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How Do We Get Through?

A post-it note that took up residence on my desk six weeks ago asks me every day, “How do we get through?” Like many who have a get-it-done approach, I want a quick answer. Perhaps the answer lies waiting in on my Calm app? Maybe another listen to a favorite podcast or TED Talk will provide a clue?

I’m not sure I have a singular answer right now. I mention this because I am so swamped in daily commitments that I cannot see the themes that normally guide me to insights. Those insights usually help me reframe questions and find answers.

So where does that leave me? I am left with questions — many questions. While preparing this blog, I thought, “Questions are not the basis of blogs. Answers are the basis of blogs.” However, recently a friend mentioned, why not embrace the questions? She reminded me of Rilke and the posthumously published book, “Letters to a Young Poet.”

Here is the abbreviated quotation: “[H]ave patience with everything unresolved in your heart and to try to love the questions themselves as if they were locked rooms or books written in a very foreign language. … Live the questions now. Perhaps then, … you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.”

I dedicate the rest of this blog to questions that I am learning to live through. I also share related notes as a catalyst for discovering your own questions.

How do I calm my mind?

My mind loves to knit a tapestry of what-ifs, how-abouts, and wouldn’t-it-be-great-tos. As I start the day this tapestry glows with possibility. At mid-day, it starts to feel like it is heavy and lined with lead. By the close of the day, I am re-sorting my to-do lists and weaving them into the tapestry that will greet me tomorrow. Calm during this busyness comes from resources such as my daily Enneagram email and Calm app. These provide temporary passage for getting through challenging moments especially when I remember to use them.

How do we become better at being human?

I cherish my weekly ritual of reading the Sunday New York Times. I am especially drawn to the Sunday Business, Sunday Review and newly added At Home sections. Here, the pressing realities of our time — violence against Black communities and systematic oppression, the crushing toll on human life of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the failings of politics — always lead me back to thinking about shared humanity. How do we get through this? How do we use what is best in us as humans? I think of small acts like wearing masks, smiling when see others. I also think about larger shifts such as: How do we remove harmful judgment from our portfolios of ready responses? Or, how we do infuse kindness into our interactions?

How do I become a contributing ancestor?

In opening her book, “me and white supremacy,” Layla Saad describes the driving force of her work as wanting “to become a good ancestor.” I was grateful on many levels to learn how Saad’s personal history informs her work. Her writing became a catalyst for me. It allowed me to turn murky thoughts into two questions: Where do I come from? And how does my identity and privilege impact what I have to learn and give?

For me, questions of my origin initially showed up in a very unusual place — cooking. I love to cook. I had thought of my cooking as “unique to me.” As I have increased cooking over the last twenty or so weeks, I realized my preference for certain ingredients did not just start with me. I realized that my French ancestry deeply defines how I cook. I was eager to learn how so I purchased Waverly Root’s 1958 book, “The Food of France.” Also, I read a decades-old family history that traces our migration from France, to Canada, to the U.S., to a mill town in Maine. These readings sparked my quest to ask harder questions. Saad might call this the start of my awakening. I believe that answering these questions will help me shift from being “nice” to contributing what is needed.

How do I live into my purpose?

I am, and always have been, passionate about purpose and potential. These areas drive my love of working in career development. They are the true north of seizing the opportunity that a college degree provides. I am also thinking lately of Victor Frankl’s “Man’s Search of Meaning.” Here’s why. The blizzard of commitments that make up my life seems to have erased pauses that I use to connect to me. These pauses to allow me to define meaning. Without meaning, I cannot live into my purpose, my potential. Pauses provide me the direction to answer a core question of all journeys: Where do we go from here? For me, how do I move forward into my purpose?

In conclusion

Questions about journeys remind me of T.S. Elliot’s famous statement about life. We spend our lives exploring only to end where we began. At this ending, we will know this place as if we are seeing it for the first time. We will journey. We will get through. I wish you all the gift of courage, the courage to embrace your life and live through your questions.

James J. Tarbox, Ph.D., is the Executive Director for San Diego State University Career Services, working with Colleges, employers and alumni to ensure student development, career readiness and employment. Career Services addresses core student needs including internships, mentoring, access to employers and employment, and civic engagement. James co-administers SDSU’s WorkAbility IV program. He also teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs on campus. James contributes to the National Association of Colleges and Employers (www.naceweb.org), the Mountain Pacific Association of Colleges and Employers (www.mpace.org) and NASPA’s Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice editorial board (www.naspa.org). James is an alumnus of Pennsylvania State University (M.A. and Ph.D.) and Bates College (B.A. with Honors).

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