Where Did the Party Go? - jennwhitmer.com

Apr 15, 2019

Where Did the Party Go?

I talk a lot. I ask a lot of questions. But the last two years, I asked more questions than ever before.  

empty chair with lone balloon. Leadership. Growth. Speaker. Writer.

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 with seemingly endless possibilities?

How would I prepare for what’s next when I didn’t have a clear destination?

Like many others before me, I went back to school. I love learning of all kinds and firmly believe 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 privilege time, I chose a course of study: culture and communications. Technically titled a Master of Arts in Multimodal Literacy for Global Impact (see why I call I shorten it?), the program expanded upon my experience and focused on the intersectionality of my eclectic passions. I immersed myself in finishing a program designed for two years into nine months. (Yes, I’m that crazy person.) 

Yet, a new degree was only part of finding a new party. I needed to ask questions. One mentor in conflict resolution, Judy, continually pushed me to ask better questions. Yet, I had to search for answers, and no leader 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 has not been swift or neat. I poured out sheets of words. I jabbered. I dreamed. I silently stared. I made lists and scratched out ideas over days, and weeks, and months.

Once I had a list—a long list—of answers, I settled on a few possible areas. Armed with a list of questions (of course!), I talked with people who lived in those 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 to guide the discovery my next step.

I offer you these questions, and what they have meant to me. If you are in the midst of finding a new party, here are a 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? 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. 

Kristy 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 inspired me: “What problem do you want to solve?” I believe I’m called to work to make things right in the world, to bringing about human flourishing. 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 reminded 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 a moment to realize what already exists in our life. 

I sat in the midst of pondering these questions for a season. In many ways, I’m still there. I feel humbled, and almost guilty, 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 comes with freedom. 

Finding a new party involves a lot of introspection and extraspection (I can make up words, right!?). The wise sage 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 nugget of action 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.This article is updated and adapted from the original post on justchangelanes.com.

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