This week we are interviewing Tyler Smith who recently completed his master’s coursework in Chemistry at New York University. Like many soon-to-be graduates, Tyler had meticulously crafted his career’s trajectory which included acceptance into a doctoral program in the fall and moving on to work for the Center for Disease Control or St. Jude’s Research Hospital. Unfortunately, as he began receiving letter after another declining his acceptance, Tyler was forced to reconcile his reality with his expectations and find purpose and hope in the midst of uncertainty.
We had an opportunity to chat with Tyler about intentionally practicing and pursuing hope in the face of this season of transition and adversity. We are honored to share his words and wisdom today and hope that you will find encouragement as you face your own season of change.
We know that you just completed your master’s at NYU and you’ve moved back home to Nashville. How are you feeling about this major life transition?
I can honestly say that I mentally prepared for a major transition, but this was not the specific transition I was anticipating. I was mentally prepared for a transition, but emotionally I was vastly unprepared. I’ve been having very mixed emotions about moving back home. I am happy to be back to a regular pace of life and to be around family and friends. However, at the same time I am sad that I am not moving forward with my life in the way that I was anticipating.
Can you talk more about your expectations for what your journey would look like versus the reality? What does that look like moving forward for you?
I had very specific expectations. I planned on going right into my doctoral work right after graduating with my Masters degree. After doing my PhD research, I was going to get a job either at the CDC or at a hospital like St Jude’s. The reality is that I did not get into any of the PhD programs I applied to. This was a huge roadblock initially because I did not know how to handle the rejections. To be completely honest, I don’t fully know how I will handle it moving forward. As my dad always told me, “Take it one step at a time and you will figure it out.”
What has been your experience with rejection or setbacks in the past? How have you managed them, and is this one different in any way?
I haven’t really experienced any major rejections up until now, but I have been rejected from jobs and such before. I think what had helped me deal with it in the past has been the “one step at a time” mentality installed in me by my dad. Reading through the steps on the Living Hope blog, the big step that I always find myself going back to is Surrender. I just have to remind myself that most of the time it’s nothing that I can control, and there is no sense in letting that spiral into every aspect of my life. I know that God has an ultimate plan for my life that will be much better for me than anything I could ever imagine for myself. I just have to Surrender all my anxieties and woes to Him and fully trust in His glory.
Looking forward, what are those next steps? What is your next “one step at a time”?
Well, the next “step” is to not dwell on the past. I can’t change anything that has already happened. I have to try and make the best out of the situation I am given. Currently, I am looking for my first job in the medical research field, just an entry-level position to gain some lab experience and to boost my resume so I can maybe reapply for a PhD later down the road or to move up in the research field to move toward my anticipated goal. However, as I have stated before, there will be other obstacles and road blocks along the way that I will need to overcome as well, but I can’t stress over what I don’t know either. That is why the “one step at a time” really helps me reorient myself. It makes me take time out to remind myself who I am, why I’m here, the gifts I’ve been given, and to put my faith in God to provide the perfect situation for me.
What would you say to someone who is not able to Practice Surrender in this circumstance? How would you encourage them to let go of their expectations and fixed trajectories and embrace uncertainty and adversity with hope?
I would start by telling them to find time to just be alone, whether in complete silence or not, and to take some time to really think about what is important in life. Ask some questions like: “What do I hold most valuable in my life? Is what I’m upset about ruling my life? What do I need to do or not do to start my road to recovering?” After the alone time, as much as you would maybe want to keep things isolated, you need to have a solid support group you can talk through your issues and problems with. For me, this step has always been hard because I do not like pushing my problems on the people I love because I don’t want them to feel bad. Plus, I’m usually the person that wants to help them so I’m the person that is supposed to have it all figured out. However, I realized that the more I kept everything bottled up, the more depressed I would feel, and it would spiral into everything else I would try to do. Even the simple act of letting them know you’re having issues is comforting because you now have some people that can pray for you and try to help. It’s the “If you don’t ask, you’ll never know” mentality.
As far as how I would encourage them in this time of transition, I would say to embrace this as a new challenge. I would refer them to the sections on the Practices of Curiosity and Resilience. This could be a time in which they realize a new life passion they never considered because of the “narrow path” mindset they may have for their life. As cliche as it sounds, it is always nice to stop and smell the roses – especially if the path you planned out for yourself is nowhere near nature.
Do you have anything other words of advice you would like to add?
Just that even though it may seem weird, writing down the issue at hand, the root of the problem, and actions needed for healing and then dealing what you wrote out loud can really help. You hear solutions from everyone else all the time but the best way to hear it is from yourself.
Tyler Smith is a brother, son and aspiring scientist. He received his bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Union University, and recently earned his master’s degree in Chemistry from New York University. He resides in Nashville, Tenn., where he can be found playing intense games of disc golf.