Ambition, Education, and Default Choices

This is a post that's been rolling around in my head all week, but we've been busy and I haven't had time to write it down and post it. Now it's late and I worry that my thoughts won't be very coherent, but I still thought I'd try and write it out to see what I come up with.

The title of this post was inspired by a few things I've read recently on blogs by a variety of people. One poster works with the young women in her ward and has been troubled by their lack of ambition. They don't seem to have solid plans for their future and don't feel a lot of motivation to get educations or to even plan for much besides motherhood. Another post was on Segullah, discussing the importance of education for woman as a component of provident living. A third source was
this article from the New York Times that discusses vocational education and manual labor, as well as the role that our chosen careers can play in determining our character and the quality of our lives.

First of all, I think that education for women is just as vital as it is for men. Over and over I have seen the benefits for women I know of having options that come from degrees and experience. At the same time, I don't think that everyone, man or woman, needs a four-year degree to be happy and productive. I think we need to consider carefully our futures and figure out what our ultimate goals in life are. I've also struggled with balancing getting the education and skills I need for a good career, "just in case" while trying to maintain my family in the present moment. I don't want to spend so much time prepare for future uncertainty that I neglect the present moment. And I've realized that I don't want a career in academia and I'm tired of getting education just for education's sake. As in all things, we need to proceed with wisdom and order, setting flexible goals for our long-term progress. I can see myself working outside the home in ten or fifteen years, but for right now I just want to stay at home as much as possible. But I'm open to change (and maybe some part-time teaching).

The other issue I've been thinking about a lot is the fact that the young women seem to be feeling aimless and undefined. On the one hand, I think that's a fairly normal state for youth to be in. When I think back fifteen or so years to that time in my life, I had a hard time seeing my future and feeling like I knew what I wanted. I've never been a particularly ambitious person and I really wasn't sure what I wanted to do with my life. As I've thought about myself as a teenager I've realized that I spent my years of my life with a sort of inferiority complex. I often excepted myself in my mind by assuming that others were more capable of doing things that I was; one of my most common thoughts was "I'm not the kind of person who..." It's not that I didn't want to grow up and get married, I just assumed that was an impossibility. I'd never had a guy show much interest in me or even ask me out. I didn't have much to offer besides geeky glasses and a love for trivia. The other day, though, I realized that I've finally moved beyond this stage in my life. I feel so normal it's refreshing. I'm so glad that I don't have this sense of awkwardness and exceptionalism anymore, or maybe it's just that I've realized that most people feel uncomfortable at times too. I've also learned that I'm capable of doing things, of learning new things, and of trying stuff that's new and sometimes uncomfortable for me. I've also learned that I can know what I like and that if I don't like things that others do, that's OK. I do sometimes feel geeky and awkward around other women because I don't like to shop or craft and I read several books a week. But I've found friends that share my interests and I've grown more comfortable in my own skin.

So I guess that's what I'd say if I were working with the youth. I think all women should figure out their own interests and be comfortable with themselves. Even if they are just going to grow up and make the 'default' choice. Just because you are a mother doesn't mean you're not a person with a life and interests beyond that. They don't have to be the kinds of things you earn money from or that are flashy. But they should help you become comfortable in who you are. And, bringing this back to the issue of education, that's why I think it's valuable. Even more than an 'investment' in a future or a backup plan, I think attending college or learning some sort of manual skill is a way to open our minds and see ourselves in a new way. To put ourselves into new territory and figure out what we're really capable of.

This week I finally realized that what has been bothering me is the fact that for me the PhD program was the 'default' choice. For many people it's not; it's something they've been struggling for and working towards their entire lives. I'm good at school, it's what I do. Acing the GRE and getting great letters of recommendation was not a problem. But I've also realized that graduate school is only a means to an end; I'm a great student and a terrible teacher. I dislike teaching and writing, and if nothing else this year has helped me clarify myself a little better and to see that there are other choices for me out there. I don't know what they are just yet, but I'm feeling excited to leave this behind and for us to move on to a different point in our lives.


Julie said…
I don't like to shop or craft and I read a couple of books a week. Will you be my friend? =)

It's not just girls who seem to have no ambition, so many guys too. I actually kind of always knew what I wanted from a young age so I find this lack of focus and goals in so many young people I know pretty disturbing. When I think of some people I know who never really had goals or ambitions for life that is pretty much where life has led them, to not more of anywhere!
rantipoler said…
Thanks for saying that educational choices depend on the individual and not his or her gender (I can always count on you to say the right thing). My parents had SO much trouble with the idea that my husband would have an Associate's degree while I would have a PhD. Had my brothers been in the same situation no one would have batted an eye.
Love the label "nerdiness." I guess I am totally with you there.

The comments gendered by my post have had my head reeling all week. Like you, I thought I was experiencing some emotion that other people didn't, but NO! It turns out that loads of women have struggled with some of these very things.

I guess at the end, I don't ever want to say I'm "just" anything. I'm just a teacher. I'm just a mother. Or whatever. I want to say "I AM WHO I AM AND THAT MAKES ME HAPPY!" This is what I want the YW in my ward to feel. Eventually.

A friend of mine from college posted kind of late to the party and said all these amazing things about his RM wife who has a degree and speaks Tagolog and supported him through a master's degree. They are currently living in Dubai and she has been able to be highly involved in their ward and community because of her mission to the Philippines. He basically said that whether his wife had done all of those things or not, he would have still loved her because he had fallen in love with her in high school. But because of the decisions she had made, their lives were richer and fuller and better. I loved that! I just don't want to ever be afraid to take advantage of any kind of great opportunity (whatever it is) because I didn't bother preparing myself.

Thanks for this revisit.
Laurel Weed said…
I have definitely been struggling with having my own life while being a mom. I feel like my life IS being a mom. I need to stop and make some adjustments. Thanks for the post!
Seeker said…
In my ward, we are having some problems because although all of the YW are planning on college and know what they want to major in, almost none of the YM are planning on college or a trade. The YM have no plans, no goals, nothing. They basically plan on serving a mission and then living in their parents' basements until they get married. They figure they'll "find something" that will earn them tons of money when they get home - like construction or flipping homes. (They don't get that the days of those being profitable have passed.) The young men are sure that money is easy to get and they look down on a college degree as the route that "sissys" take. They don't want to be doing what all the girls are doing. It's really kind of odd.

My own education got shelved when my daughter got sick. After a successful transplant and healing I may look at continuing, but right now my identity is "mother of a sick child." There's no room for anything else.
Desmama said…
Great post and great comments. I linked to the article your mom had on her blog about The Case for Working With Your Hands. Also had some points that intrigued me. See, that's why I love your blog and others like it--they make me think about things in a different way. It's why I like certain books, certain movies, etc.
I know who never really had goals or ambitions for life that is pretty much where life has led them,
Desi said…
I love this post…I couldn’t agree with you more. I want nothing more than to be a stay-at-home mom, but that’s not what my life is right now. I am the primary provider for my family and I feel so blessed that I have my education in order to do that. My job is not my dream job, and there are days that I want nothing more than to quit, but then I look at the unemployment stats and thank God that I have as good of a job as I do. I went back to school as a single mother to get my degree. It was not easy, but I think that made it even that much more worth it. The one thing above all else that it has given me is self-esteem and confidence that I could do it, and just for that I think it’s worth it for every young woman to get an education. I know college isn’t for everyone, but I think every woman should find something she is interested in and go to school to further their knowledge in it, i.e. cosmetology or welding. Like the often used statement, when we die the only thing we can take with us is our knowledge, so you might as well get as much of it as you can. Plus, even if they do “default” to being a stay-at-home mom, they have one more skill they can teach their children.

I do think 18 and 19 is a horrible time to be expecting people to make decisions that affect the rest of their lives. I had no idea what I wanted to do and looking back on it now I would do it completely different if I could go back and do it all over. Hindsight is 20/20.

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