… There I met, of all people, a marketing hotshot who held up to me the image of my former faith-filled, fearless self, and said, in the voice of God: “I blinded you to your future a second time, after you were converted to Me, and you responded in exactly the same way as you did when you did not know Me at all. Trust Me!”
Now that I am (relatively!) firmly established in my degree program and my career track, I often think back to that moment in the meeting room. Not because that moment marked the abolition of all my fears. It certainly did not. But, from that moment on, I became intensely and deeply aware of my fear, of what precisely I am afraid of, and why. I still have fears today, but through that heightened awareness of them, I’ve come to realize that my fears have changed shape over the years.
For one, they no longer have anything to do with failure: I’ve been there and done that now. Strangely, incomprehensibly to most people but, I think, not to “Leonie’s Ladies” these days I’m afraid of succeeding.
As a now deeply religious person, I don’t really feel at home in academia. So I fear that academic success will turn me into…[dom Dom DOM]… a “real” (secular!) academic. At the moment, I am deeply convinced that what academics do is relatively unimportant and makes practically no meaningful contribution to society. However, I am academic-y (read: geeky) enough already to know that someone who becomes successful in something that they feel is pointless experiences “cognitive dissonance”; that it is practically a psychological law that we try very hard to avoid cognitive dissonance; and that the only way to resolve cognitive dissonance is to change either one’s behaviors or one’s beliefs. What that means for me is that, if I become an academic success, I will either have to renounce my success in order to experience peace within myself, or else I will have to change my beliefs about the value of my work. Having already experienced several major career implosions in my life, the first change is not really an option for me. And when I imagine the second, I see myself turning into one of those professors who basks in the meaningless, prideful prestige of their 25-page publication list.
In short, I fear that success in the world will turn me into something that I am not and that I do not ever want to be. I fear that it will make me value things that I do not value, that, in fact, I see as fundamentally unchristian. And I fear that, like most other things in the world, success will be impersonal and fleeting, and will ultimately chew me up and spit me out.
In the face of those prospects, how could I possibly want to succeed at what I’m doing? And yet, I cannot simply embrace failure: I have to survive somehow. But how a deeply faithful Catholic survives, much less succeeds, in the secular world without “selling out”, without compromising her soul or even just her human dignity, without putting God and Church and the pursuit of virtue second or even third, I have yet to figure out. And frankly, that scares the life out of me.
Ladies, are you afraid that succeeding in the world, that really giving yourself wholeheartedly to some non-religious endeavor, will turn you into a lesser Christian? Have you found ways to make a living (and maybe also a difference!) without sacrificing the depth of your faith, or the richness of your faith life? If so, please share below!