On this week’s #mentormonday on womenintc’s twitter, we talked about what we wish we had known earlier in our careers.
Don’t do things for the sake of doing them. Slow down, figure out what/who is driving you. Find your joy, name it, follow it.
— Liz Angeli (@LizAngeli) October 7, 2019
This tweet raised two questions for me: “Would people even know if direction is something that they’d find helpful? If people wanted to see a spiritual director, would they know how to?”
Spiritual direction isn’t something that’s discussed a lot. We’re used to thinking about our emotional health in relation to how counselors and therapists can help. Spiritual directors do not replace these providers; rather, they complement them.
Spiritual direction provides emotional and spiritual wellness and healing. People meet with spiritual directors for a lot of reasons, and Spiritual Directors International has a great guide for how to find one, so I won’t re-write that information here.
What is less explored is why and when academics might benefit from seeing a director.
In this post, I explore some of the questions that might bring an academic to spiritual direction. This list is by no means exhaustive, and it might raise some questions of your own. If it does, trust them.
Note: I refer to people who meet with a director here as “seeker” because that’s the language we use in my training program. Other people use the terms “client” or “directee.”
Do you struggle with priorities and work/life balance?
Directors are trained to listen actively, deeply, and attentively. As part of that, they pay attention to where energy is in a seeker’s story. With that, they can help a seeker discern where the life is. A director can help you learn where your energy is leading you. This perspective can be useful when you’re choosing a service opportunity to say “yes” or “no” to, making a decision about a research project, or going on the job market, which leads to the next question.
Are you on the job market?
It goes without saying: The job market is stressful. It can be a fantastic networking and learning opportunity, but it is multi-month stressor for academics and the people in our lives.
A big part of being on the job market is knowing your strengths and growing edges in all areas: teaching, research, and service. It takes time to truly identify strengths and growing edges. Sometimes someone who is outside of our academic circle is best positioned to support us in that journey.
Another big part of being on the job market is identifying what you want your life to look like. Do you have a family situation to consider? Are you making decisions based on what you want or what other people want for you, e.g., do you really truly want an R1 job or are you applying to them because that’s what your program wants you do to? Or do you have a job you really want but you have a partner who wants you to take another job?
A spiritual director can walk with you on the job market journey, whether it’s your first, second, or third time out. Spiritual direction sessions are opportune spaces to be honest with yourself and to allow someone to listen to you, to ask you questions, and to learn about yourself. And those are things that we can benefit from when we’re on the job market.
Are you struggling to find a spiritual home? Are you struggling with your spiritual health?
Spiritual directors are trained to help seekers connect with the Divine, however the seeker understands the Divine. They might ask you questions, like “What/who is God for you? What is your prayer or meditation life like? What growing edges are you noticing in your relationship with the Divine or with your religious community or faith tradition?”
You don’t necessarily need a religious or faith tradition to see a director. If you want to explore or renew your spiritual health, a director can help.
There are a lot of different kinds of directors out there. Some are affiliated with a formal religious community or tradition, and others aren’t. Find someone who suits your needs. If you meet with a director a few times and it’s not a fit, it’s ok to find someone else. Direction is about exploring, and a good director wants what’s best for the seeker, even if it’s not working together.
Are you struggling with emotions, feelings, or big life events?
Maybe you’ve identified that anger is controlling your life or informing your decisions.
Maybe fear stands in your way of submitting that article or book proposal.
Maybe your inner critic has a loudspeaker with negative self-talk messages on repeat.
Maybe a recent rejection has impacted your time and thoughts.
Maybe you’ve gone through a divorce or breakup, experienced a death or major health issue, are newly married, or have a new child.
Maybe a family or friend dynamic has changed and is impacting you in unexpected ways.
Big life events can disrupt—in positive and negative ways—life as we know it. Big emotions often come with it and can put a spotlight on an area of our life that we’re not comfortable with, like failure or change.
A spiritual director listens to your story to see what is holding you back. Then, they might offer ways to move with and through that challenge, all the while paying attention to what you’re learning and how the Divine is working in that challenge.
Are you discerning your career options? Are you feeling stuck?
Maybe we wonder, “Is an academic career for me?” Quite a few academics ask that question, which is why my friend Beth Godbee has a consulting practice that guides academics through career discernment.
Or, maybe we think, “I want to be at X point in my career, but I can’t seem to get there.”
These questions come to us for different reasons. Maybe we’re not feeling fulfilled, or maybe we feel that our desire is pulling us elsewhere. Or maybe we love our careers, but we are overwhelmed and need a break or learn how to ask for help.
A director helps us see what’s standing in the way. A director listens to our stories, the challenging and the joyous. They ask questions about what drives our career choices and can provide us with heuristics for digging deeper into our questions.
Do you have a major decision to make? Do you want to improve your decision making abilities?
Like with career discernment, decision making can be about identifying and following desire, joy, and freedom. Spiritual directors can offer ways to help you practice that skill, first by learning how to identify those feelings, how to determine their authenticity, and then how to follow then.
Other questions that academics might explore with a spiritual director:
- Are you on committees that are making difficult decisions? Could you use outside support for that high-level decision making?
- Are your relationships—personal and professional—supporting you to be your best self?
- Do you struggle to say “no”? Do you “should” on yourself?
- Are you wondering about the decision to have or not have children?
- Are you happy? What is happiness for you?
- Do you feel connected to your true self?
How often should you see a director?
Some people go once a month, and some people go weekly. When I was completing the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, I saw my director once a week, and now I’m back to monthly meetings.
Sessions typically last one hour.
How much does it cost? Where do we meet?
Some directors charge on a sliding scale, and others accept free-will donations. Ask your potential director what they charge. Be candid about what you can afford.
Typically you meet your director at a mutually convenient time and location. If a director is affiliated with an organization, like a church or university, you might meet in a church or university office. Some directions work in private practice out of an office or their home.
When do you know it’s time to find a director?
Well, if you’re reading this post, consider it an invitation to explore direction. You clicked on this link for some reason, even if it was out of curiosity.
Curiosity is one of our best teachers. If you follow it, you might be surprised where it leads.
Check out Spiritual Directors International’s Seek and Find Guide if you feel compelled to explore further.
Spiritual direction is about freedom
That’s what one of my spiritual director teachers says. It’s all about freedom.
When you’re in spiritual direction, you’re learning how to tune into your inner self and your inner wisdom. It’s about living and loving from a place of personal freedom. A director helps you find that freedom.
It’s a challenging and rewarding path that a director walks with you, not for you.
Questions to ponder
- Did any of these questions resonate with you? If so, which ones? Why?
- After reading this post, how might you benefit from meeting with a director?
- If meeting with a director feels right to you, what next step will you take to find a director?
- If you meet with a spiritual director currently, how is that relationship going? Are there any changes you need from that relationship?
- Do you know someone who might benefit from this post? If so, please share it with them.