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Setting the World on Fire

"If we become who God created us to be, we would set the world on fire."
-St. Teresa of Avila
St Teresa of Avila
I want to set the world on fire so badly. I want to ignite hearts and stir souls. I want to inspire others and do great things. I want to become that person I was meant to be. Sometimes I feel like God gave me the spirit of the warrior, the wimpy body of a scholar, and a mind that belongs to an ancient Roman politician. I want to do great things, but then I start thinking and next thing you know...I fall back into the usual routine. Back to reading scientific papers, back to running stats on data, back to slicing brains, back to everyday lab-related "blah." In spite of all of this, I cannot shake off this feeling that I am made for more. I may not yet know it, but I am constantly called for it. This restlessness must mean something. This desire for something else must mean something.

Currently, I just wrapped up year 4 of a PhD program that is most likely going to squeeze out another 1.5-2 years of work from I cannot set the world on fire for another 1.5 to 2 years. Truth be told, I am on the fence about so many things right now. I am on the fence about where I want to be in 5 years, where I should be in 5 years, and how I get there. Do I want to teach? Yes. Who will I teach? I don't I go back and forth between college students, high school students, and middle school students. Where will I teach? I don't know because I may or may not want to try teaching in a foreign country before settling down somewhere. I'm also realizing more and more that I am not the only one that is going to contribute to the decisions taking place in my life. I have a husband now and his needs need to be taken into consideration.

In the long run, I suppose the details don't really matter. The important part is that I want to teach. The important part is that I know that I will set the world on fire as soon as I start teaching.

In the realm of PhD programs, it is generally frowned upon to get a PhD and then go off to a small college or high school to become a teacher. PhD's are trained to become grant-writing machines or to simply go into industry. Surprisingly, industry is also frowned upon even though it is, as a whole,  a far more lucrative option than academia...a strange paradox. There's a bit of a stigma that is associated with careers outside of academia. The idea is that only the best get into PhD programs and only the best PhDs can score a nice job in academia. Anything else is deemed inferior. Even industry, lucrative as it may be, is deemed an inferior career path to academia...if only because the odds are so low for those setting their sights on a career in academia. This mindset is something that I have had to deal with for a few years now and I am finally coming to terms that there is nothing wrong with choosing a different career path. I'm a square peg that simply is not made for a round hole.

So now that I have some idea of how I am to be what I was born to do I satisfy my need to set the world on fire in the next 1.5 to 2 years? I cannot simply drop everything to become a missionary right now...nor can I drop everything and go on a pilgrimage. I cannot disappear from my current life of lab drudgery to teach a classroom of students. Well, on the other hand, I suppose I could do all of these things, but God put me here and kept me here this long for a reason. I know I could not have done it of my own will or even my own talent. I trust that God knows what is best for me even during the times where I feel the most restless. After all, it is in these times where I have learned to be a better, more patient, and even more faithful Catholic.

If you look back to the key moments of your life closely enough, you will begin to see patterns in decision-making, chance, luck, fate, or whatever else you call it. You will start realizing that each stone you hopped on served as an essential part of a bridge that spanned the river separating the place you come from and the place you need to go. The difficulties you experienced 10 years ago made you better able to bear whatever cross you bear now. The times you fell to the ground made you more resilient, more able to prevent yourself from falling again, more appreciative of the good moments.

I may not have set the world on fire during my time in graduate school, but I've become better able to be the person I was born to be. I don't think I have ever had it as rough as I have had it for the past 4 years. The stress, the medical issues, the failures, etc. took their toll on me and changed me. Strangely enough, I have changed for the better. I have become more resilient, more humble, and more empathetic. My faith has been strengthened in a way that I never thought possible and I have probably done more good in this time than I ever did as a complacent-bordering-on-apathetic teenager and young adult.

The restlessness is almost painful sometimes, but this is all a test to ensure that I am ready to set the world on fire when my time comes...

Pax Vobiscum