A few weeks ago, I was in a job interview and the interviewer asked me, “what’s your five year plan? How does this job fit into your career goals?”  I hadn’t really considered the question, and it brought back a lot of memories.  

When I was a child, I never had a good answer to the common refrain of “what do you want to be when you grow up?”  I didn’t know all the professions out there, how could I sort through and decide what I would most enjoy?  As a camp counselor helping fifth graders decorate a bulletin board under the heading, “when I grow up, I want to be…”  my contributions were the words “happy” and “gorgeous” next to their suggestions of “veterinarian,” “teacher,” and “doctor.”  Nearing the end of my college career, I faced a lot of questions about what I would do after graduation, and I found an acceptable answer.  I would spend a year doing full time volunteer service with FVM.  Surely, this time would give me what I had always wanted… a clear understanding of exactly where my career would take me (when one year didn’t accomplish the task, I tried a second).

Well, I didn’t find a straightforward career path through FVM, but I did find a good path.  The time I spent in Philadelphia and Wilmington taught me deep truths about reality and myself.  Some of the guests at St. Francis Inn told me they were “blessed” every time I asked after their well-being, showing me how much brightness could be found in everyday life.  The moment of epiphany as a student learned a new word in English at an ESOL class helped me remember.  The ladies in prison shared their stories and I saw them put in the hard work to build positive relationships with family and each other.  My housemates introduced me to new recipes and games, and together we worked through conflicts, both big and small.  The friars shared a million stories about the Little Poor Man of Assisi and learned that sometimes, what seems to be the worst misfortune is just an opportunity for Perfect Joy.  In those two life-changing years, and in the relationships formed because of them, I deepened a way of life that valued human dignity and service.  I learned that responding to the needs of individuals (whether at the soup kitchen, the migrant camp, the hospital, or the prison) was both necessary and impactful, but it made me aware of how broken the systems really are.  I learned the importance of spirituality and reliance on God in a world that so often seems to be falling away from God’s will.  And I learned that we get to be co-workers in changing the world to be more in line with God’s will. 

When I left FVM, the answer wasn’t to find a job that paid well or just fall into my “backup plan” from college. The answer was to find a job that gave me a way to live these values… in the end, a job I had never imagined in a city I had never visited.  And a few weeks ago, as I sat in the interview, considering the next step in my unconventional career path, the answer rose up in me.  I told the interviewer the truth.  I don’t have a five-year plan.  I don’t know what I want to do with my life or exactly what God’s plans for me are.  But I do know that I will continue working to make sure human dignity is more deeply valued and respected.  I will continue building more justice in the community, and speaking out when it is lacking.  I will continue treating people with compassion and building bridges to overcome conflict and misunderstanding.  I will continue, in short, to build a more Franciscan community and world. I can’t imagine doing anything else.

Sheila Herlihy, FVM Philly ‘11-’12, Wilmington ‘12-’13