A New Chapter: Moving (Back) West
The Call to Zion
After five and a half years, the time has come for me to follow in the footsteps of my Pioneer ancestors and make the journey (back) West. I’ve known for a while that I would eventually move back to Utah, but I admit that the decision to go came earlier than I was anticipating. But sometimes God’s timing is not our timing, and when the call comes, you have to be ready to answer.
These last five and a half years have felt, in some ways, like a very long extended trip. It’s been my own Eat Pray Love, but instead of a culinary journey of rediscovery, it was more of a smelting journey of Roasting Reduction Flux. I have seen incredible things over the last five and a half years, traveled to incredible places around the globe, made incredible friends and met highly influential people, but I have also been stretched and pushed and pulled so far out of my comfort zone that there were times I thought I was going to snap. Sometimes the pressure was so great that I wanted to pull a Vivian Walker and just vanish for a few days to some distant hotel without telling anyone where I was. I never actually did it, but there were times when I came really close.
My mom has asked me several times why I didn’t go back to Utah sooner if I felt so unhappy out East. Honestly, it was probably pride. There was something inside of me that didn’t want to think that Utah was the only place I could live and be happy. I wanted to know that I could “make it” on my own in another part of the country first. I had seen a number of friends leave Utah only to return again right away and I just didn’t want to be one of them, even though I knew that’s where I would end up and openly promoted it as a great place to live. But the truth is, God wanted me back in Utah. He knew it, and I knew it, and I could not find any real peace or happiness by fighting it.
Roasting Reduction Flux
I thought about making this post a summary of everything I’ve experienced over the last five and a half years, but I don’t think that would be as meaningful as talking about who I have become over the last five and a half years. To do that, let me expand on my smelting analogy from above.
My great-great-grandfather, Johannes Beck, was born and raised in Germany and emigrated to the United States at age 21 after he converted to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He made his way to Utah where he established a successful silver mine called the Bullion Beck and Champion Mining Company. Unfortunately, I did not inherit the family business and become a silver mining millionaire, but Google has taught me a few things about what it would have taken my great-great-grandfather to turn that raw ore into the metal we so highly value today.
In smelting, roasting is the process by which ore is heated in an environment with an abundance of oxygen to drive out the impure elements (usually sulfur) and replace them with oxygen. This thermal decomposition usually occurs after the ore has already been partially purified and before it can be reduced.
Back in 2013, I thought I had undergone some pretty refining experiences. I had witnessed my parents’ divorce and my dad’s subsequent remarriage, I had completed four years of college and nearly five years of work experience, and I had spent 18 months as a missionary for my church trying to keep people from slamming doors in my face.
Then I went to grad school. In spite of what people told me, I had no way of preparing for the pressure that I would encounter when I walked through those doors. Day after day my professors challenged me to think harder, deeper and more critically, raising their level of scrutiny with every answer I provided. New ideas swirled around my head as I encountered fellow students from all kinds of backgrounds, countries and ideologies. These insights breathed new life into the way I viewed the world and related to the people around me. They moved around my head constantly, settling on all my preconceived notions until they finally burst the cultural bubble I didn’t know I carried with me.
Over time, I grew to love and appreciate this diversity, both of thought and of people. Even though I still believed in absolute truth, I no longer believed there was an absolute answer to every question. I wasn’t turning away from my beliefs – on the contrary, my faith was growing stronger and deeper than ever before – but I started to learn how to differentiate my core beliefs from my cultural upbringing and to recognize the richness that comes from a pluralistic society.
At the end of my four years, this intense thermal decomposition left me feeling a little like a young child. I left Georgetown bright-eyed, impressionable, and full of new ideas, eager to charge forward into the “real world” with all of my newfound skills and go become the person I was meant to be.
Then I moved to Boston.
In smelting, reduction is the final, high-temperature process in which the oxide created during roasting is placed in an air-starved furnace at temperatures above the melting point where a process of partial combustion pulls the oxygen atoms from the raw metal, leaving the elemental metal as the final resulting product.
Law school is rife with stories of “BigLaw” – those top tier law firms that work you 100 hours per week and make you sleep in a cot in your office (if you get to sleep at all). When I decided to accept an offer to work for a BigLaw firm, I did it expecting that it would be hard, but I had no idea how hard.
What was hard about working in BigLaw wasn’t the work itself. Sure, it required a lot of brain power to learn all of the different things I needed to do, but that’s often the case with any new job. Plus, law is a cerebral process – what you have to offer to your clients is your brain – so it makes sense that the learning curve of your first foundational year is especially mentally taxing. But that’s not what makes BigLaw so challenging. What makes it so challenging is the speed at which you are required not only to learn but also to work, the fact that there is very little room for error, and the never-ending requirement to always be on call – a requirement underscored by the number of billable hours you are expected to work. When these factors combine together, they create an enormous pressure vacuum that sucks all of that newfound innocence right out of you and leaves you gasping for air.
Over time, you start to get used to the sleep deprivation, the constant feeling that you’re never doing anything right, the lack of any sort of social life, and the paranoia about walking away from your phone, and very slowly you begin to see some progress. It’s subtle, and it comes with a healthy dose of cynicism, but it’s there. And once you start to see that kind of progress, it’s like the skies part, the sun shines down in a golden beam to anoint your weary head, and you can see a future where you actually have something valuable to contribute to the world. Even though the pressure hasn’t waned, in that instant you start to see the vision of who, and what, you are becoming.
Fluxes are used throughout the smelting process as a way to catalyze desired reactions and remove any unwanted impurities or reaction products.
The process of refining a person is often a continuous one. Growth and refinement usually don’t happen overnight, or over a process of one or two big steps. Just as in smelting, it’s not just a process of roasting and reduction. There are a number of things that have to happen before, during, and even after those large steps to turn ore into precious metal.
In my case, this process was no different. Before I went back to school, I had taken great pride in my status as being “smart”. I didn’t realize how much it had become a part of my identity until I was in an environment where everyone was smarter than me. This is actually a pretty common problem in law schools, where students who have always been the smartest in their class statistically no longer can be the smartest. Confronting that identity crisis helped me recognize that intelligence is good, but wisdom is better, and everyone has something valuable to bring to the table. Constant feedback about my performance also kept me humble, leaving me to wonder why the legal industry is so egocentric (maybe because you have to have a ginormous ego to counteract the feeling that you are never doing anything right). Being surrounded by good friends and colleagues who went out of their way to stand up for the rights of others and to be kind to those in need reminded me of how much good still exists in the world and of the importance of caring for our fellow man. And dealing with severe burn-out (on more than one occasion) taught me that I do, in fact, have limits, despite my best efforts, and forced me to learn to prioritize my to-do list into buckets of Good, Better, and Best.
In spite of how hard it’s been, I’ve had several people ask me if I would do it all over again. To this question I give an emphatic yes! I’ve learned more about myself and about the world in these last five and a half years than I could have learned in a lifetime in Utah. I am smarter and wiser and much, much more capable than I was before I left. Am I a fully purified piece of Bullion Beck silver? Not even close. But I’m a lot further down the path than I was when I started.
Now I’m facing a new journey. To some, this decision may seem completely illogical - a backwards step in an otherwise promising career. To me, it is a no-brainer. For whatever reason, my foreseeable future is in Utah, so Utah is where I will go. I may be exhausted, but I’m doing what I need to be doing, and I’m ready to go home.