Thursday, December 8, 2011
The Road Not Taken
Until I got divorced, I always saw job and career as a temporary thing.
I was raised in a very traditional home. Although my mom has a degree and could have chosen other things, she chose to stay home with me and my younger siblings. She got a part-time job once my brother was in school, but we were always her priority. My parents taught me that in a marriage, the man is responsible for providing financially no matter what it takes. The woman is responsible for taking care of the family. If the woman also works, it should be her own choice, only in a situation that's good for the family as a whole, and not because she has to to keep things afloat. They encouraged me and my sister to get plenty of education and work experience, but mainly as a safety net... in case anything ever happened. In my mind, at least, "anything" was basically limited to a tragic accident leaving me a widow with kids. It never occurred to me that I might not marry or have kids. Or that my husband would walk out on me, with or without kids.
In any case, I was in agreement with the whole philosophy. Even now I don't completely disagree with it (for myself - I don't believe one size fits all, I'm not telling anyone else how to live. This is just my story). I also want to disclaim that I'm thankful for the way I was raised and the sacrifices my parents made so I could have a good childhood. I'm not pointing any fingers.
BUT. These core beliefs led to regrettable decisions. I knew I wanted to be a writer from a very young age, but even as a kid, I was also very concerned about security. Even then, I knew I probably couldn't make a living writing, and relegated it to a permanent hobby. My parents encouraged me toward business-type career paths - jobs that would provide stability and a good income until I inevitably got married and started a family. In college I went down a couple of rabbit trails like meteorology and geography, but those didn't pan out or were discouraged. I finally majored in Communications as a compromise - it was applicable to a lot of fields, many of them in business, but was also something I enjoyed. Still, I had no big picture, no long-term career goals. In a sense, I was afraid to have long-term career goals. I didn't want to fall in love with something and then deeply resent my future children (or even my future husband) for tearing me away from it. So I had no motivation to think too hard about what to do for the rest of my life. As far as full-time work went, I thought "the rest of my life" would only encompass a few years. I wish the "Mistake Guy" from Scrubs had paid me a visit.
Ten years later, I'm still working at the first job that was offered to me after college. I'm very thankful for many aspects of this job, not least of which that it allowed me financial independence when the unthinkable "anything" happened. But if I'd had a whole world of options and a different mindset at 22, this isn't what I would be doing. Lately I feel like I'm waking up from a lifelong sleep, like I've been unplugged from the Matrix and am seeing my real hands for the first time and wondering what they can do. It took me longer than most people to figure out who I am; who God made me to be, instead of what other people wanted me to be. So now the question is, what do I want in a career? What do I need? What did God make me to do? I'm wrestling with things I should have wrestled with a long time ago. I feel behind. I feel stuck. I regret lost time and choices that hinged on something I have very little control over.
I'm not sure how I feel about the concept of "calling." I think it's overused in Christian circles and usually results in more pressure than anything else, and more pressure is the last thing anyone needs. But, for lack of a better word, I want to pursue my callings and interests and continue developing in them for the rest of my life. Even if I do get to be a wife again, and then a mother, those callings won't negate the ones I already have.
I believe that "having it all," as society presents it to women, is a lie that hurts us rather than helps us. We can't have it all, and we'll kill ourselves trying. But we can be whole, well-rounded individuals at every stage of life. We may need to express our callings in different ways, but they'll still be there.
My point is this: women, don't wait to figure out and pursue what you love. Try different things and let yourself make some mistakes. Don't be afraid to invest in your future. Don't spend years running laps when you could have been clocking mileage in the marathon of your life. I wish I had taken that advice years ago. I wish I could take it fully now. I know it's never too late to make changes, but there's a lot more at stake than there used to be.