Monday, January 5, 2015

My Discernment Journey and My Vocation [Part 1]

So for those of you who have been reading my blog for the past year or so, you know that I've been struggling with the question of "what to do when I grow up."

"But what are you talking about Agnes? You're in pharmacy school, you're going to be a pharmacist!"

Yes, yes you're right. I guess I'll be a pharmacist. And a wife. And a mother (if the good Lord so blesses us).

But what kind of pharmacist? Where will I work? Who will I serve?

Will I be a healthcare professional that serves and cares for her patients, or will I be doing slave labor to push out prescriptions and make more millions for the drug companies and the retail chain giants?

I especially struggled with the question of whether to pursue residency and thus delay motherhood, or to have a baby early on in our marriage and give up my academic aspirations. I have already written about those struggles pretty extensively in these here please read these before you jump into my discernment journey:

As the end of my 4th year in pharmacy school, graduation, and board exams are approaching, I am forced to think about my career and my future. I'm not really a "career woman" per se...I'm a pretty simple woman and if I could, I would be a stay at home mom - I think I would be perfectly content with cooking meals, cleaning toilets, and wiping butts all day. For real. If you've been reading my blog you know I love, love, love cleaning, cooking, baking, organizing...and I looooove babies and cannot wait until God blesses our marriage with one, or two..or five...or more if He really so desires. But I also try to be a good Catholic and I try to pray, draw inspiration from the Saints, follow my conscience, and do everything for God's Glory, as HE WILLS IT, not as I plan it. And our Dear Lord so happened to call me to the profession of pharmacy. And I so happened to listen. And here I the middle of my last year of pharmacy school...scratching my head and asking myself and GOD:

 "Soooo...What's next?"  

I realized that I have been pondering that question a lot...and that my soul was quite restless since I did not really know what it was that God wanted me to do with my life, with these 6 years of education He put me through, with the talents and compassion for education and healthcare that He blessed me with. Why did He make me the way He made me? Why did He put me through the things He put me through?

So I kept thinking. Praying. Thinking more. Praying more. Asking God questions. Asking myself questions. Getting frustrated. Getting hopeless. Finding hope again. Only to lose it again. And I started really paying attention to how different things make me feel, to what specific experiences God is putting me through both at work, on rotations, and at home, and just overall to what God was trying to tell me through all these things. I tried to hear His voice and see His Will through my daily experiences. I guess I just wanted this whole thing to be easier. I didn't want to keep playing this guessing game...I wanted the answers! I wanted GOD to tell me what to do. It would make our lives so much easier if He just told us what His Will was, would it not?

And it dawned on me the other day that what I had been doing this whole time is called DISCERNMENT.


Yet, my dear friends...

I am not just trying to discern my future career, I am discerning my VOCATION aka my life's calling. Yep. The word vocation comes from Latin and literally means "calling."

Based on the definition, I am not just DISCERNING my future career itself, but my mission, my purpose, my ministry, my function in society etc.

This is a pretty big deal. 
Not something I can brush off or put off. 

More importantly, it is not something about which the decision is made solely by me, with my limited knowledge and lack of wisdom. 

DISCERNING is an active process [not a passive one!] that must be grounded in God[not grounded in oneself and one's own thoughts/knowledge!]

But I wasn't really that great at discerning my vocation (still am not), until all of this information about this topic just started flooding me. It was like as soon as I realized that I must figure out what the discernment process is and how I should go about it (and as soon as worry hit me because I just did not know what would be the best decision for me AND FOR MY FUTURE FAMILY), heaven opened and flooded me with these various things that filled me in on what I'm doing.

By the way, this blog post, as uninteresting as it may be to some of you, is a work of art to me. I have been working on it for the past 4 months..adding various things as they came, as they were revealed to me. I started in September and throughout these past few months, as I discovered, or learned something new, or had some cool experience and got inspired to write...I wrote those thoughts and experiences right here in this blog post. 

Some of them are literally just short thoughts...not even full sentences. I just wrote them down as they came, so as to not forget. 

So sit back..and enjoy the journey of what went on in my head...and in my heart...


Heard Father Stewart Swetland on Relevant Radio...they were doing a segment on discernment/vocations and I only caught like 5 minutes of it. But these are the words that stuck:
"The idea with discernment is to keep doing what you're doing until you feel called to do something else"

Well...that's how I feel now.
I feel called to residency.
To be a REAL clinician...and/or or REAL teacher.

I don't just want to SELL DRUGS for the rest of my life.

Ain't no fun in that. No real purpose in it either.

Especially dispensing birth control all day every day. Trust me, it's not fun. It is very distressing to me. I just do what I gotta do but with every woman I encounter that picks up her birth control prescriptions, I secretly say to myself: "I really hope you don't get breast cancer, a blood clot, a pulmonary embolism, a stroke, and that you don't kill your baby that has already been conceived (just failed to implant in your uterus...aka.. one of the mechanisms of action of OC's)."

I certainly, in Father Swetland's words, "feel called to something else" - and that something else is simply something OTHER THAN a retail pharmacy (which is my current workplace as an intern). I can't picture myself as a retail pharmacist for the rest of my life.

With the way things are going in my certainly seems that God wants me to pursue residency. I just don't see how family planning fits into it all, since I am so eager to become a mom.

There is a reason God made me smartiepants.
A reason why I worked my but off and became Valedictorian of my high school class.
A reason why I did an insane amount of studying throughout these 6 years of pre-pharmacy + pharmacy school education.
A reason why, even at the professional level of school, I am still ranked in the top 5% of my class.
A reason why God made me a nerd. Made me love books. Made me love education.
And I don't think the "Be all end all" of all of this is for me to be a Walgreens/CVS/Osco/WalMart etc pharmacist, stuck behind a counter counting pills, checking, and selling prescriptions for companies that care more about their sales/profit than about their patients, let alone their employees.

For the past 5 years, I didn't have to worry much about discernment. I knew that God put me in and through pharmacy school and that that's what He wanted me to do. I honestly didn't know where the career choice of pharmacy even came from...It just all of a sudden appeared in the latter part of High School and somehow I just knew that that's what I was going to do...even though I didn't really know why.

So for the past few years, I have not needed to do any active discerning, because I was pretty sure that I was on the right path. That I was on God's path. I didn't know how I knew, but I just knew. It probably because everything was just going so smoothly and gave me peace. I figured if God was calling me to something else or if I was on my own path, not on God's; pharmacy school would be difficult (not just literally, but emotionally) for me and that it would make me unhappy. But pharmacy school was easy. It made me happy. I fit in. IT was IT. I didn't see myself any other place. Everything just aligned perfectly in my head. I could see God's will in all of it, every point, every event along the path.

EPIPHANY on my teaching rotation:

I want to teach!!!!  So badly!!!!! I want to be clinical pharmacist + associate professor of pharmacy. Just like my past 2 preceptors are. They spent 50% of their time on-campus, teaching and course-directing, and 50% at their practice site / hospital.

I have always wanted to be  a teacher.
All of my childhood. If someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grow up, I always said teacher.

And this rotation confirms my strong interest in academia. It gives me energy and makes me excited to help teach 1st and 2nd year pharmacy students. I hope to one day obtain a position where I can do clinical stuff but at the same time educate both patients and students.

These 6 weeks of my teaching rotation have definitely shown me a whole another side of being a pharmacist that I have not previously considered.

Heard Father Burke Masters on Relevant Radio, talking about discernment [thanks God, for turning me to this radio station at the right time]:

Fr. Burke said [summarizing the best I can]:
"Ask yourself
is this coming from God?
or the evil one?
or just from yourself / your head?
This is what is called discernment.
And the most important component of discerning one's calling is PRAYER. Lots and lots of prayer. Also spiritual direction. Talk to your parish priest, perhaps he could serve as your spiritual director. If not, talk to people you know...people that know you well and care about you...they will be able to give you advice whether what you're feeling at the time is right for you. Say: 'Hey..lately I've been feeling really strongly about doing this and you think God wants me to do that?' Most of the time, if we feel strongly, and positively and passionately about something....and it makes us truly happy (not just superficially happy but deeply "to the bones" happy), it probably is from God. But if we start doing something and it's not going well or we're feeling troubled or uneasy, that's when we need lots of prayer and discernment.

OMGOSH, the Lord is just bombarding me with message / knowledge / wisdom about discernment! I think He's really trying to teach me something. Because ever since I got on these pharmacy rotations and my eyes have been opened and began to truly wonder about my calling as a future pharmacist...ever since then I keep hearing and reading about discernment. Discernment everywhere. Can God make it any more obvious? Or maybe this is just confirmation bias.

Discussed salary for retail pharmacy with pharmacist friend and with my coworker. Turns out that the difference in pay for retail vs hospital pharmacists is pretty significant...especially here in Chicago. Also, the company I work for currently gives the best salaries out of most other chain pharmacies...And that made me kind of unpeaceful. I kept thinking about how huge of a difference the pay really much difference it would make in terms of being able to pay off my loans a lot quicker, have more money for bills, for my future family. I just kept thinking about the money difference. All of a sudden, clinical/hospital pharmacy stopped sounding appealing. And I started thinking: maybe retail really is where I should go, with the amount of debt looming over me and with my husband not having a job with that great of a pay either.

I realized I was worried. Because I thought I had it kinda figured out. And then after a while, like usually, I had to remind myself who's in control. I'm not in control. God has GOT this. He's got me. Why should I worry? Wherever He wants me, there He'll place me :-) He already has a plan and a place for me. I believe it.

Yeah. This is where discernment comes in.

This is where I have to go through more rotations and see what really makes me passionate, what drives me, what I'm good at, what I was made for. And this is where I wait, and pray, and trust... and let those feelings / passions keep building up in me...until it becomes clearer and clearer as to what it is that I should really do.

Discernment process continued and debates in my head.

This morning the thought came into my head, as I was still drawn to the higher salary of retail pharmacy, that perhaps this is a devil's tool...that he's putting thoughts into my head that this is the right career path for me and he wants me to end up in a dead end job: unsatisfied, not learning, not really serving patients and participating in healthcare decisions, AND FILLING AND CHECKING AND SELLING BIRTH CONTROL PRESCRIPTIONS. My goodness, in fact, I think Planned Parenthood is starting to haunt me. I've been working retail for 4 years now and never before seen a prescription from PP....and these past 2 weekends in a row,  I had patients bringing in Rx's from PP (one was what looked like a post-abortion prescription based on the meds prescribed) and the other was just a birth control Rx. And I'm thinking: wow...God...are you trying to tell me something here??? You're literally showing me that by accepting and filling these Rx's, I'm indirectly helping PP stay in business and helping PP patients kill their babies / potential babies. You can't put a price tag on that, right God? No matter how much money I can make working retail...I think I'll just take the 25% pay cut and be a hospital pharmacist or professor of pharmacy and be Far Far Away from birth control.

So that brings another factor for me to discern.

I swear, one of these days I'm going to make me a Residency+clinical/hospital  pharmacist vs. No Residency+Retail Pharmacist  PROs & CONs Table because there are so many pros and cons on each side that I can't keep it all straight in my head.  But again, I don't think any pros and cons can outweigh the value of my FAITH, ETHICS, MORALS.

And any retail pharmacy district manager will tell you: if you're unwilling to fill and counsel on prescriptions for birth control, then this job just isn't for you. And as a fellow student in my class said one time during a round table discussion about emergency contraceptoin, "you should not judge your patients, and if you're unwilling to counsel on and sell Plan B, then perhaps you should think about a career change." I wanted to be like: I completey disagree dude! I was so offened when I heard that. But of course I was too shy to argue, too intimitated by all of these students speaking out FOR BC and EC, that I didn't stand up for my faith at that point...and perhaps I should' certainly felt like I was the only one the room that knew the truth. But I digress... yeah. I'll make that table soon and post it.

New flood of thoughts to add....

  • what was the point of working so hard all my life?
  • of studying so darn hard?
  • of being a straight A student in primary school, middle school, jr high school, high school, college, and now professional school?
  • of trying to not just be average, not just meet expectations, but to go above and beyond, to excel?
  • what's the point of God making ma a nerdy nerd who loves to read x1,000,000 and actually enjoys school and studying?
  • is this not to make me a scholar? to make me a professor of pharmacy or clinical pharmacist who makes healthcare decisions, educates patients, and precepts students? to make me someone more than just a retail pharmacist behind a Walgreens counter, who mindlessly checks prescriptions and once in a while counsels on medications (because as we retail pharmacy workers all know, there ain't even time for that in retail...since it's all about Rx Volume...about numbers....about dollars)
  • would God really put me in a place that would make me unhappy?

But I don't even know what truly makes me happy....the one thing that does for sure is knowing that I am living in accordance with His WIll and not my own.

So here ... just some more thoughts to digest...

While I wait here for another flood of more thoughts....

Because they keep coming every day.

I think I'll just hold off  publishing this post for a while because with everyday experiences...with everyday thoughts...I keep being enlightened with more insight on this matter....this matter of my future.

Sometimes I really wish I could be like all of you stay-at-home-moms out there....working at your full-time vocation of wife+mommy, with your husbands - the supporters of the family, the breadwinners.

Perhaps one day I will.

But I think for now, God is calling me to also be a [fill in the blank: retail pharmacist, clinical pharmacist, hospital staff pharmacist, professor of pharmacy?]

Gave me too much brains. And now I got too much loans. So a pharmacist I better be. one said I can't be wife+mommy+pharmacist...perhaps maybe even sometime soon? But that depends on whether God wants me to do that residency thing...which is the whole point of this wonderful post on discernment.

Oh You Be All the Glory of the Earth and the Heavens!
In the end, Your Will shall TRIUMPH! 

I guess for now I'm going forward with residency applications and my future will probably become more clear once I see how many interviews I get, if any.

I guess I'll just stop worrying and let things play out.
After all, things are playing out in God's hand, which is the playground for all of this :-)

Another reason. Another thought.

This morning as I'm walking down the stairs in Alumni Hall of Midwestern University:
"I really feel that I need a job in the future that will keep me intellectually engaged and that will include intellectual growth and development...since that's just the kind of person that God made me. He created me this way. And I'm constantly craving learning, and constantly reading up on stuff...and constantly working on projects. And I enjoy it. Most people hate school, I enjoy school. Again, I cannot imagine myself in a job, everyday, where I'm just kinda brain-dead.

Dr. O (my current preceptor on my elective teaching rotation) had us read an article about a future career in pharmacy academia...aka teaching or professorship). These are the things that I could REALLY relate to and that I highlighted as I was reading the article:

  • ‘‘I couldn’t wait to go to college and I couldn’t stand to leave at graduation, so I became a Professor.’’
  • " A  good scholar has 5 crucial attributes of a good teacher: enthusiasm, authority, rigor, honesty, and humility.
  • "A bibliolater is one who has extravagant devotion to or concern with books. If you remember your favorite books from childhood and you become a collector of volumes, you may end up with an office of volumes literally falling off your shelves"

(all of these sound like me...or who I aspire to be)


Click here for Part 2; the story gets better :-) 


  1. Oh Agnes, this was sooo beautiful to read. I actually needed to read it, especially the part that said "The idea with discernment is to keep doing what you're doing until you feel called to do something else"
    This is so true about my whole college discernment stuff. I didn't really feel called to go to college till the end of my junior year, and so I started to frantically gather all the necessary info + trying to pick school to apply to. All without really understanding why I was doing this, just knowing this is what I was feeling called to pursue and then getting accepted to my top pick was unbelievable. Basically what I have learned in these past few months (and I haven't even begun college yet) is that nothing happens with a parked car. You have to make that step that you feel God is calling you to next. I have no clue what is going to happen in college, what new things I'm going to experience, and who I'm going to meet but I trust that God is leading me towards this new adventure for a reason. I do sometimes think what if I get married and then want to have kids, but I have students loans hanging over my head. Wouldn't my schooling + thousands of dollars be a waste? But then I think, God must have some plan for me with this degree or else he wouldn't have placed it on my heart to pursue.

    You are in my thoughts and prayers.
    -Grace ♥

    1. Grace,
      That is great to hear that my post was able to help at least one person. I am very glad you chose to apply and get into your top choice school and I am convinced that it was God's plan for you. God knows you better than you know yourself and sometimes you may not understand what He is doing in your life or why you're making this decision or that decision, but in the end, you just have to remain open to His will and trust that there are greater things, beyond our understanding, that are behind God's doings in our lives. Blessings and prayers!!!! <3

  2. Gah! I so understand where you're coming from. My degree path is such that I need to continue on to my PhD in order to do what I think I want to do. (Teach) But when we got married we moved to an area where there isn't even one program, never mind a good program. Then we were open to His plan and were blessed with these two beautiful children and I keep waiting for the chance to go back to school. Because what was the point of getting my masters without continuing on? Many prayers for you!!

    1. Oh wow Madeline! I guess in that aspect we are similar (our desire to teach). I'm glad you chose to be open to God's will and I'm sure He has a plan for you and did not put you through a master's program without a reason! Will pray for you as well! :-)