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.

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Book Review: How To Disappear Completly by Kelsey Osgood

Last night I finished reading an anorexia memoir titled How To Disappear Completely by Kelsey Osgood. Although I wouldn’t classify this book as one of the best books I ever read, I really did appreciate the subject matter. If you are looking for a really entertaining read with spotless writing then this probably isn’t the book for you. But, it definitely provides a lot of food for thought.

Before reading this memoir, I had read other anorexia/addiction memoirs. The stories are brutal and heartbreaking. The things they put their bodies through, the extent they go to to lie, to hide things, to become sicker is unbelievable. But usually in the end they persevere. They overcome their downfall and get on a road back to health. For me, these memoirs were never more than stories. If anything they made me want to eat more, be happier, and just love who I am. I couldn’t imagine going through what they put themselves through. For me, these stories were deterrents. It never occurred to me to look at the other side of the story. To think about the readers who aren’t as happy with who they are, who are struggling to stand out or fit in, to feel loved, or admired. Osgood makes a very good point- these very memoirs are enabling these readers to be anorexic, to get the attention they are striving for, to accomplish something that is worth noting.

I’m still not sure if I completely agree with what Osgood is saying but I do agree she has something there. She refrains from giving any specific details about her own disease, claiming that from experience this only encourages bad habits and behaviors. If she reveals her lowest weight, that gives another person something to strive to be. If she discloses the amount of food she used to consume, that only gives someone a plan. Osgood claims she became a “good anorexic” by studying other people’s memoirs, case studies, magazine articles, documentaries, and television shows. As a young girl she graved attention she didn’t think she was getting, she wanted to accomplish something people would talk about, she wanted to be known for something, to succeed in something. She wanted to be “perfect” and loved. With all this information readily available at her fingertips- in the libraries, the bookstores, on the internet, or on television, Osgood felt like becoming thin would help her reach those goals and desires. She was going to get thin the easiest way she knew how, the way she had seen many other girls get thin. And boy, was she going to get really thin- she would show them. She found a new purpose, a new goal, a new way to feel better about herself and she had a lot of helping in doing so.

If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Our society values being thin, pretty, and popular. We thrive to be successful, to accomplish something with our lives. We are bombarded with examples of “perfect” people and to reach their image seems nearly impossible. We can’t imagine a healthy way to look like that model in a bikini ad because we aren’t given the tools. Their aren’t many diet and exercise ads that say, “I ate this, this, and this today and I am still thin. I am still healthy.” But, there are many ads out there for unhealthy diets, their are many resources out there (chat rooms, internet forums, etc.) in which people encourage each other to get thin, to be the thinnest, and do it in the worse possible way. To be the worst is to be better, it’s means you are the “best.” I’m not saying that there aren’t any people, companies, or diet plans out there promoting the right things. But I do think they are harder to come by and aren’t as easily accessible. It’s easier to find stories about people who have suffered. It seems easier to starve yourself than to educate yourself on healthy eating and exercise.

This book made me stop and think- how about if we lived in a world where we didn’t talk about things like this? If no one ever shared their stories of eating disorders, drug addiction, or alcohol abuse. If no one ever revealed their greatest weight loss tip or the easiest/quickest way to get high. If we didn’t know the truth of people’s struggles, if we weren’t given that information to ease our own problems- would these diseases still exist? Would they be as prevalent? It’s a weird thought but something worth thinking about whether you agree or not. I personally think they would still exist. I don’t think these diseases or substance abuse would just magically disappear. And I certainly wouldn’t want to cut off an open dialogue about people seeking help and treatment. But I can’t help but think that maybe a little more privacy wouldn’t hurt.

After reading this book, I don’t know if I see the point in writing about your darkest, gruesomest days anymore. Publishing or filming the details of your life for the rest of the world’s entertainment. Why do we have the right to pry into your personal life? That’s your story, your personal intimacies, and no one should feel the need to publicize that information or even read it. I do believe that writing and coming to terms with where you have been, what you have done, and what you see your future to be are all huge parts of therapy and recovery but this can all be done, and should be done, privately. Your support should come from your family, friends, and loved ones. Not from people who don’t know you, who may encourage you to back track at any moment. In this age of social media frenzy, we all need to appreciate our privacy just a little bit more.

I always enjoy a book that forces me to think in a different way, to open my mind to new alternatives and ways of thinking. I like hearing different takes on the same subject, hearing all different sides before forming my own opinion. I will often stumble upon something I have never thought of before. How To Completely Disappear goes beyond anorexia. It brings to light a subject that everyone can relate to. It encourages you re-think what your version of “perfect” is, to re-evaluate what makes you happy, and to value your own personal life more. I think we can all learn something, whether we agree with Osgood or not, from this book. We should all stop to think about what we want to share before we share it- the effect it will have on yourself, on your loved ones, and those you don’t even know. Next time you go to write a status, post a picture, create a tweet, or even write a blog post just stop to think for a moment before hitting ‘enter.’ And maybe even put that smartphone down for a day. It won’t hurt, I promise. Censorship is a practice we should all partake in a little bit more.