Words of Praise

Danielle Dryke, Alumni '03

In our lives there are many choices that we face; how we make these choices determines what life path we take and the experiences that we will have. During my senior year at Gustavus I was a mess. I saw the path that everything seemed to be pushing me towards, the interviews with companies we all know, the office positions that everyone fights for.

As a business major I had a certain preconceived idea that I would end up working in a cubicle somewhere with a career ladder placed in front of me. The internal frustration was killing me. This was not the path I wanted to travel, but it took a while for me to figure that out. Luckily, one of my mentors at Gustavus saw the frustration I was experiencing and recommended that I go to a conference that the Center for Vocational Reflection was sponsoring. The conference was called Inward Bound. It allowed me the time and space to ask the questions I had been so skillfully avoiding. I was asked to reflect on what was holding me back from living the life I most wanted to live. I was allowed the space to speak openly and freely without judgment about what my dreams and goals were.

During this time, I discovered what I really wanted to do next in my life was to volunteer in a foreign country, learn a foreign language, and test the waters to see if a life abroad was really for me. Thankfully I had a family who was supportive of me in this venture. I realized that, although this wasn't the road they had been hoping I'd take, they were willing to support me. This helped me to recognize that ultimately my life is my own, and I'm the person who will have to live directly with the choices that I make.

Ultimately, my decision to join the Peace Corps was one of the best decisions I have ever made. It was the right decision for me because in my heart I was excited about the work I was doing and the things I was experiencing. I'm not saying there weren't days I was miserable, or there weren't times when everything seemed overwhelming or just plain too tough, but if you are doing what your heart tells you is right for you, you get through it. There will always be days where you can't imagine yourself anywhere else; when you feel so full of life.

During the last few months of my contract with Peace Corps I was experiencing the same sort of indecision I had experienced senior year. Everyday I was questioning myself about what was next. I had already extended my contract for three months and moved to the capital city. I was in love with an incredible man, and I was signed up to start graduate school in February in Amsterdam. I was torn between staying in Mali to be with my boyfriend and give our relationship more time to grow before leaving, or continuing with the plans I had made and starting school. I made the decision to stay, but only after I made the decision to leave and found myself crying every day at the prospect of leaving.

Thankfully, I was given the option to extend my Peace Corps contract again for a full year. I enjoyed my time working in the capital, and my boyfriend soon became my fiance. This past October I faced another hard decision. My fiance's mother was ill with brain cancer, and my contract with Peace Corps didn't finish until the end of November. I put my work at risk, but I couldn't imagine missing the opportunity to meet the most important woman in my fiance's life. I took the time to really determine what was most important to me.

I decided to listen to my heart and put my trust in God, and I asked to finish my contract with Peace Corps early to fly to Beirut and spend the two months prior to starting graduate school in Amsterdam with my future mother-in-law. The memories that I have with her I will treasure forever. I was there with her until the end of her life, during a period of time when Beirut was experiencing much political turmoil.

Sometimes following your heart doesn't mean giving up your plans. Sometimes it just means that, for the time being, something else is more right for you or more important for your future. The Center for Vocational Reflection taught me that I can design my own life, that I don't always have to know what's next or where the path I'm taking will lead. Sometimes taking a risk can pay off for you in ways that you could never predict.

Yes, my life is a little uncertain right now. I'm starting graduate school this week in Amsterdam; my fiance is heading back to Mali in the next month; we aren't sure where we'll be living this time next year, but I couldn't be happier. I can't imagine my life any other way. I have an amazing family. I have also seen and done things I never imagined myself capable of. I thank God everyday for blessing me with the strength to follow my dreams and the courage to follow my heart. The ideas that the Center for Vocational Reflection taught me to explore have helped me continuously throughout my life to make the choices that are most true to my heart and to help me find my place in the world.