Create Your Own Story

In the April 7th edition of TIME Magazine there was a commentary article entitled “Fast-Track Girls Finish Best” by Charlotte Alter. The article talks about two recent books Marry Smart by Susan Patton and Lean In For Graduates by Sheryl Sandberg and the advice they are both giving to young women today. Patton focuses on marriage/building a family while Sandberg zeros in on the career side of things. Although they both focus on different aspects of a young woman’s life, they are both saying the exact same thing: we don’t have any time to waste.

With all due respect, as a woman in my mid-twenties, I have to say I completely and wholeheartedly disagree.

Now, I haven’t read either of these books for myself and I also never plan to read either in the future. Here’s why.

Patton’s March Today Show interview sums up her book enough for me. Patton urges college women to primarily focus on finding a husband, further suggesting that young women should spend 75% of their time finding a spouse and 25% on professional development. She even suggests that if you need cosmetic surgery to do so before college, in order to make yourself more “socially successful” at finding a spouse. Patton has our biological ticking the moment we turn eighteen. She actually really seems to believe that we have absolutely no time to waste if marriage and children are part of our life plan, “Work will wait. Your fertility won’t.” I guess I missed the memo that said parents spend thousands and thousands of dollars to send their daughters to college for them to find a spouse and get knocked up. After all, that’s the only thing all women want anyways. Right?

Sandberg takes on the other extreme, that your career should be your prime focus. Sandberg, as the chief operating officer of Facebook, is a hugely successful woman in which many young women look up to. She has certainly climbed her way to the top in the corporate world and she deserves every bit of that success and admiration. The TIME article points out that in the introduction to Sandberg’s book she writes, “There’s no question that the world moves faster today… This means that grabbing opportunities is more important than ever.” Meaning, we need to take every opportunity we can to further our career as soon as we can. Alter describes Sandberg’s viewpoint perfectly, “The idea is to get good enough, fast enough, that your career becomes childproof.” Makes sense because all women are solely career hungry. Right?

Here’s where I have a problem with what both these women are saying. It’s not the advice itself that ticks me off (alright, maybe a little). It’s the fact that these women are sitting there telling other women where their priorities should be. Maybe I’m completely crazy, but what if we all just worried about creating our own story? I don’t see men writing countless books and articles for other men about how to live their life. It seems like most men sort of just figure their life out on their own. Why can’t we do that too? How about if women just started supporting other women’s decisions despite if we agree with them or not? How about if we all just decided which life path to take on our own based on what is personally important to us, what goals we have for ourselves, and our interests? Would the world fall apart? No degree, no life experience, no personal background qualifies one person to give another person advice about what their priorities should be. Part of life’s journey is figuring out those priorities for ourselves. The mystery of not knowing what the next step will be is half the fun. The priorities we choose create our own unique life. A life completely different from the woman sitting right next to you, living across the street from you, or living across the country.

Before my husband and I got married, we were dating for almost eight years. I was a sophomore in high school when we met and started dating. He has been a huge part of every aspect of my life since then: proms, graduations, birthdays, vacations, sporting events, successes, and failures. I chose to stay in a relationship with him because it just felt right to me, because I couldn’t imagine my life without him in it. While my friends were thinking about which boy they wanted to hook up with next I never once questioned my decision to have a serious boyfriend through most of my high school career and all throughout college. Although, he has always been and will always be one of my top priorities here’s the shocker- he wasn’t my only priority. My school work, where I wanted to go to college, and my career were all important to me too. I wanted to get good grades, go to my dream college, and have a successful career all with him right by my side. I never felt like I needed to pick one or the other. I created my own life story to fit all my own priorities. Yes, I got married less then two years out of college. But, I married my best friend, one of my biggest supporters, the person who always pushed me to be the best I could be. I also filled my time with priceless work experience, internships, and classes that would help me fulfill my other priorities. About two months out of college I was offered a job in my dream profession. Not because I was lucky, but because I worked for it. I sculpted my life to incorporate both of my priorities into it. I took part in internships, classes, and hobbies that showed I was serious about my career too. I had more than one dream, more than one priority and I created a life that would fit them both in it together. This is my story and let me be the first to tell you, it’s probably not yours too.

My decision to get married in my early twenties was one of the best I ever made, but I wouldn’t suggest or discourage another young woman from doing the same thing. I would rather ask, “Do you truly believe this is the best thing for you personally?” I couldn’t be happier to have started my dream job right out of college, but I wouldn’t suggest or discourage this either. I would rather ask, “Are you sure there’s nothing else you’d rather do?” I decided not to continue my education right after college, but I wouldn’t suggest or discourage this decision either. I would rather ask, “Do you feel completely prepared to reach your goals with the resources you currently have?” I decided that I was happy in the state I was living in, in the area I called home, so I decided to stay. I never studied abroad nor did I feel the need to travel immensely after college. I wouldn’t suggest or discourage another young woman from making that same decision. I would rather ask, “Do you feel completely fulfilled or do you feel like you are constantly chasing after something new?”

Unfortunately, my life decisions, what I have chosen for my priorities, won’t help you find yours. Patton’s and Sandberg’s won’t help you either. Follow your heart and trust your instincts. If you aren’t ready to settle down- don’t. If you aren’t ready to enter into the workplace- don’t. If you want to focus on getting married and having kids- do it. If you want to work solely on building your career- do it. If you want to make both work- trust me you can do that too. Making a quick decision is easy to regret, but no one ever regretted taking the time to truly figure out what they wanted. Despite what Patton and Sandberg suggest, you my fellow ladies have all the time in the world because as soon as you figure out your own priorities you won’t need anymore time.

From woman to woman, my advice to you is simply no advice at all.

Sometimes, life happens.

This afternoon I came across this absolutely horrific, but yet inspiring, story on BuzzFeed. Last week a, beautiful and very sweet, 12-year-old girl from Tennessee died suddenly from pneumonia complications. A completely heartbreaking story that I wasn’t sure I wanted to continue to read. According to her father, Taylor only had minor flu-like symptoms and even tested negative at the doctors. Like any good parents, they got her the right prescriptions and set her up with all the necessary tools to ride out this yucky, but what seemed to be minor, virus. But apparently, that wasn’t enough. Again- why was I reading this? This is a horribly depressing story that I really wish these parents, or any parents, didn’t have to go through.

Nevertheless, I went on reading and I’m really glad that I did. While sorting through some of Taylor’s stuff her parents found a letter that she had written to herself, to be opened in ten years. Her parents did not know about this letter and had no idea what they would find on the inside. You should really go check out the letter for yourself because Taylor was one amazing, funny, and caring little girl. There was one line that really stuck out to me the most, it was the last line of the letter:

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Now remember, this girl is only 12-years-old. I know many people in their fifties and sixties who don’t even think like this. But, with only a mere 12 years of life under her belt this little girl had the intelligence and insight to write this as advice to be given to herself at age 22. To me, that’s amazing and completely inspiring. And the best part about these few simple words? They are completely true.

Life isn’t always easy. I know many of us wish life was always happy and filled with success, love, and prosperity. Let’s stop for a moment, is that what we really want? Thinking about it now, after reading those words- I think a perfect, easy, problem-free life would be boring and unfulfilling. If nothing ever went wrong in your life, if you never had to overcome a challenge, how would we learn? People become who they are from their struggles and from the challenges they overcome. Most of the time that “new” person is better than the one they were before. We can’t always expect the best outcome in life, we can certainly wish for it but we also need to be prepared for the worst. You can’t prevent life from happening to you. There’s actually very little you can control. What you can control is how you handle these problems you are faced with- what you learn from it, how to choose to grow as a person, and what you decide to pass on to others. We all struggle in our own way, there is not one single perfect life out there. I hate to break it to you but something bad is probably going to happen to you at some point in your life. The more we embrace that reality, the better prepared we will be and the more we will get out of the one life we have to live. In the end, be thankful for the very simple fact that you are still breathing. There are many people that would have wished they could have one more day, one more moment to live their life. You have this moment, you have this life. Don’t take it for granted- live, grow, and learn every day. No matter what.

In the wise words of one kick-ass little girl: stuff happens, “go with it.”

Can Money Buy Happiness?

A few weeks ago I wrote about my generation of women’s sense of self-worth and “can-do” attitude but it also bought to light the reality that, even today, there is still a wage discrepancy between women and men. This morning I came across an interesting article on NPR by Lisa Chow entitled “Why Women (Like Me) Choose Lower-Paying Jobs.” This article gave me a whole different insight into the very same problem and resonated a lot with my own life. During her recent interview with an economist who studies how people’s choice of college major effects their income he revealed that, “women often make decisions that lead them to earn less than they otherwise might.” It is no secret that there are some majors/areas of study that just won’t produce the same income levels as other majors might. Most people going into these majors know this, but they chose to do it anyway. The article also had some helpful graphs with it, showing the percentage of degree holders in certain areas of study that are women. Some of the “least lucrative” major areas are Early Childhood Education in which 97% are women, Communication Disorders Sciences that tallied at 94%, Social Work which contains 88% women, and Human Services/Community Org which came in at 81%. The “most lucrative” majors shouldn’t come as a surprise- Pharmacy Sciences/Administration won with the most women degree holders at 52%, Mathematics/Computer Science came in second at 33%, Chemical Engineering was next at 28%, and Metallurgical Engineering (huh?) contains 17%. In last place, Naval Architecture/Marine Engineering degree holders are only 3% female.

The economist from Georgetown University also pointed out that women’s choice of major isn’t the only problem, the jobs they chose once they graduate is another major factor in their income. He gives the example that most women who major in Math end up in professions such as teaching. Lisa, the author of this article, admits that she is one of these women. She majored in Applied Math, got her MBA, and is now a reporter for NPR. Awesome, right? But can she be making a lot more money? Certainly. As much $3-4 MILLION more! Lisa also tells the story of Rhea, a college career counselor. Rhea holds a degree in accounting and started her career in the corporate sector. Her boss offered her the opportunity to become a director but she turned it down. She was 5 months pregnant and there were more important things going on in her life at that moment. Eventually, she left the business world and ended up in the career path she is today.

This definitely raised a lot  of questions in my mind. What’s more important- money or happiness? Family or work? Of course, the answer is different for everyone. You may be a woman who loves engineering and who may or may not want children, so a job in your chosen field will give you both money and happiness. But, that isn’t me. I went to a top-ranked women’s liberal art college, I could have easily chosen a science major or a pre-med program. My school is known for their awesome science department- it’s prestige and intensity. Instead, I chose to double major in English and History. Why you may ask? The one science class I took in college (Astronomy) I absolutely dreaded. Every few minutes I found myself glancing at the clock and every time Wednesday night rolled around (lab day) I let out a long sigh. I couldn’t imagine spending any more time in a science/math related class than I had to in order to graduate. I wasn’t intellectually stimulated and I just wasn’t happy. To me, happiness is the most important thing in life. You only have one life to live- so why not be happy? Reading makes me happy. Learning about new literary geniuses and exploring new genres intrigues me. American history calls out to me and begs for me to learn more about it. This is where I am happy and this is where I feel most like myself.

What’s the income pay-off for my four years of a priceless education? Not very much (at least not yet). But, everyday I go to work happy. I enjoy what I do, I have a source of income, and I am constantly learning new things and growing in ways I didn’t even know I needed. My chosen career path is somewhat flexible and family-friendly. I have so many options to chose from when I decide to have kids including staying home, or even possibly working from home. I’m not sure that this is even what I want, I’m not sure what I want yet but I’m glad to know that flexibility is there. My happiness and my future family is what is important to me and that’s why I am where I am today. Yes, women in higher-paying fields have families too but those subject areas don’t make me happy. Yes, women who work a lot with very little flexibility have great families too, but that’s not what I want. I’m doing what’s right for me and I shouldn’t worry about being another statistic. I am a more confident woman because of the choices I made. I am more confident in my skill set required for my job and my ability to make an impact in my field. I feel like I belong here and the number on my pay check can’t tell me differently (…but maybe my bills can).

I’m not trying to say that gender wage inequality within job fields themselves doesn’t exist or isn’t important. What I am suggesting is that you should determine what you want from your life, what interests you, what makes you happy before you point any fingers at anyone else. Despite all the challenges that still face women- I am happy where I am and let me tell you, it feels really good.

Follow me on Twitter (@LConfidence) and Facebook.

#GenYproblems

Searching for some inspiration right before the weekend, I came across some great articles about my generation of women. It completely validated why I write this blog and put me in a really good mood (well, mostly). So naturally- I had to write about it.

It’s no secret that women haven’t always had the equalities, sense of worth, or opportunities we have now. Some women never dreamed of holding a man’s job because it just wasn’t possible. Being twenty-three years old and coming from an all-women’s college I rarely ever think about this. I have never said I couldn’t do something, didn’t deserve something, or wasn’t capable of doing something because of my gender. I always assumed and hoped that other women (of all ages) felt the same way. In reality, it’s really only my generation that has this mindset and as happy as that makes me it also makes me kind of sad at the same time.

In a recent study by FleishmanHillard, Heart Magazines, and Ipsos MediaCT they found that Gen Y women (born between the early 1980’s and  early 2000’s) see themselves as equal to their male counterparts/co-workers in the work place. The best part? This isn’t just in the United States. Women all over the world are perceiving themselves this way. The study was conducted with 1,000 women and 500 men in the U.S. along with 3,000 women from UK, France, Germany, and China. When participants were asked if they would describe themselves as smart, 70% of women said they would while only 54% of the men from Gen Y said yes. We certainly need to take a moment and celebrate how far we have come. The values and mind-set in which Gen Y women have been raised are clearly working. Growing up, we were never denied anything. We were always told we can be whatever we want to be. I honestly don’t think I ever heard the words, “No, you can’t do that. You’re a woman,” growing up or even today. This proves that women were never less capable than men. We have just been forced to believe we were. It was engrained into our brains to the point where we actually just started to believe it. Men had their role, women had their role and that was the end of it. If you were a women you took care of the house, raised the children, and maybe picked up a secretary, nursing, or teaching job. It was normal, natural- nothing wrong with it. Now, young women are going way beyond any such standard. And the fact that they actually feel and truly believe they can do so and deserve it at the same time is the best part. What’s the difference between Gen Y women, Gen X women, and baby-boomer women? Absolutely nothing. Except what we were taught.

Yes, this is all good news but we aren’t completely done here. These same women also admitted that there are still wage inequalities. More then 80% of the women involved in this study said that men are still paid more, often for the same exact job. The women did attribute part of this to the fact that men are better at negotiating and asking for salary increases but in my opinion- we shouldn’t have to. Why is there this inequality in the first place? Why does having female anatomy parts automatically make you less qualified, leading to a smaller salary? Because we won’t fight? Because we are too passive? I don’t totally buy it. Every person doing the same job should be paid the same salary. End of story. Yes, I understand there are different education levels, people have been in positions and with companies for different amounts of the time but the base salary should all be the same. We shouldn’t have to beg or ask for equal treatment. If we are qualified enough to be hired, we should be qualified enough to get a fair salary.

Another disturbing result in this survey was that 50% of the women that participated said that men resent the advances that women have made in the recent years. We may see ourselves as equal- but do men? In my experiences I have certainly thought so. I guess I am extremely lucky, I have never been made to feel inferior by a man because of my gender. But, if 50% of these women have had this experience then I can’t deny it- it’s still very much a real thing. The women that came before us had to deal with the same prejudices. This is nothing new and unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to go away anytime soon if this many women are still struggling with this discrimination.

This brings me to the question- what has really changed? There is one thing that is different this time around. Our attitudes. Women are no longer accepting this mindset. My generation is breaking down this barrier by believing in themselves. We now know we are worthy and know we can do anything we set our minds too. We can do anything anyone else can do and we won’t except “no” as an answer. But, this is only the first step. Should we consider the fact that women are finally thinking of themselves as equal to or dominant to men a success? Yes, I think so- but how far is that going to get us? The world needs to see women in the same light as we see ourselves before anything can really change. Pay inequality or resentment because of your accomplishments is not conducive to reaching true gender equality. There needs to be a huge social/cultural change before we can see true equality, especially in the work place where males and females work closely together, competing for the same jobs. We believe in ourselves- now can the rest of the world?

It makes me extremely happy to be part of Gen Y and know that my other fellow female peers feel the same way I do. We are so close- we need to keep empowering each other, supporting each other, and reaching out to those who need a little more help to get to where we are. I am proud of where we are today and I can’t wait too see where we go in the next 20, 50, 70 years.

That’s my weekend wisdom for you- enjoy! My intellectual side needs a nap, or perhaps a glass of wine…

Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math- OH MY!

If someone asked me, at the beginning of high school, what I pictured my college career to look like the words “all women’s college” would not have come out of my mouth. Many high school girls won’t even consider looking at an all women’s college and it’s really a shame. With less than two months left till graduation I can honestly say that my choice to attend an all women’s college was the best decision I could have ever made. The sense of community, pride, and passion is completely overwhelming (in a good way). In your most vital years, you are granted the opportunity to grow and develop the skills necessary to succeed in a male dominated world in an environment where women are the focus. In a co-ed world there is nowhere else you will ever get that experience.

On a blog search about a month ago I came across this blog entry that particularly caught my attention. There were two things that I loved about this blog. One, it is the AAUW (American Association of University Women) blog. AAUW has been in existence for 130 years. With 100,000 members/donors, 1,000 branches, and 500 member institutions AAUW works to break down educational and economic barriers to help women have a fair chance at success. There are so many awesome things that AAUW does that I couldn’t possibly mention it all here, so check out their website for yourself- I dare you.

Secondly, this blog entry also talks about STEM. This program encourages women to pursue careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. I will be the first one to tell you that I’m definitely not science/math inclined but I have always deeply admired people who are. There is no denying that these fields are male dominated. AAUW tries to encourage women to break into these fields by providing graduate fellowships, grants, and conducting research to diminish these barriers. Check out more information about STEM here.

I absolutely love that there are organizations out there that are encouraging women to be ‘lipstick confident’ because we could use all the help we can get. A little support and encouragement goes a long way.

Now, go practice your ‘lipstick confidence’ and remember to follow my blog on Twitter, @lconfidence.