I have had an existential crisis every semester since coming to Harvard Divinity School.
Though it may not seem like it, this is meant to be a celebration of HDS and an encouragement to come here, rather than a complaint and deterrent. And to be fair, I have yet (knock on wood) to have one of these existential crises this semester, though I think the one I had in the spring was big enough to count for both spring and fall semesters.
…you’re probably wondering why on earth I think all this upheaval is a good thing, and especially why I think this is a reason you should come to HDS.
In my first semester here, I realized that I no longer wanted to get a PhD, my academic goal for the previous 5 years, and that I wanted to pursue the Master of Divinity degree, not the Master of Theological Studies degree. In the spring, I discovered that I was a Unitarian Universalist, rather than spiritual-but-not-religious, the label I had happily claimed for several years. In the fall of my second year, after some hesitation and resistance, I accepted the fact that I was moving towards ordination and ministry, a path I had never even remotely considered even a year before. And, that spring, I cried from the pulpit in Memorial Church as I admitted to my preaching class that I had recently come to terms with the fact that I believe in God.
At this point, you’re probably wondering why on earth I think all this upheaval is a good thing, and especially why I think this is a reason you should come to HDS. To put it starkly, I believe that if you leave HDS as the exact same person you were when you arrived, HDS has failed you.
Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean major crises at every turn, and it doesn’t even mean you leave on a different career path or with a different worldview than when you started. Plenty of people come in with a plan and leave still following that plan; plenty of people come in affiliated with one religion (or none) and leave with the same affiliation. But I think very few people leave without questioning something about themselves or their plan, and I think this is a good thing!
Given the interesting, intelligent people who are here at HDS, and the diversity of experiences, worldviews, and thoughts that they all have, I can’t imagine being here, exposed to all these, and not changing in some way.
The world needs ministers and professors and non-profit managers who are doing what they’re doing because they’ve questioned it and decided it’s exactly what they want to do. Better to have that questioning happen in graduate school rather than the first time things get hard on the job. Crises on the job are easier to handle if you already feel solidly that you’re doing the right thing, even if it’s hard. And existential crises are best handled in a supportive environment, full of people who want to help, and even people whose jobs it is to help you figure it all out.
Given the interesting, intelligent people who are here at HDS, and the diversity of experiences, worldviews, and thoughts that they all have, I can’t imagine being here, exposed to all these, and not changing in some way. The big picture end-goal may be the same when you enter and when you leave, but I would hope that in between, you spend a lot of time thinking and wondering about who you are and what you want to do. I firmly believe this is what will help you become your best self.
I came to HDS happy with who I was and confident in my career path. I’ll be leaving feeling like I’m exactly who I’m meant to be, and not being able to imagine another career path that fits me so well. And that is thanks to HDS and the amazing people and experiences that exist here that I get to go into the world, ready to take it all on.