I’m almost thirty eight years old, and I’ve run out of pieces of paper to collect.
When I was a kid, my dad would always give what he called “Speech Number Two” (Speech Number One was probably about not beating up my little brother, to which I clearly did not listen). The speech was always some variation of “study hard in school, so you can get into a good college, so you can get a good job, etc. etc.”
Dad was telling me to take advantage of all the opportunities available to me in an upper middle class suburb where going to college after high school was the norm; where it was assumed you’d get married, have children, and get a job that paid your mortgage and gave you a comfortable living. It wouldn’t just be given to you, but you could reasonably expect all these things if you did what you were supposed to do.
The story that Dad’s “Speech Number Two” tells is that collecting enough pieces of paper will lead to success and happiness in life.
So I spent more than two decades collecting all the requisite pieces of paper. I got good grades in high school, so they gave me a piece of paper that said I graduated. Another piece of paper came in the mail to say I had gotten into a good college. A few years after that, I got another piece of paper that said “Bachelor of Arts”, and one that said I was admitted to a top tier graduate school.
Since I had discerned a call to ordained ministry, the United Methodist Church threw in a few other pieces of paper along the way, and I kept collecting them.
Local Pastor’s License, check. Marriage certificate, check. Master’s Degree. Birth certificate for my first child. Mortgage. Ordination Certificate. Two more birth certificates.
Then one day I put on a very colorful floppy cap and a gown with stripes on the sleeves, and other people wearing equally fancy caps and gowns gave me a piece of paper that said “Doctor”.
I have gotten all the pieces of paper there were to get, and I am proud of every single one of them. But when you’ve lived the majority of your life with an unexamined narrative that says “more pieces of paper = happiness”, what happens when there are no more pieces of paper to collect?
Next time- how I’m attempting to answer this question now.