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Meet the author of The Messy Quest!

  1. 1.     In what way was your own quest “messy”?

    In my 20s, my quest was messy largely because of an anxiety disorder that created a lot of challenges and sapped most of the joy out of life. Once I began to learn from the disorder itself, instead of trying to fight it, my sense of meaning grew immeasurably. Throughout my 30s (which are rapidly coming to a close!), what’s been messy is the unending juggle of work, family and writing pursuits. All of that poses continual challenges to prayerfulness and mindfulness. But that’s been a much easier mess to embrace than the anxiety of a decade ago!

2. Is there any way to avoid the “messy” or is it a requirement?

Everybody’s life is messy in one way or another and usually in many ways. There’s no getting around that, and it wouldn’t be good to avoid it even if we could. The only way to find real meaning and purpose is to try on different hats until we find something that works. That involves a process of trial and much error that can take a long time. We’re going to make mistakes and go sideways and backward. But if we reflect seriously on what we’ve learned from those experiences, we’ll make progress.
3. Do you ever wish you could re-do any moments in your life, “messy” and otherwise?

There are some things I’d take back if I could, particularly the way a really important relationship with one of my college professors ended. I write about those regrets in the book. Of course, those things can’t be redone, so there’s not much point in dwelling on them. What we can do is try to learn from our mistakes and do better. It’s probably also true that if you haven’t had some significant regrets and disappointments you’re not living fully enough or giving yourself enough chances to learn.

4. Of your five transforming practices for finding vocation, which one do you consider more difficult? And is there one that you consider most important?

Overall, none of the five practices is more important or more difficult than the others. They’re all essential for finding or moving deeper into a calling. That being said, individuals will struggle with different ones depending on their personalities, experiences and mindset. For me, focus comes pretty easily. But because I’m fairly introverted and independent, I’ve probably had to work harder than most people at truly listening to and learning from the community around me.

5.  What do you have to say to people who have not read the book yet, and believe that their vocation and any practical reality of getting there, are irreconcilable?

One of the most frustrating and simultaneously beautiful things about life is that most of us underestimate what we’re capable of doing. It really is very possible to close the gap between a calling and the practical reality of getting there. But if all we do is sit still and think about the enormous improbability of fulfilling a distant dream, we’ll never take even the first step toward it. Nor will we find out what that calling looks like in reality. It’s a little like standing at the edge of the woods and trying to imagine, through a bunch of mental exercises, what’s in the middle of them. It can’t be done. What’s more helpful is actually walking into the woods. So that’s the key thing to remember: most of us move toward calling incrementally, one step at a time, sometimes over many years. We need to take one step and then the next one and be open to what we encounter along the way.


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