The New Serenity Prayer

The New Serenity Prayer

My Mom gave me the best career advice I ever received, and I always thought it would be a nice take on the famous Serenity Prayer:

God grant me the serenity

to lean in when it counts,

to chill when it doesn’t,

and the wisdom to know the difference.

The college-bound tract at my small Catholic high school had a progression of classes that all the “smart” kids took, like freshman algebra, sophomore geometry, junior algebra II, and senior calculus. For my fellow tract-mates, arriving at calculus was as certain as Wednesday chapel or fish on Friday. I was a good student, a science nerd, but indifferent toward math. However, the progression just was, and the alternative was unthinkable.

My first great disappointment in life came junior year when the math teacher, Sister Bartholomew, refused me permission to advance. I had a B+ average in algebra but, according to her, lacked the necessary "attitude" for calculus. I was shocked and devastated. Sure, I didn’t work as hard as I could have, and sure, I might have pulled out a crochet project or two during lectures, but for her to shoot to hell my carefully orchestrated high school career was unfathomable. How could I show my face at school again? My life, quite simply, was over.

The spring day on which my existence ended (as I knew it), Mom prepared dinner while I sat at the kitchen table balling and taking solace in a sleeve of saltines smeared with butter. How would I get into college, graduate summa, ace graduate school, and save mankind? How was I to change my perception of myself as this square peg that perfectly fit into that square hole?

Mom listened patiently. Then she said something so unexpected, so revolutionary, I was later convinced that she had been taken over by one of those body-snatcher pods. “Sweetheart, why not take this opportunity to relax and enjoy your senior year. You’ve proven yourself. Besides, you’re not going to miss out on anything you can’t catch up on later if necessary.”

Wow. My mother did not drive her children academically, but I had never known her to be so chill about my schoolwork. Her suggestion, however, had a certain lure, and after some strenuous hemming and hawing, I took her advice. My final year I kept my beloved advanced biology but dropped calculus and physics in favor of two subjects that fascinated me: psychology and Gregg shorthand (which to me was a combination of puzzle, competition, and foreign language). I made straight As, had a blast, and graduated with honors.

I went on to major in psychology and earn a master’s degree in counseling before I went to law school. I supported myself in college as a bank secretary-stenographer.

And, I could point to many more times since when I’ve lived The New Serenity Prayer and so admonished others to do so.


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