Each semester, as part of a final paper/exam, I request that my students write a Reflections Paper that is made up of twelve key questions. It is a project that I borrowed (with permission) from one of my favorite professors who taught Social Psychology in my first graduate program. It is entirely subjective and I intentionally want it to be as such. It is strictly a pass/fail (turn it in/pass, don’t turn it in/fail) grade that makes up a significant potion of their final grade. My goal is for students to take everything they’ve learned over the semester about themselves and turn it even more inward and do some “psychology”—that is, study their own psyche (soul). 

To that end, I think it only fair that I share my own version of this same paper when it was assigned to me. I offer it below with some current annotations based on where life has taken me since I wrote this back in 2018. 

Bishop Harber
23 September 2018

Discovering Who I Am

I’m still learning in life, constantly changing and evolving. I’m figuring out a life that matters only happens when I let my life speak for itself. I have many things I’d like to accomplish during the time I have left on this planet. That’s only going to happen when I let my deepest happiness intersect with the deepest hunger I find in the world around me. That changes regularly with the interactions I have with others, in the relationships I forge. There is a common theme, though: it always seems to revolve around service, education, helping others survive in some manner (though usually in some capacity of, though not limited to, a therapist or counselor type role).

I’d say, if I had to put it into one word, that my deepest desire is service.

Quite frankly, every Key in this discovery could be answered in just that single statement. I’ve spent nearly half a lifetime—literally—in the process specifically and consciously to determine that very question and the answer to it. Everything in my life revolves around it. Everything I do comes back to it.

To that end, my passions lead me to all kinds of journeys. My current goal is to finish up this particular degree so that I can teach while working on my PhD in Counseling. From there, my goal is to work with two diverse groups— (1) autistic teens and (2) individuals with (or even without) mental illnesses who also have intense spiritual experiences that are difficult to differentiate from mental illnesses. I think both groups have a difficult time with therapy and being misunderstood by therapists.

I had a professor talk me out of pursuing a PhD because my goal was ultimately research and he convinced me that I could do the same research, be published, and get on with my life without having to invest even more time and money into a degree that was really more about “teaching full time” than actually helping people or making an impact on the field of mental health and treatment. So, instead, I pursued a second Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling as a Licensed Professional Counselor. It serves the same purpose in the end without all the extra headache.

My goals haven’t changed too much, though much more directed toward (2) and less toward (1) these days. Obviously as a new counselor I “take the clients I get.” But I am working more toward a practice with specific demographics in mind and using my “Continuing Education” as a means to learn more about the directions I want to go in the near (and far) future.

But that could change. I’m always open to see where I end up. So long as I do the most good where I find myself with the empathy that I possess, the active listening skills that I have, and the intuitive nature that is able to penetrate in-between the lines of what’s being said or written by another.

As an author, I get up every day ready to write more, see what trouble I can get into by exploring new ways to reach people, to open up people’s minds to their own curiosity about themselves, to help them reach inside to find themselves, to find their own passions and desires, to reach for what makes them happiest. I don’t want to be some kind of self-help guy. I really want them to find that inner nature that truly moves them. That’s more than a self-help guide. That’s something else.

Injustice makes me angry. I don’t have another word really. That encompasses so much though. I want to see people free to follow their own way. I want to see people free to find their own truth, their own purpose, their own passions. I want to see people mind their own business yet learn to take care of each other in a positive way at the same time. I believe this is possible. The question always comes back to me: how do we serve others? It’s not some kind of servant or slavery or anything like that. It’s that quality that says, “What can I do to make your day better?” Even if that is just a smile and walk on by. That’s not so difficult in this life.

What can I do to make your life better? Phrased a dozen different ways, but keeping the same premise, it’s enough to save marriages, it’s enough to raise children, it’s enough to make business deals, it’s enough to run governments, and so much more.

It’s just so little that can make such a huge difference. And that’s what I dream about constantly. How can I make that difference? What can I do to push that difference? What about me, my talents, my skills, my life can further than difference in the world around me?

I spent a lot of time wasted as an addict. Then I started over again. I spent a couple of years really wandering around degree plans. In 2009 I had an experience that really settled this concept for me of my ultimate source, this passion or word of my life being service, and it made me realize that psychology was the direction I needed to go. With a degree in psychology I could do several things: I could teach if I got a secondary teaching certificate or I could go into practice or I could continue to write and just have a bit more legitimacy with some letters behind my name. Or all of the above. I finished out that degree and turned around to get another degree in Psychology in a year. Then started on this Masters.

This was written during my first graduate program that resulted in an M.S., Applied Psychology. Turns out, I was wrong about the teaching certificate. You can’t actually get a teaching certificate for “psychology.” I ended up with a substitute teacher license (in Ohio) that allowed me to teach anything in the K-12 system. But can you imagine me teaching Math? Hardly! I moved directly into higher education and was hired by the University of Akron to teach .. tah dah! .. psychology.

But here’s the point: I turned 40 in 2009. It was about this same time that I had the epiphany—I know, I’m a bit slow sometimes—that my life wasn’t almost over, but it was just beginning again. Even though I’d only been back in school for two years at that point, I realized that I’d lived a full lifetime that included grade school, middle school, high school, some college, two marriages, kids, a whole life of addiction then sobriety, even started college again—all in 40 years. What could another 40 years include?

My goals now are to make the most of my next 40 years. I can’t change the world no matter how much that is my desire. I can only change me. In doing so, however, if I can inspire one person to change their own life, to seek their own destiny each moment of each day, to search for their own passion and pursue it, then I am fulfilled.

Though I already know that I do that. I am fulfilled. I am aware of the impact that I have on others by the emails that I receive, the comments that I have in my Facebook, by my peers here online in the Discussion Boards, by the text messages and phone calls that I receive. I don’t say that to pat myself on the back. I set out to make a different, to serve people around me, to do whatever I could to inspire people to make a difference in their own lives not because I was special but because they are special, and I believe in that. So, my goal is to continue to make an impact. One person at a time. That’s all I can hope for. And then to hope they will do the same for themselves.

And in that, I feel I have made one achievement in my life that I once felt I would never be able to do.

[Removed a section as too personal for public reading. Sorry!]

Beyond that, I spent a great deal of time disappointing my dad—who was my hero for my entire life—and then a lot of years working to gain his approval. It might not seem like the right kind of achievement for many, but it was a huge factor of importance to me and my success in life that I gain his approval. It was necessary for me to resolve several complexes that I’d built up over the years that I’d been working to break down. After my second divorce, I’d been raising my youngest alone (again), going to school, and being a generally responsible adult (finally), and my dad came over one day and quite suddenly in the middle of a conversation blurted out, “I’m really proud of you and the life you’ve made for yourself.”

There is nothing that I’ve done in life that could compare to that moment. And when I finish this current degree, it will have been all for him. I only wish he could have been here to see it finished. This was his dream come true.

My dad died the summer before I was supposed to graduate from my Masters program. I took some time off due to his death and graduated a year later.

When asked what I do for a living, I tell people that I’m an author but that I work on the side for Apple to pay the bills. I learned a while back that a lot about success is intention. My intention is to get way from what I’ve been doing for the last 23 years and into a new career path. Sitting around saying I work for Apple, while technically true, still leaves that impression—even if only in my own head—that I’ll never be anything more than a monkey behind a computer. I’m already more than that. I just needed to start acting like it. It’s already helped a great deal. But, of course, I’d write or sit and listen to people all day if I could without getting paid for it. Granted, I’d rather get paid for it to pay the bills, but all things considered, that’s just not important to me.

I finally changed my career trajectory in 2019, a year later from this paper. To this day, I have found that enunciating my primary career goal does far more for my self-worth and personal image rather than just announcing my current “job” or position title. Of course, I’m no longer having to pursue a life goal while working an unrelated job in the background. That’s a relief!

At the same time, though, I love doing roundtables of people just sitting around talking about ideas, concepts, just communing with each other. I love bonfire philosophy. There is nothing more relaxing and healing, to be frankly, than informal communication that can really let down the barriers and guards that keep people from being open and honest with themselves and others.

I think my students will attest this is precisely how I (try to) run my classes and that it has far more success than the standard “rows and columns” of desks.

That leads to what I would love to do, though, if I could have it all.

First, I would build a commune of sorts. Not really a hippie commune, per se. But more like a large, extended Bread & Breakfast/Spa/Retreat type place. I’d want to structure it around a formula of short, medium, and long stays where people can spend time in tiered levels of retreat that ranged from therapeutic treatments (therapy, classes, counseling, etc) to more extended stays (short term treatment, intervention, etc) to longer stays (meditational hermitage, Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, etc).

Second, I would want to create a program that provided a way to offer homeless a chance to be productive in a manner that would give them a place to stay, land to build a community, all the building materials and guidance to create the community, a paycheck into escrow of their own, take care of them during the process, and home ownership when completed along with release of the paycheck from escrow when finished so that they would have a completely new life to start on their own in a community they have built with others along the way. I don’t honestly know if that would work, but in my head it would.

Both of these dreams are still in place. Sorta. I’ve merged the underlying concepts they hold with a large, campus-style facility for residential treatment of homeless and displaced youth. But as with all dreams, we’ll see what happens as the future unfolds. 

Though I think that these dreams, regardless of whether they could ever come to fruition, exemplify the values of my life, the kind of significance I would like my life to show to those around me, to anyone that might take notice. I don’t aim to be noticed. I realize that in some small way, in a very obscure and narrow community of people, I am noticed; but that is nothing prolific by any means. It doesn’t have to be, though. It just has to change one life for the better. That’s all I want. And I do that. I get it. But I never want my life to stop doing that.

Wisdom gives us the power to remain authentic, while dreaming of the extraordinary. All I do, every day, is dream of the extraordinary and desire to remain authentic to myself, to my highest and most inner Self, and to those around me. That’s all I can ask for in this life.

Annotations Updated: 05/2023