Finding Our True North: Asking the Right Questions to Keep Us Headed in the Right Direction

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One of the wonderful by-products of a MFA program in creative writing is the stack of books I’m required to purchase and read regularly. My husband casts a dubious glance every time another package shows up in the mailbox, and I chirp happily, “It’s for school, hon! Required reading!” It’s the best. The very, very best. I’m considering all sorts of master’s programs in which I can study books after this one is completed. My latest suggestion–French Literature–was met with silence. Apparently, my husband believes he shouldn’t have to pay a fortune for me to receive another useless degree, when I can simply march myself to the library and read for free. Never mind that I can’t read French.

This term, my professor assigned me a great deal of literary non-fiction, mostly memoir. Most of the writers have an incredible story to tell, each revelation more sad or shocking than the last. It makes me wonder what becomes of those of us who have a simple story–a healthy childhood, an average intelligence, a mostly normal family–a treasure trove of universal memories that are meaningful because they happen to most of us over the course of our lifetime. Sibling spats, adolescent angst, first love, the slow burn of spiritual growth–isn’t this most people’s story? I’m far too boring to compete with the orphans and addicts and I-made-it-in-spite-of’s.

While the reading and the writing requirements are wonderful and challenging in the best of ways, I had hoped the MFA program would crack open the door to possibility a bit wider. I am learning and growing as a writer, but the door to possibility feels firmly shut. If anything, the program has made me question even more what I am doing and why I am writing. To what end? Who will read it? What do I have to offer a reader, if not another ordinary story?

I don’t have any answers, and I’m not fishing for comments and compliments here (Mom, you can call me privately:). What I am doing, is trying to flesh out the why behind the what.  I am wrestling with what I thought I wanted, with old dreams and new realities. Wrestling with the path I’ve chosen and wondering what life would look like if I chose to lay down this particular dream and take up a new one.

Does this kind of questioning resonate with you? I suspect it’s universal, whether you want to write or become a parent or start a business or rule the world. Don’t we always wonder what the road not taken would have held for us had we jumped across the divide and planted our feet on a path with something different waiting for us at the end of it?  I used to think this was somehow a betrayal of my choices, but I think it is always good to remind ourselves why we chose this path, this life, this faith, these people. Often, the alternative is so ugly and full of despair, so unfaithful to our own inner landscape, it helps us see the good in what we have right here, today.

But every so often, the question of whether or not we’re walking the right path or dreaming the best dreams, leads us to another fork in the road. Will I choose this way again, or will I try something different? What if I pursued this friendship or gave that one up? What if I chose this career path and not the one I spent years mastering? What if I turned to this form of spiritual discipline and gave up another? What if…?

I have no plans to give up writing or my MFA program, but I do continue to ask myself the questions, always seeking to find the most sincere expression of who I am and how I’m created. I always want to aim for my true north, even if I take a few detours along the way.

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Are you questioning any particular paths in your life right now? Have you ever jumped across the divide to something different?

Stay tuned for a round-up of recent reads later this week.

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  • I have asked these questions many times. I have prayed long and hard and although I don’t have any definitive answers, I have kept hearing God say to me: “Don’t run ahead of Me. You won’t miss it.”

    I think some people find their great dreams, but not everyone does! But God is faithful to lead us where He wants us, and often He leads me by closing doors and opening others. Even with my writing, I still struggle but try to stay content that people who need to read my posts will. Meanwhile I write because I cannot stop. And I trust God will use it as is best. It is all for Him, about Him, to Him and because of Him anyway.

    Thank you for sharing this. It is comforting to me to know others share this struggle.

  • From one questioner to another, YES. I question it all. It is no small thing to continually embrace my right-now work. Why the need for all the things I do (and have done) to fit neatly under a label and move along a logical trajectory? I don’t know. But I still feel like a crazy person because they don’t. : )

  • KimberlyAmici

    Questioning all the time! My pray for what seems like forever is, “Lord, just show me the path and I will walk it.” I want some divine moment where I find my “one thing” but it hasn’t happen. So I keep going. I am trimming here and there which feels good but hoping to do some soul searching in the New Year.