Jacob, a man in his mid-fifties, is a retired engineer whose training taught him to solve problems and implement change with precision, allowing no margin for errors.
"When I was in graduate school, all I did was study," Jacob explains. "I had no social life, no friends. I ate, slept, went to class, and studied; that was my life."
"What was that like for you, to live that way?" I ask.
"I didn't have a choice; if I wanted to get through school, I had to work for my grades--not like my roommate, who was a natural."
"It must have been lonely."
"You sound like you were determined."
"Let me explain how it was," Jacob continues. "The tests were basically equations we had to solve, like if you were an engineer and this was the equation for the bridge you were building. The calculations had to be correct; there was no margin for error. Otherwise, the bridge would collapse; anything less than 100 percent was failure."
Jacob had been in therapy and group process for six months. He had been struggling with the concept of spirituality and was often confused, offended, and frustrated by the abstract idea of something greater than himself. His frustrations were often demonstrated by outbursts of anger and pain.
"You know, I need proof," Jacob began one night during a group discussion.
"I need proof that this stuff is real. If you can give me some empirical data, then I might be able to buy into this stuff. But otherwise, I'm not buying it."
"I have no proof," I said.
"Then I can't buy it," he snapped. "You know I want to get it," he continued, his anger melting into tears of frustration. "I really do," he said, his voice trailing off.
Jacob was struggling with a concept beyond his grasp. Everything he'd been taught intuitively and intellectually was counter to what he was hearing. He was scared to let go of what he knew. If it was incorrect, like an incorrect equation for a bridge, his world would come crashing down.