Whitworth Calling: On Work, Worry, and Existential Breakthroughs

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Today I had the opportunity to celebrate the 125th anniversary of my alma mater, Whitworth University, at a gathering for Bay Area alumni. The group consisted of everyone from the class of 2014 to the class of 1964 and included a few of my ’08 classmates. While their faces were familiar, it was somewhat strange to realize how much time had passed and how little we knew of each other.

I’m not one for small talk, but not because I don’t like meeting new people or catching up with old acquaintances. Quite the contrary. I love talking with people; I simply avoid the “small” part of it. I believe words matter, and I take that belief into every conversation. I enjoy making people feel at ease, letting them know through my questions and my listening that I’m not just talking with them for pleasantries’ sake; I truly care. I derive such joy from transitioning an awkward conversation or stilted small talk to something of more depth – something that makes people feel comfortable.

I think that’s part of my calling – to help people learn to live more comfortably in their own skin and to recognize just how loved they are.

Calling vs. Career

Walking away from the celebration today, I felt so honored to have attended a university that cared so deeply for its students. A college that saw itself as a place to equip men and women to live out their calling: Honor God, follow Christ, and serve humanity.

My passion for Whitworth’s mission was renewed today as we heard snippets from over a century’s worth of stories, saw examples of Whitworthians making an impact all over the world, and took a virtual tour through the campus that I’d loved so well. The pine trees and lamppost-lined pathways. The red brick buildings and green lawns. The professors meeting students for coffee. The classrooms filled with students leaning in to learn.

Whitworth University

Part of the purpose of this celebration was to encourage us alumni to give back, to help with the university’s fundraising goals. I get that, and I don’t feel duped or like they were trying to sneak their ask in under the guise of a “celebration.” Rather, I feel encouraged to further live out the mission of Whitworth – to not just focus on a career, but on my calling.

Writing is one of the primary areas where I’m responding to a calling. I don’t know where all this will go. I could write this book and sell a couple copies and that’s it. Or God could take it further.

My only job is to do the work and let him do the rest. Because I can’t ignore this calling.

I feel called to write about my recovery from perfectionism. I feel called to San Francisco. And every day I experience the calling to love God and love others well. Today’s celebration helped reinvigorate my drive to live into that calling.

Experiencing Breakthrough

One of the most encouraging conversations of the day was with my former yearbook professor and Assistant VP of Institutional Advancement, Tad Wisenor. Tad was one of those educators who really cared about his students. This was the norm at Whitworth, but it was especially pronounced in his character.

When I shared with him about the book I’m writing, he said, “That’s so great, Laura. Keep doing that. Keep following that calling.”

Then he went on to say, “You know, I tell a story about you to my yearbook students every year.”

“Really?” I said. “Which one?”

“Your existential breakthrough.” I must have given him a puzzled look because he went on to say, “You don’t remember?”

I laughed and asked him to remind me.

He went on to explain that it was two weeks prior to the end of my junior year, and I was stressed to the max, frustrated by finals, consumed with classes, and overwhelmed by all that was on my plate. I’d reached a breaking point.

Apparently, one day I walked into the yearbook room and announced that I’d had a breakthrough.

“They’re all just dots!” I pronounced.

I’m not sure whether people just stared or immediately broke into laughter, but Tad said I gave him one of the best laughs of his career. “I’m just sorry it was at your expense,” he joked.

I guess I went on to share that I’d realized that all my stressing and worrying about the outcome of the yearbook was pointless because all the photos and words on the page were just dots. Everything we were working on, everything that would eventually be printed in that yearbook was just a collection of pixels.

As soon as Tad got to the point in the story when I made my “they’re all just dots” pronouncement, I instantly remembered that moment. That feeling of clarity and release, of a weight being lifted. Recognizing that the yearbook was only a momentary physical product made up of a bunch of tiny dots helped me realize a few things.

  • I didn’t have to do everything perfectly. Sometimes “good enough” is best.
  • I was a much better friend, daughter, sister, girlfriend, student, and colleague when I wasn’t the crazed, stressed-out, frazzled version of myself. Taking a moment to chill out was good. Work would be there when I got back, and I would be much more clear-headed and more refreshed as a result. And that’s always good for everyone.
  • The work we create only lasts for a time. Relationships are eternal.

Do What You Can

Those things are still true. I’ll stand by them. But I think the question of the importance of our work is much more complex than I realized at the time. My perspective has shifted since I was twenty-one (thank goodness), and there are a few things I’ve learned since my “dots revelation.”

  • Stories matter. The stories in our yearbook mattered. The stories shared at the celebration today matter. The story God’s called me to share matters. And your story matters.
  • Just don’t get so consumed with telling those stories perfectly that you destroy the organic life they contain.
  • Be patient with yourself. You still have so much to learn. But learning takes time. And you have plenty of it.
  • You can choose to be stressed out by your circumstances or you can ask what God wants to teach you through them.
  • What you create here on earth has a lasting impact. But it’s lasting only when it’s an extension of your service to God and love for others – not when it’s a product of self-serving attempts to build your own kingdom of achievements and accolades.

Ultimately, I’d tell myself to stop worrying so much. As Augustine said, “Love God and do what you will.” Stop being so concerned about what other people think. And stop trying to control the outcome of your effort.

Learning to not worry about work isn’t about completely letting go of the work that’s stressing you out; it’s not about not caring. It’s about letting go of the fear of what could happen if you fail. It’s about caring about obedience more than what other people think.

Put in what you can, and let God take care of the rest.

Love Makes a Difference

Today was incredibly moving for me. And I’m grateful for the time to reflect on how my alma mater shaped me, how the people I formed relationships with have impacted me – even while I couldn’t even remember my own existential breakthrough from seven years ago.

I’m grateful for the vision George Whitworth had for an education of mind and heart. For a Christian university that would encourage people to get comfortable with ambiguity and wrestle with complex questions. For a place that would equip students to live into the mission of honoring God, following Christ, and serving humanity.

I hope George would be pleased with the caliber of students that have left that school over the last 125 years. I hope he’d be encouraged by the way I’m learning to find grace in the gray. I hope he’d be moved by the way the work he put in so long again has had a lasting impact on countless others.

Today both challenged and encouraged me. And it left me with a charge to further live out my calling in San Francisco, to lean into my relationships, to love others well, and to serve this city. Because this city (like all of us) needs Jesus. Because love – especially his love– makes all the difference.

4 thoughts on “Whitworth Calling: On Work, Worry, and Existential Breakthroughs

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