What’s the question people ask you about yourself that you find hardest to answer?
Mine is such a common question. Eventually with new people it seems to inevitably come up. And every time, I kind of panic a little before I have to start explaining. Just recently it happened again on a flight from Seattle into Calgary. I was in LA for the weekend and was heading home and for some reason this time went through Seattle. After my layover I was on a little plane, you know, the kind with only two seats per side, and I got in the window and then my flight mate sat down. He was a big guy, muscley, so it was cozy. Even though I was planning to sleep, it was that awkward 2 seat situation where you’re cuddled up with a stranger so you should probably not be rude by pretending to look out the window or instantly closing your eyes and maybe you’ll just pass the hour by chatting. And those are lovely little moments, anyway, aren’t they? You get to know another human being and at the end there are exactly zero obligations. We all say goodbye knowing we’ll probably never talk again, and in that unique environment it’s totally okay. It reminds me of when I learned that the soul does not attach. It desires, it loves and it lets go. So those plane moments are probably heavenly moments. Quite natural for the soul.
Anyhow, I was sitting beside this guy, and I didn’t want the question to come up, so I started to talk to him about where he was from, if he was a Calgarian like me or if Seattle was home and what have you and he said neither but that he was going to Calgary on business and started telling me about his job in the liquor industry. I was asking what it was like and he was talking about how he actually didn’t really drink much, he got tired of drinking which he had to do as part of his work, because he couldn’t really sell alcohol if he wasn’t drinking it with the others (fair enough) and that he didn’t really feel like ‘working’, especially not on his days off. For a recovering alcoholic like me this was fascinating. Really. Like wow, I wonder if I could be a booze rep? Scary thought. I can feel the wincey eyes and pounding headache already. But then if I was would I too not want to drink on my days off because it felt like work…well, maybe. I don’t like being told what to do so maybe if you forced me to drink all the time I’d say forget that I’m staying sober. I don’t know! But anyway, I was pretty into his story. And it wasn’t just the alcohol rep thing, it was also who he was. He was one of those kinds of people most of us love being around. He was open and grounded, he didn’t have something to prove, at least not in an obvious in your face kind of way. And he was funny, not a joke teller but actually someone who enjoys those little drops of wit here and there. I guess it would be better to say he was fun. Not dreadfully serious. And it was enjoyable to be passing the time with an engaging human being like that. I could see why he was good at what he did.
But then, as we know, all good things come to an end. And it wasn’t going to end because the flight was over. We still had another 46 minutes to go.
It was because eventually I know its going to happen. We’re going to come around to that awkward question and things are gonna get weird. It’s going to come up because he’s one of those great kinds of people to be around and he will eventually realize he’s been talking about himself a lot and it would be rude to do that for the whole flight so of course the conversation will naturally shift over to me. And of course then the question is going to come up. And, there it is.
What do you do?
So obvious. So innocent. It used to be easy to answer, and fun to tell people about my job. But these days the wheels start turning even before they ask. I feel like it’s hard to explain and beside that, the topics are so touchy! I mean, first of all, imagine being a therapist. I have seen how people react to that as I’ve observed from the outside. Another flight scenario, but this time it was a 3 seater side. I was in the aisle, lady in the middle, guy at the window. Lady and the guy start talking so I’m out. No problem. And she starts asking him questions and he is answering and they are getting along so well. And then he says it, yep, of course he does. So, what do you do? And she says, “I’m a Psychologist” and all he said was Oh. And it got quiet. And awkward. Really awkward. And I loved it, because it wasn’t me!!! I was like oh ya! Your turn to take one for the team. Ok, I know that’s mean that somehow I was enjoying this. But I’m big on trying to tell the truth and the truth is I was actually really into this scene. It was so good to watch it from the outside. And I definitely wasn’t going to jump in with – oh really? Me too! (But it did cross my mind). Can you imagine guy in the corner at that point?
Anyhow, it was a little tense and she kind of puffed herself up, sat straighter in her chair and then just tried to blab on like an uber professional. It softened things up a bit because he could just listen to her instead of fear of being analyzed or probed into, so they recovered and it was ok.
But ya, that’s the first reason this question makes things weird for me. But, thats not all!
I’m also a pastor.
Exactly. So we’ve got the therapist psychoanalyzing you and now the religious judge wondering if you’ve repented from your sins and so forth. And then the obvious question spinning in the background like why a therapist would become a minister and what the hell is this girl up to anyway. I’m becoming less and less fun to be around by the nanosecond.
Oh, and uh, this guy that I’m now with works in the liquor industry remember and has just told me all kinds of sordid tales from the events of his job thinking I was Jenny the office girl or something. So I do not look either part. I’m 5’5, 38, not married, and wearing Lululemon. Ya, so exactly. We’re about to bring the good vibes to an absolute halt.
But, I’m not just a pastor either. Because even if I just said that then they will say, oh, so do you have a church you lead? Or where’s your church? And of course then I’ll have to explain that I do lead a church. And then they will say, oh, what’s it like? And I will have to explain that I’m actually a church planter and I started these “faith communities” that are modelled after the 12 Step model and they look more like AA meetings than church services, and well at this point as my friend Adonna would quote from some crazy show from before I was born.
Well Jenn, you’re gonna have a lot of “splainin’ to do”!
Ya, that’s why I don’t like this question.
And it doesn’t matter what they do. They can be a dental hygienist, or an oil company exec, or a teacher or an AA member. It always gets awkward. (Those are all real people it got weird with by the way)
And I’m a Two on the Enneagram. And if you don’t know about the Enneagram, well Twos love relationships. They’re all about relationships. Everything that matters to them is about the relationship. And not the whole significant other, are we ok, type of concern. It’s beyond that. I mean the whole world is seen through a lens of relationships. They are the people that help you nurture your own relationships. They notice the animals as they relate to each other and have fun and mother and scold. They love the idea of God as Trinity, because of course God wouldn’t want to be alone. I mean that kind of relational lens.
So you can see now why I squirm at this question. It’s not that I don’t like what I do. Oh please, don’t get me wrong on that. I adore every day that I get to do what I do. I finally realize that idea of “do what you love and you’ll never work a day in your life”. But I squirm because I know the relationship, the energy, the interesting back and forth is going to change. And not necessarily in a good way.
So, back to my plane mate. He did ask what I did. Of course he did. And I thought about lying or manipulating the conversation back to him but I’m big on being real so I just went for it. I let him know that I’m a therapist and also a pastor, and then he asked more questions and I told him about my journey. It was weird at first, of course it was. But eventually he settled into it. It wasn’t easy to wade through but I just went with it and so did he. And even though it wasn’t easy, the one thing I remember is I noticed him kind of looking down more before some of his questions, almost searching within, and he was really starting to ask me deeper things, and I felt thankful for that. Because even if I make people feel anxious, and even if that gives me anxiety, I think the gift that I bring is that I can help them to get in touch with more of what’s authentic for them. Their true self. And the deeper Reality.
And that’s what I want to do for you here too.
Jennifer is a Certified Professional Counsellor with the PACCP and an Ordained Minster within the CC(DOC). For information on counselling or spiritual direction with Jennifer go to Living Well Counselling Services For more information on Q Faith Community you can read stories from members or to go to Q Faith Community’s gatherings page to attend in person or online.
Thanks so much for reading my blog! I value each and every reader. If you leave a comment I will try to respond. As you can see, I'm very busy with so many exciting projects, including writing a book. So responding to each and every commenter is impossible. But believe me: I do read and value your contribution to this important conversation. Thanks! Jenn