans. But there are other possible reasons for anxiety. For example, as you face grad school, perhaps it feels that what you’ve prepared for won’t finally happen. The sheer discrepancy between a ceremony that says, “You’re finished” and a professional program that says, “You’re not” may get you down. Is that the problem? If so, take heart, because as you begin new studies and make new friends, that feeling will probably pass, too.
On the other hand, perhaps you’re not sure that you’ve chosen the right graduate program. The remedy in this case is simple. Research the program. Learn what you can about the faculty. Write the program’s graduate advisor to ask what its placement record is — ask not only what percentage of graduates get jobs, but what kinds of jobs they get. Arrange a visit. Ask to meet with the people who would be your teachers. If you’re not impressed, then research other programs and choose another.
Some seniors have grad school blues because they fear they won’t be able to do the work when they get there. Is that what’s distressing you? Then consider whether your fear is reasonable or groundless. If all the evidence tells you that you can do the work — for example, if your teachers think well of you and you excelled in the courses in your major — then don’t worry about a little anxiety. Most prospective grad students have it. But if you do have good reason to think that you won’t be able do the work, then take the anxiety more seriously. You need to change your flight plan.
I’ll talk about how to change it later on. In the meantime there’s another possibility to consider. Maybe you’re confident that you can do the grad school work — but you just aren’t sure you want to continue in social work. In that case you need to consider how you chose your major in the first place. Different reasons for choosing produce different reasons for getting cold feet later on. If you stumbled into your major or chose it just to keep your options open — or if you never considered whether doing social work would be like studying social work — then it’s no wonder that you’re perplexed. The remedy is to begin now doing the thinking you should have done two years ago. If you discover that you would have chosen the same major even if you had known what you were doing, you can relax. If you discover that you wouldn’t have, and you don’t like the one you chose — then we’re back to flight plan changes.
Here’s a very different possibility. Did you plan to be married by this time? (Nothing wrong with that!) Did you major in social work not to prepare for a career but because you thought it might help you raise your kids? (Nor with that!) If you aren’t yet married, still want to be, and never intended to pursue social work anyway, then you need to consider what kind of work would be suitable for you while you’re waiting for Mr. Right. That too involves a flight plan change, but a smaller one.
I’ve now mentioned several reasons for flight plan changes. (1) You like social work but have good reason to think you won’t be able to succeed in grad school; (2) you never did plan to pursue a social work-related profession because you had expected to be married by now; and (3) you had planned to pursue a social work profession, but for one reason or another you’ve changed your mind. If you fall into category 1, the answer to your dilemma is plain: Find out what kind of work an undergrad social work degree does qualify you to do without graduate training. Your teachers may or may not be able to tell you. Try them, but by all means speak to a career counselor, too. Most schools offer skills assessment and career counseling services; for a fee, so do some private companies. If your school has weak career counseling services, consider going to a private career counseling service, but research it thoroughly first.
By the way — don’t assume that the only work a social work major can do is work which resembles social work. A good career counselor will be able to suggest fields you never would have thought of, fields which may seem unrelated to social work but which draw on similar knowledge and talents. You may also find that you have job-related knowledge or talents which are unconnected with your social work major. So be flexible.
If you’re in category 2 — you never planned to pursue a social work career because you had expected to be married by now — seeing a career counselor is a good thing for you, too. Practically speaking, you see, this situation and the last one are the same. In each, you’ve got some training, you don’t want to go further with it, and you need to find out what you can do with the training you’ve got already.
But what if you fall into category 3? What if you need to make a flight plan change because you used to want to do social work, but you’ve realized that you’re just not cut out for it? Then the situation is a little different. Here too you should talk with a career counselor — but you need to do something else first.
What’s the Something Else? Inventory your resources. After all, you’re about to choose a different career than you had originally planned. Some changes might require you to put off graduation or to get into a longer or more expensive graduate program than the one you would have entered otherwise. Look before you leap! Will you be able to afford the extra time or expense? I don’t know whether you’re rich or poor, whether you’re a first-time or a returning student, or whether you support your parents or they support you. These things constrain your field of choice.
Finally let’s turn to God. You’re getting impatient with His seeming silence. Why doesn’t He direct you?
Most students have an unrealistic view of God’s direction. They’re waiting for a voice in the ear, a tap on the shoulder, a dream, a sign, a special feeling. There is a reason these means of divine communication are called “extraordinary.” God saves them for times when He needs to bonk someone on the head. Even then they must be tested to make sure that they really come from God; most such experiences don’t. As Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “Test everything” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
What then is God’s ordinary means of communicating His will? Scripture calls it Wisdom. “Wisdom is the principal thing,” says the book of Proverbs; “therefore get Wisdom: and with all thy getting get understanding” (4:7, KJV).
How then do we get Wisdom? If we live in obedience to Him, following His ways and doing all the things we already know He wants us to do — like trusting Him, talking with Him, studying His Word, following His laws, thinking about His ways, worshipping with His people and showing compassion to those whom He puts on our path — He gradually illuminates our thinking, sharpens our discernment, and deepens our understanding. That is getting Wisdom.
In short, God usually works through rather than aside from our deliberations, in rather than apart from our minds. It’s not for nothing that He commands us to love Him all our heart, soul, and strength and all our minds. Christ “takes every thought captive.” This is part of the meaning of conversion.
And as you have already discovered, it also tests our patience and our faith. God likes that too. The test isn’t to tell Him about us but to tell us about ourselves; He already knows.
So don’t wait for the “bonk.” He is guiding you already. Not with fireworks, not with special feelings, not with angelic visitations, but by walking alongside you, His hand on your shoulder, through the quiet corridors of your thoughts.
Grace and peace,
Copyright 2000 J. Budziszewski. All rights reserved.