What's Your Story?
When I went home for Christmas this past year, a friend’s mother asked me, “What’s your elevator pitch?” Since I had no such story prepared, I opened by telling her that I was listening to a Podcast not too long ago and the topic of conversion stories came up. One of the hosts said something to the extent of: “No one wants to hear the lame story of how you grew up in a church and you just felt a calling. Spice up your story people!” After rambling on for another minute or two she said, “You really need to work on that.”
This, in my experience, can be the reaction of many people when they ask for your elevator speech on why you believe or why you are going to Divinity School. They do not want to hear about gradual intellectual understandings or personal feelings you cannot explain. They want to hear that you are a former Satanist who saw the light of God and converted. Or that you were wandering in a field when a dove descended and you saw a heavenly quire. Or you were cooking breakfast and you found the Virgin Mary on your toast. Even in academia it can sometimes be just as bad. Your story better start with, “I was reading the works of insert famous theologian here and it all came together to make an insert large word no one outside our field would ever use tapestry of the divine,” or someone might think you are not a real Christian.
As far as our future career path goes you would think these types of questions and expectations would be asked of every kind of graduate and doctoral candidate, but my friends who are getting masters in law and history do not. No one questions why someone would want to become a lawyer or teacher (despite there apparently being so many graduates from law school now that it is almost impossible to find work, and that in North Carolina teachers are paid about the same as a Starbucks Barista). We are in one of the few disciplines that most people feel its ok to demand we have the answers to very big life decisions almost from the time we decide to go to divinity school, whether they are our family or someone we barely know. In my experience, there can be so much pressure to have a complete, entertaining, intellectual, and short ‘pitch’ about your faith and your future career desires that when I was younger I often just did not bring it up.
I could go into why I think people expect these things from us and not other disciplines, but this is neither the time nor place. I will say that one of the things I have learned during my time at Wake Div is that it is okay not to know. In an environment like this, with so many different people going in different directions after graduation, the vast majority of people I meet only have a vague idea of what they want to do with their lives. All of us have a calling, but not everyone knows what that calling means – and there is nothing wrong with that. Even now, as I get ready to graduate, I still do not have everything figured out. I know where I want to go now, but I do not know where the future will lead in the long run.
So, I guess I am here to tell you that if you are like me and do not have your life, faith, and future totally figured out yet, do not feel like a failure. You are not alone in not knowing – not by a long shot. And if someone asks you for your elevator pitch, do not be afraid to tell them you do not have everything figured out yet. Or tell them the thing about the toast and let me know how that goes.
Ted was born and raised in Washington, DC and as a graduating third-year has put all future plans on hold except getting employment post-graduation. He still does not have a good elevator pitch.