Freedom from Comparison
A supposedly temporary move back home to Oklahoma became an opportunity for Jordan Barlow to challenge her assumptions about what constitutes a successful life.
Jordan Barlow (PPE ’16) walked into her Oklahoma house on a summer day in 2016 and her eyes began tearing up. Waiting for her inside was a cuddly golden-doodle Barlow’s mom had gotten her. The dog’s ears were a warm toasted brown, a shade darker than the rest of her body. Barlow took the “almost painfully cute” pup outside where she began bouncing around the yard, chasing her new owner. The two bonded quickly, “as though we both knew we needed each other,” Barlow said. Calling her mom to thank her, Barlow decided to name her new pal Gracie—the name would be a reminder of God’s grace towards her.
Ever since learning about the water crisis at a summer youth camp in high school, Barlow has had a growing passion for seeing long-term solutions to community issues, especially in underserved populations. After graduating from King’s, Barlow planned to spend the summer at home in Oklahoma before heading off to graduate school at St. Louis University, where she had a scholarship to study public health and social justice. It seemed like the logical next step towards a career in public service and truly meaningful work. But after a few months back at home, she began to feel an uncomfortable call to stay and serve her community and began to consider how many of her actions were driven by expectations either she or others had placed on her.
Born in Claremore, Okla., Barlow grew up in Miami (pronounced My-am-uh), a small town in Ottawa County about 60 miles away from Claremore. She’s still not sure if it was Google cookies or divine inspiration that led her to King’s when she was looking at colleges as a high school junior, but right from the start Barlow was inspired by studying at a Christian institution in a city where so many key world players were making decisions and impacting lives. After visiting King’s and talking with a student who was interning at the United Nations, she was confident in her choice to attend King’s. And when she received a Gates Millennium Scholarship, the financial pieces came together and Barlow was able to make the commitment.
At King’s, Barlow was inspired and sharpened by the critical question-asking environment. In addition to these skills, her list of resume-worthy accomplishments upon graduation in 2016 was eye-catching. Besides her degree from King’s, Barlow had also studied abroad in Switzerland, participated in a summer public health program at Columbia University, and interned at a preventative health non-profit in the Bronx. Her plan was to continue to build upwards, to use her skills and data-driven mindset to make change in communities. “People just assume that if Bill Gates invested in you, you’ve got to have great accomplishments,” Barlow said. “I had super high expectations for myself.”
The summer after she graduated, Barlow was back in Oklahoma. After four years in New York City and some time abroad, moving back to home even for the summer felt like taking a step back at precisely the moment when everyone was expecting a big leap forward. But during the transition between King’s and grad school, she got an internship working in healthcare administration under the president of the hospital in her hometown. At first, the plan was to work at the hospital just for the summer. But as the summer drew on, Barlow began to feel less certain of her next step. “I truly felt this unrest in my core,” she said. Even while there was a tug to move forward, there was also an unexpected tug to stay. A tug to dive deep where she was planted, despite expectations or perceptions. She began to ask herself, “Why am I relying on graduate school?” With time, the answer became clearer: “It’s my secure fall back.” There was security in knowing that the scholarship was already in place. There was also security in taking a step that Barlow knew others would view as successful.
Connecting the dots, Barlow began to see that security was her default position of self-reliance. “I felt safe and secure within the bounds of what I could control,” she said. “But God was whispering to my heart, “Do you trust Me?” So while staying to work in her hometown felt “risky,” Barlow began trusting that small whisper. Fall came and she did not pack her bags for St. Louis.
At the end of the summer, Barlow accepted a full-time role at the hospital, focusing on what was known as the 5/50 program—where 5% of the patient population was responsible for 50% of the costs to the hospital. She dived in as an advocate for change within her community, her passion driven by personal experience of witnessing poverty and limited opportunities in her community growing up. “I grew up seeing so much poverty and issues related to lacking opportunities in my hometown and surrounding cities,” Barlow said. “This job really motivated me in making a difference.” Within the first six months of the program, Barlow’s team had designed a care-coordination plan that was projected to save the hospital over $200,000.
Later that year, Barlow became involved with a community coalition known as Partners for Ottawa County, Incorporated, which improved the communities within Ottawa County through their work in youth development, poverty, and health. That same year, Barlow was appointed to the Board of Health for Ottawa County, the Boys & Girls Club of Ottawa County, and, a few months later, the United Way. “I must have really gotten excited to serve on Boards,” she joked.
Even as these new opportunities were unfolding in the early months of post-graduate life, Barlow still struggled with a feeling of inadequacy and comparison. It was hard to not compare herself with other alumni who had gone on to do “impressive” things. It was hard to let go of the desire to meet other’s high expectations—to become less critical of herself for not hitting every mark. During that first summer, Barlow was encouraged by a quote from pastor Tim Keller: “God sees us as we are, loves us as we are, and accepts us as we are. But by His grace, He does not leave us as we are.” Grace was becoming a theme.
Slowly, Barlow began to learn to see grace all around her. She was beginning to learn about the way it could cover her ambitions. The word was in the forefront of her mind all summer. And when her mom brought that golden-doodle home, she couldn’t think of naming her anything but Gracie. “God was bringing me through a season where he was teaching me about his grace, and teaching me to rely on Him. It was a season of learning that God’s love and forgiveness has already been achieved, it’s nothing we can earn with our merits or efforts—you move from self reliance to freedom.” And in that freedom was a growing confidence to do the work she was given in her hometown.
Today, Barlow is stepping into another transition. Engaged to be married in April 2020, Barlow and her husband-to-be, Butch Flick, are moving to Punta Gorda, Fla., where Butch has secured a job as a fly fishing guide. Barlow had planned to continue some of her Oklahoma-based work remotely, but that opportunity closed abruptly and with little explanation. So instead, Barlow accepted the opportunity to work as the Director of Children’s Ministry at the local United Methodist Church, coincidentally located a block away from her new apartment in Punta Gorda.
Though unexpected, Barlow sees this new role as God’s provision to her. The circumstances and tasks of the work are different, but the theme has remained: a leadership role in which she can serve and impact her local community for good. “I’m excited to see what doors God has that I can’t even see yet.”