One of the elements of the scholar’s journey is dislocation. Every few years, and sometimes more often, you find yourself beginning a new year in a new place. Dislocation can be disorienting and can bring out some of our worst coping mechanisms. Do you know what those are for you?
Whether you are beginning your first year of graduate school, or beginning a Ph.D program at a new school, or a post-doc, or a first-year faculty position, you are likely experiencing dislocation–new place, new responsibilities, new community, new colleagues, and the need to make new friends. Even if you haven’t moved, chances are there are new elements in your life–qualifiers, proposals, job-seeking, grants, new courses to teach.
One of the methods people use to navigate on a journey is setting your course by fixed points–stars, our GPS, or even landmarks whose location is known that also enables you to determine your location and course. I’d like to suggest a few “fixed points” that may be helpful when we are beginning a new year and especially so in a new location or position.
1. Jesus. (You knew that was coming!). Are we clear above all that all of our lives, including our scholarly work is for Jesus? Is he the goal or telos of our work? Are we consciously pursuing our work to know his pleasure upon our lives? Are we aware of the distractions and temptations that may lure us away from Jesus?
2. Attention. On a journey we don’t simply look once at a fixed point and then start walking. We regularly check our directions, read our maps, check our GPS. In our Christian journey, the wonder is that we not only live toward Christ, we journey with him! The point of scripture reading, prayer, and other spiritual practices is attention to Jesus, who is on the journey with us as a guide. Unfortunately, the pressures of the day sometimes tempt us to forego time with Jesus. One of the best helps for many has been to have a protected time in our day, or even multiple such times, when we given Jesus our full attention.
3. Community. One basic piece of advice often given to hikers is to never go out in the woods, particular in unfamiliar territory, alone. A stumble and twisted ankle makes for a challenging hike with a friend, but a much more serious situation alone. Sometimes friends recognize a blaze or waymark we miss. If you are new to your campus, have you searched to see if there is a graduate or faculty group that you can join? If that doesn’t work, InterVarsity can connect you with one.
I suspect none of these fixed points are new to you. Most fixed points aren’t, but that makes them no less helpful for the journey, especially if you are in a new place.
Grace and peace to you in your scholarly journey this year!
[This article first appeared in Scholar’s Journey, the monthly newsletter for members of The Emerging Scholars Network. Not a member? Just click the “Join” button at the top of this page to become a member of ESN. And the best part? Membership is free!]
For those beginning graduate studies, ESN offers a great, curated collection of articles in our “Graduate School Survival Kit.”