I do an exercise with my students. I call it the ‘Forrest Gump” exercise. I bring in a box of chocolates and pass them around the room, asking them to choose one.
I ask them, How did you choose your chocolate? Did you choose a familiar one? Did you pick by shape or decoration or color? Did you go after something that you thought you wanted only to find out that you were disappointed with your choice or did you just grab one, confident that whatever you chose would be fine? Did you let the chocolate choose you?
Five months ago I stood in front of a class of strangers. Their names, personalities and stories were unknown to me… and to each other. We nervously introduced ourselves and on that night in January, began a journey of discovery.
The beauty of psychology is that it is, in essence, the discovery of ourselves. Sure, there are terms to learn and things to memorize, tests to take and papers to write, but along the way, the real discovery happens in spite of all that academic stuff. The real discovery happens in conversations with each other, in those unpredicted and unscripted moments when someone poses a question or shares a thought or wonders what if.
The real discovery happens when you take a chance and grab a piece of chocolate, not knowing what it is, not knowing if you'll like it. Real discovery happens when you take a risk and stay open to whatever presents itself to you.
It’s funny how things unfold. I would spend hours each week preparing for class. I’d research and read, write lesson plans and create PowerPoint presentations. I’d rack my brain searching for the perfect activity to do with the group to highlight the material I had so meticulously prepared. I wanted so desperately to do a good job.
But what I couldn’t plan for, what I couldn’t control was them; this wonderful, eclectic group of shipmates that had come on board with me. This group of men and women, young and not so young, mothers, fathers, sons and daughters that took a leap of faith and jumped on board, anxious to see where the journey would lead them. Because without a crew, there is no voyage.
And tonight, after five months at sea, we arrived. As they sat and took their final exam, I read their journals, their logs of this maiden voyage into the sea of themselves. They were tales of discovery, of connection, of experiences and of life. They told the stories that only they could tell and I was humbled as I read them.
On that night back in January, I stood in front of a room of strangers. I was excited and nervous and anxious about the journey that I was about to take them on. Five months later, on this May evening, I am grateful to look back and realize that it was not I that took them on a journey, but they that took me; a wonderful, exciting, and sometimes unpredictable journey of discovery, a journey that we had the good fortune to experience together.
Turns out, Forrest Gump was right.