Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
By Morella Devost
In April 2001, the eagerly-awaited letter arrived. I felt awash in anxious tingles as I held the envelope in my hands: Teachers College – Columbia University. The answer it was about to reveal would shape the rest of my life. One way or another, it was a major fork in the road. A negative reply would mean I would have to apply to other counseling programs, or even reconsider my career choice. A positive reply would mean I was headed to a new life in New York City!
The answer was the latter. I began shaking as the tingles spread throughout my body. It was an overwhelming sense of validation from the universe, as if it was reassuring me, “Yes, Morella, this is the way.” I feel a humbling, moving sensation each time I think of that moment.
A path seemed to be opening up for me, but all I could see was the one step ahead and no further. I knew with every fiber of my being that I wanted to go to Columbia for my masters in counseling. I was elated and giddy, almost in disbelief. But that is all I knew. I had no vision as to what would come after that, and getting to this point had taken several years and many tears.
At that time, I had been working at Procter & Gamble in Venezuela for five years. I had been recruited my senior year in college and gotten one of their prized Assistant Brand Manager roles. It was a high-paying dream job I was supposed to feel lucky to have landed. Instead, I hated it.
Within three months, I knew the job wasn’t for me. The tricky part was that although I knew I loathed marketing, I was clueless as to what sort of work I would love instead.
I wish I could tell you that I savvily navigated my way out of career despair through masterful exploration of career options, to finally land in a well-thought-out decision to pursue counseling. It was none of that. It all unfolded spontaneously, one step at a time.
In 1999, I did make one bold move: I told my bosses I hated marketing and had no desire to be promoted. They were baffled. It was a potentially career-ending thing to do, especially at P&G where it was taboo to change departments. But my chutzpah paid off. They supported my career exploration and I moved out of marketing and into market research. I was thrilled. It was a far better fit for me.
I had been clear about what I didn’t want and a stepping stone appeared. But still, I couldn’t quite see myself staying there. I had an itch to figure out what the next step needed to be, and I felt that grad school just had to be in my future. But what type of program? No idea.
One day, the Franklin-Covey people rolled into P&G and started facilitating their two-day workshop, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. As a high performer, I was enrolled in the program. I LOVED every bit as it increasingly activated my sense of personal power to shape my life. So at the end of the workshop, when the facilitators said they would be holding a train-the-trainer session, I knew I needed to be one of the facilitators-in-training. I volunteered and they looked at me incredulously, because even though I was twenty-six at the time, I looked more like fifteen. They were hoping to find someone more “seasoned.” I suspect they were afraid I wouldn’t be taken seriously. But the week before the training, their “seasoned” participant dropped out and I was asked to take his place!
The universe had placed another stepping stone ahead of me and all I had to do was step forward. As I began facilitating the Seven Habits workshops, I discovered I had natural insight into human behavior and how deeply our beliefs and attitudes shape our lives. I remember feeling moved to tears at the end of one workshop while presenting a slide-show I prepared with inspirational quotes and music. I thought to myself, “this is the work I am meant to do.”
Then in April 1999, another stepping stone appeared. I was spending a week in New York City to be with my best friend from high school, who had just gone through a major cancer surgery. With the thrill of my Seven Habits facilitation running strong, I decided to visit Teachers College at Columbia to check out programs. “Perhaps I’m meant to be a teacher,” I thought.
I took the subway all the way up to Columbia and walked to the Teachers College building. I asked for a course curriculum book at the admissions office, and sat at the cafeteria to look through every program. My heart sank page by page, as it became evident that none of the education programs stirred any excitement in me. That is, until I landed on the Counseling Psychology EdM program!
I was stunned. Every single class in the counseling program excited me! It was a massive revelation that I could be so interested in psychology. How did I not know this about myself? Why did I feel so strongly pulled in that direction? It made no sense to me.
For a long time I battled the excitement and tried to do the thing that “made sense,” but my heart’s calling was impossible to ignore. So I finally worked up the courage to take the one step I could take: I applied. A full two years after discovering counseling in the Teachers College cafeteria, I got the acceptance letter.
As friends and family learned about my imminent move to New York, they each asked: “Are you going to be a therapist?” All I could say was, “Honestly, I don’t know. I just know that I’m really excited about this program.” I could only see the one step in front of me.
In the sixteen years since graduating from Columbia, I’ve increasingly learned to trust that all I need to know is the one step right in front of me, even if the destination is unclear.
But I have also learned another hard lesson: there’s a huge difference between taking the step that makes sense and the step that excites the heart. In my case, the step that made sense was almost always a detour. The step that excites my heart has always led to the grandest adventure and fulfillment.
Morella Devost facilitates profound transformation for people who want to thrive in health and life. She has master’s degrees in Counseling from Columbia University, and is also a Clinical Hypnotherapist, NLP facilitator, and Holistic Health Coach. She is also the host of the Thrive With Morella show.