Friday, June 08, 2012

Struggles, part VII: decision


June 2012: I’m talking to a friend from Stanford, recently returned from her mission.

“How’s job search going?” I ask, and get a long answer. She had just unearthed some old letters she sent to professors asking to help them in their research. The letters listing her accomplishments in college, the things she was passionate about academically, and wanted to achieve.

An old self had come back, the person she used to be – driven elite college student, devoted to understanding a few certain areas that she was passionate about, to learning. Who saw this quest as her identity.

Yet once she arrived in her mission, she realized that her persona was setting her apart from those she was charged to serve. Purposefully, consciously, prayerfully, she had shed elite college student in order to be more fully Hermana.

Now elite college student had come back. She was conflicted.

In response, words tumbled out of me, words from a similar conflict I had faced.

I too had Sam and Elder Bhagwat. Both are absent-minded, lose things, have a very distinctive laugh, and focus on a few things with a laserlike intensity.

But the primarily motivation of Sam is to know, to learn, to understand. His primary favorite happy emotion is fascination, accompanied by a wonderous “that’s really interesting.” He was shy in social situations, preferring to discuss and debate abstract topics. His motivating carrot is achieving penetrating insight and understanding.

Elder Bhagwat is more forthright about talking to people, asking them about themselves and telling them about himself. He was still kind of awkward. He cares less about finding the right answer than the emotions. He had a rocky companionship with the son of a Harvard economics professor and an amazing companionship with a Wyoming community college graduate. His motivating carrot is seeing others change their lives for the better and feeling the peace of knowing his Heavenly Father is happy with his actions.

March 2009: I once (accidentally) signed my weekly e-mail home as Elder Bhagwat instead of Sam. Upon receiving an angry response from my mother, I wrote a miffed reply, insisting “Sam is Elder Bhagwat and Elder Bhagwat is Sam.” My tone was wrong, obviously, but my argument was also incorrect, though I didn’t realize it at the time. On my mission, I was mostly Elder Bhagwat; occasionally Sam emerged (such as when we were teaching my favorite investigator, a Google employee who described her height as ‘Lilliputian’).

Back to my conversation with the recently returned Hermana.

June 2012:  “I was doing well for the months after my mission when I was at Stanford, because Sam and Elder Bhagwat were united in purpose. It was really clear that the next part of my life was to graduate from college. And both parts were united in that.”

“But I really struggled after that, when I was at work [at the management consulting firm Mars & Co]. Suddenly the main important thing was to be able to work with a spreadsheet. To SUMIF or sort or INDEX(MATCH()) correctly. And Sam was good at that, but Elder Bhagwat wasn’t. So Sam became the dominant part of my personality again. Because he was useful. Elder Bhagwat wasn’t really useful – charity and service weren’t terribly helpful in working a spreadsheet.”

I’ll call this new person SMB, since we used our initials to identify ourselves on Mars & Co documents. SMB had far more of Sam, than he had of Elder Bhagwat.

Even parts of SMB where Elder Bhagwat should have shown up, such as communication and a good relationships with teammates, he didn’t. SMB’s new teammates played a different ballgame than the people Elder Bhagwat was used to. More businesslike, less nice, less caring of efforts, less egalitarian.

August 2011: On weekends and evenings, I would wonder if I should still be Elder Bhagwat – after all, he didn’t seem terribly useful during the week. And being a Sunday Christian didn’t appeal to me.

So was it just time to say “screw it”, ditch Elder Bhagwat, and turn into SMB?

SMB was fairly familiar -- kind of like Sam. But he was less nice, more thrill- and status-seeking, and certainly far less religious.

I thought so at one point. But I changed my mind.

I wish I could say that I was struck down by an angel, or saw a risen Christ on the road to Damascus, or was reborn in one moment.

But it was more of a process. Looking back, I see six main parts.

First, I realized SMB wasn’t very happy. (Though a skeptic would say I simply hadn’t yet learned to fill the shoes).

Second, I remembered a big reason why I had joined the Church and become Elder Bhagwat in the first place. Because I really really really want to have a happy family, and loved the language of eternal family as I heard the words, along with all it entailed. SMB was not helping me get there.

Third, I looked back beyond my recent dearth of spiritual experiences, to remember those I once had.

Fourth, I resolved my internal tensions in Part VI.

Fifth, I made up my mind, then made up a goal and clung to it. A good friend, the sister of my girlfriend in high school, was getting married in the temple in December in Michigan. I made up my mind that I was going to be there, and stay temple worthy in the meantime. When that passed, I found other reasons.

Six, in March, I quit my job, the main generator of SMB, and found a different job where Elder Bhagwat and Sam could again be united. I was lucky in this.

With a little help from my friends.

A letter from my friend, the above Hermana, arrived at a really, really opportune time.

I ignored my roommates’ questions, but a “where have you been?” from a friend in church was more effective.

I got called as the assistant executive secretary, and took the meeting minutes for bishopric meeting. I had a purpose for being in church again.  

This entry feels like the end of this series. Or at least the beginning of the end. 

I guess I'm not necessarily writing everything in order. I could, and should, probably expand on the six things that happened. I probably will. Some are more tied up than others.