Saturday, January 31, 2015

Turn around, So You Can Find the “Open Door” and the Rest of Life

Jim Schaefer, TC 04

    As I work with my students and their writing, a frequent pattern in their search for meaning is the discovery of closed doors that seem to be preventing them from fulfilling their dreams. A complex array of situations exist for them in their own lives, but the level of intense frustration, even anger, exists as they struggle to resolve their dilemmas.

Parker J. Palmer, known as one of the most influential senior scholarly leaders, offered a possibly soothing bit of insight in his book, Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Palmer noted that when a “way closes behind us, it is tempting to regard it simply as the result of some strategic error” that we may have made (p. 53). Palmer suggested that instead what may be happening is that this closing “may reveal our limits,” while the opening “may reveal our potentials” so that “the rest of the world opens up” (p. 54).

    I’ve heard of the saying that when one door closes, another opens up, before, but I’ve never thought about the reaction that Palmer suggested. Instead of “pounding on the door just closed,” Palmer urged people to “turn around—which puts the door behind us—and welcome the largeness of life that now lies open to our souls. The door that closed kept us from entering a room, but what now lies before us is the rest of reality” (p. 54).

    This wonderful insight applies not only to vocational challenges that so many people, including students and educators, face but also to the journey of discovery in writing an essay. Just recently, one of my students in a class on writing academic research essays was frustrated in trying to understand a specific exchange with her mother, and when I worked with her, she finally understood that what had happened was within the larger context of a mother-daughter relationship. It was a very meaningful epiphany in many ways for her.

    I personally think that there are many times in many situations when we need to allow ourselves to turn around (get a different perspective) so that we can better understand and react to what is happening in our often stress-filled, hectic lives. Perhaps then we can relax and enjoy the rich potentials that exist before us.


Palmer, P. J. (2000). Let your life speak: Listening for the voice
    of vocation
. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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