The professor from Stanford’s graduate program in biochemistry who was interviewing me over the phone could not have been more tactful and encouraging as she informed me of my rejection. “You’ve been out of the field for two years raising your kids, and you need more experience working in a lab. Your academic qualifications are superb. Just go spend a year as a lab assistant and make sure you really enjoy doing research, and we’ll almost certainly accept you the next time you apply.”
I put down the phone. “But I hate lab work!” was my first thought. I envisioned an eternity of messing with chemicals and rats, stuck indoors in a nasty smelling cinder-block room full of mysterious metal equipment, tediously repeating experiments and calculating the standard deviations of my results. I had enjoyed the academic side of biochemistry, learning how this amazing world works at the molecular level, and I had automatically applied for a PhD program. Now I felt trapped just thinking about the realities of that life.
I never reapplied to Stanford. I stayed home with my two boys, got a teaching credential, had my daughter, and discovered the incredible world of early music. Twenty years after that rejection from Stanford, I earned a master’s degree in liberal arts from Sac State. I had the freedom in that program to explore my eclectic interests in history, literature, theology, music, and languages. I incorporated my science background into my thesis on Anglo-Saxon medicine. I’m still not sure where I’m headed on this path, but I’m enjoying the view and the companions who have come and gone along the way.
A “left turn” is my friend Lisa’s term for one of those moments when you are moving along one path, happily or not, and something happens to send you off in an entirely new direction. For both of us these detours had often led to wonderful opportunities we would not have had if we had rigidly stayed on our previous paths. Sometimes it is immediately apparent to me that something amazing has occurred, that I have stumbled onto a new passion with joyful possibilities. My first early music workshop was an epiphany; I fell in love with a thousand years worth of music I had previously ignored. When I attended a writing retreat last September in response to an email that randomly appeared at just the right moment in my life, I knew that I had encountered another one of those “left turns.”
On a retreat, you may wish to look more closely at how your life has unfolded. Have you blindly forged ahead, possibly missing some enriching side paths? Have you let yourself be enticed into deeper explorations of your capabilities? How do the actions you have meticulously planned out compare with the accidental detours? It could be useful to draw a map of your journey and color code sections with positive and negative results. You may find, as I have, that you can trust your inner guidance system to take you where you need to go.