Monday, November 21, 2011

the road not taken

In high school, i took an ethics and philosophy course called "Understanding Our Times" or something like that. We learned about a lot of different perspectives and approached major world issues from those perspectives. All through a massive conservative-Christian homeschooler lens, of course.

One of the topics we discussed was feminism/gender roles. A lot of it was . . . less than empowering. Things like how to use your gifts and passions and skills to serve your husband and your Lord (in that order?), and how deeply fulfilling it is to be a stay-at-home mom.

Let me be clear: I am NOT knocking traditional gender roles or stay-at-home moms. Those things CAN be enormously fulfilling and wonderful. Women should be able to do anything they want to do, including staying at home and raising kids, without anyone trying to vilify their choices. But what i can't stand is when the more conservative sides attack the more progressive sides by glorifying the wonder and joy of child-rearing. It is wonderful and joyous. But it's also a whole lot of work. And not everyone is cut out for it. And that is okay.

However, this program did say one thing i appreciated. It was talking about women trying to choose between post-secondary degrees or work, and staying home with their kids. And it said that the choice is not permanent, that you can always choose something else down the line if you find that you are not being totally fulfilled.

You can have it all. You just can't have it all at once.

You can get a master's degree and work for a few years. Then you can take time off to have some kids. Then, once the kids are in school full-time, you can go back to work and/or school. Then when retirement comes around, you can hang out with the grand-kids. You can switch careers, you can collect degrees like rare coins, you can take time off to homeschool your kids or pursue your dream of being a musician.

You can have it all.

I was a psych major in my freshman year of college. I had always loved English and wanted to be a writer, but somehow it had never occurred to me to actually study writing. Besides, God wanted me to study psychology and work with teenagers.

But in my sophomore year, i added an English minor. And in my junior year, i added an English major. I went into my senior year with a double major and every intention of being a psychologist.

And then i "decided" to be a teacher.

But i still struggled with my choices. From a purely practical standpoint, had i really wasted four years of time and energy to get a psych degree that i would never use? From a spiritual standpoint, had i misinterpreted God's instructions for me or had He changed His mind? I still believed that God wanted me to have that degree, but why?

In February of my senior year, i was putting together a presentation for some prospective honors students. I was organizing a slideshow of accomplishments of current honors students. I needed a photo of each student, so i was perusing Facebook profiles. I was scanning through photos of "Caroline", who was also a psych major and who had come in with me as a freshman. I had had lots of classes with her and we were friendly, but i didn't know her very well. I did know that she had dropped out of high school and worked to get her GED, meaning that she was highly self-motivated. I also knew that she had been on track to graduate a year early, but that she had instead taken some time off of college and simply graduated on time. I suddenly felt led to talk to her about these choices.

I sent her a quick Facebook message telling her that i admired her courage and self-awareness. That lots of people needed to take time off but were afraid that people would judge them. That there were probably lots of people who judged her, who called her a quitter, who said that she was lazy and unmotivated. That the truth was that she was extremely motivated, and brave, and strong, and that i had an enormous amount of respect for her.

Her reply was humbling, inspiring, and illuminating.

"You have no idea how much this means to me. Your uncanny ability to see into a situation you don't know much about, and somehow still know a lot about it just blew me away.

Your encouragement made my day, but in all likelihood, my week and month as well. I have been through a lot these past four or five years, and need a reminder every now and again that I'm braver than I give myself credit for.

And I just wanted to let you know that I believe you made the right choice in switching to Psychology. If nothing else, this message proved it to me. I've heard fantastic things about your writing, and am sure that you would have made a great English teacher or whatever you had planned -- but I am supremely confident that you will make an even better therapist or whatever it is you wish to do with your insight and talent.

Who knows, maybe you could become a professional therapeutic note writer, and help other people make it through this crazy life as you just did for me. :)

Thank you."

In a rush of insight and understanding, i realized that there are a lot of people out there who need someone to notice them. Statistically speaking, the people who need therapy the most are the ones who have least access to it. Sometimes, all a kid has is a teacher who asks them to hang back after class so they can say, "Are you okay?"

I realized that i could always go on to get more psych degrees and "use" them, but that i would already be using my BA every day, in every area of my life. I might be the only person who bothers to ask a kid what is going on in their lives, or who shows an interest at all. I might be the safe haven, the refuge, the advocate, the role model. I might be the only thing standing between my students and utter despair.

I can have it all. I just can't have it all at once.

I can always double back later on and take an alternate route. I can only take one road at a time, but that doesn't mean i can't take them all eventually.

I can have it all.

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