Welcome to our first “Tell Me More Tuesday,” featuring real women in our Changing Lanes community who are bravely moving forward in ways they never imagined. If you’ve got a story to share with our readers, shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org, I’d love to hear it!
I am so excited to introduce you to Jennifer Whitmer. Our paths crossed for the first time a mere 23 years ago, when we lived on the same floor my freshman year at William Jewell College. Jenn was bubbly, funny, and immediately befriended everyone around her–including me. Fast-forward a few decades and that hasn’t changed a bit. Her life’s work, however, has taken her on a new path, and she’s sharing how she’s finding JOY in the journey on today’s blog. Thanks, Jenn!
I talk a lot. I ask a lot of questions. But this year, I’ve asked more questions than ever before.
I come from the world of education. After a leadership change in my last organization, a slow, yet distinct culture shift occurred. It became apparent that what was once a great cultural and ideological fit, no longer existed. A wise man I know described cultural shifts in this way: “The party moved to another room.” Well, always wanting to be in the mix, I went in search of another shindig.
But what kind of party did I want? My interests and passions were (and are) wide, varied, and seemingly unrelated. How would I narrow, sift, and sort when seemingly endless possibilities existed? How would I prepare for what’s next when I didn’t have a clear destination?
As many others before me, I went back to school. I love learning of all kinds and firmly believe that much knowledge comes from outside the formal classroom; however, we live in a world where a degree provides a specific type of currency. With the freedom of time and privilege of reduced tuition (my husband is an adjunct professor), I chose a course of study that would expand upon what I already had and focus on the intersectionality of my eclectic passions.
Yet, a new degree was only part of finding a new party. I needed to ask questions. A mentor, Judy, directed me to better questions than I had before. I had to provide answers to those questions and no one else could do that for me.
As a person of faith, I believe God gives wisdom when we ask Him. So that was where I started. And then I asked myself questions that guided my sifting and sorting: What do I want from my life? What are my goals? What do I love to do? What am I good at? What do I avoid doing? What makes me excited? What drains me? What do I value? As you can imagine, this process was not swift or neat. I poured out pages and sheets of words. I made lists and scratched ideas over days, and weeks, and months.
Once I had a list—a long list—of answers, I came settled on a few possible areas. For me those spheres were post-secondary institutions, the non-profit world, the corporate arena, and the entrepreneurship space. Armed with a list of questions (of course!), I talked with people who lived in these spheres, mostly people I did not know and had never met before. I quickly eliminated organizational cultures and companies I did not want to party with. Other folks believed in me and encouraged me in ways that quenched my weary, searching soul. The best led me to outstanding questions that are have been guides for discovering my next step.
I offer to you these questions and what they’re meaning to me right now. If you are in the midst of finding a new party, here are few process suggestions: write and talk. Write it down; write it all down. Physically get out a pen and put it to paper. Talk to yourself. Say these things out loud to yourself, then to a trusted circle. Capture the questions and your answers over time. Voxer, voice notes, a beautiful journal, and a good pen are your boon companions in this question-asking journey.
“It’s not about finding yourself, it’s about finding where you fit. Where do you want to fit?” Steve shared. What freedom that gave me! I was ok; I was enough; I just needed to find where my jigsaw-puzzled-self fit with others. We’re built for community; what does that community look like? Even in the workplace, a mutually beneficial community—that had what I needed and needed what I had—was what I was searching for.
Jillian asked me: “What do you want the core of your day to look like?” What a brilliant question. How do I want to spend my days? With people? Alone? Moving, sitting, dreaming, speaking? Work is a gift; to choose how you work is a treasure.
Stacy encouraged me: “Whom do you want to help?” God has given each of us gifts, talents, knowledge, skills, and experience to serve others. We’re meant to give it away. When we exchange that for money, we call that a job. When we do that for free, it’s volunteering. But it’s all in service of others.
Marc asked me: “What problem do you want to solve?” I believe God has called me to be a co-laborer in making things right in the world, to bringing about human flourishing to His glory. And that means solving problems. There are multiple objectives and tasks involved in solving a problem and plenty of ways to work within a problem-solving framework.
Nicci asked me: “What are you already doing? What is the golden thread in your life?” Rarely, if ever, do you happen upon something entirely new. Usually, you discover you’ve already been doing something you love. Patterns emerge, and you begin to see you’re already doing the thing you want to be doing. Some people are just more aware; others of us are such doers we have to pause for moment to realize what already exists in our life.
I sit in the midst of pondering these questions for this season. I feel humbled, and almost guilty, that I have the privilege of even asking these questions, let alone the freedom to act on the answers. But to whom much is given, much is required. The weight of intentionality and purpose come with freedom.
Finding a new party involves a lot of introspection and extraspection (I can make up words, right!?). As Ferris says, “If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Questions have been my guides so I don’t miss it.
Finally, fellow party seeker, I leave you with a recent nugget I received from Abby: “Don’t say no for them.” Many people do this, but I believe this is a particular struggle for women. We second guess and opt out before we are told no. Apply, try, learn, pitch, propose, ask! Make them tell you no. I feel the tension and the anxiety: I sit in it with you, and I’m cheering you on.
Because sometimes when you’re looking for a new party, you have to invite yourself.
Jennifer Whitmer is Christ-follower, wife of 20 years, mom to 4 not-so-littles, prayer champion, musician, storyteller, activator, speaker, and joy-bringer based in St. Louis, Mo. She loves diverse people and cultures, coffee, laughter, and a good book. She helps people change the world, one question at a time. (And really, she just wants her life to be a musical.)