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.

Book Review: Home by Toni Morrison

I shouldn’t be surprised that my heart skipped a few beats when I discovered Toni Morrison’s newest novel (alright, I’m a little late to the game but now is better than never- right?). Feeling a little nostalgic about my college years and missing its security, beauty, and friends- Toni Morrison was exactly what I was missing. I have become somewhat of an African-American lit junkie, if you will. During my freshman year I took an Introduction to Literature class where the professor focused mostly on apartheid literature and this completely sparked my interest. I went on to take a Richard Wright class in which we read many books by Wright, Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston, and James Baldwin among many others. Venturing further into this literary circle I took an African American Literature course my senior year where we read Ralph Ellison, Anne Petry, more Wright, and more Morrison. I had become completely immersed and I loved every second of it. Hence, my excitement for HOME by Toni Morrison.

Morrison definitely does not disappoint with her latest novel (does she ever?). HOME is about a young Veteran, named Frank Money, who just returned from the Korean War. Frank had a far from easy life. His family was very poor, lived in a depressing town in which Frank described as, “the worst place in the world, worse than any battlefield.” All his parents ever did was work for practically nothing, leaving him and his sister to fend for themselves, mostly always starving. Both parents died at a very young age, making Frank feel more alone and more without a real home. The book opens with Frank in the hospital when he receives a letter that his sister, Cee, is in trouble and if he doesn’t come now she will most likely die. Cee had always been dependent on Frank, she never had anyone else she could turn to. He needed her, so he was going to be there. The book tracks Frank’s journey to find his sister, the revelations he makes along the way and just as important, the revelations that Cee makes herself without her brother there to hold her hand.

What I love most about Morrison is that she puts so much meaning into her books with so few words. I could type on and on for days and I still wouldn’t be able to say half of what Morrison could in a couple hundred pages, let alone so gracefully and resonating. I could sit here all night and list off meaning after meaning of each character, object, and place in this book. But, for everyone’s sake (including my own) I won’t. My first reaction is to talk about the character of Frank Money and his journey to find his manhood, purpose, sense of self, and “home”. After all, I did write many of my college papers on manhood- its challenges, meaning, and the struggles that many African American male characters seem to face on their journey to becoming a “man” and feeling worth something. But thats not what sticks out to me with this book. Instead, I am fascinated by the character of Cee.

Cee’s experience working for the doctor is horrible, gruesome, and definitely beyond anything I could ever imagine. But, in a sense- it set her free. Being young, black, and a woman were all disadvantages Cee had to learn to deal with her entire life. These characteristics made her feel insecure, worthless, and incompetent. Cee felt like she was only there to serve others because that’s all she ever knew. Miss Ethel, Cee’s nurse after the horrific events at the doctor’s, opened Cee’s eyes up to a whole other world. A world where she was her own person. A world in which she decided her own fate and what she did or didn’t do. She doesn’t need to listen to what anyone else tells her- she has her own brain with her own thoughts, dreams, and desires.

The turning point of Cee’s journey is when Miss Ethel tells her, “You young and a woman, and there’s serious limitation in both, but you a person too. Don’t let Lenore or some trifling boyfriend and certainly no evil doctor decide who you are. That’s slavery. Somewhere inside you is that free person I’m talking about. Locate her and let her do some good in the world.” These few sentences really jumped out at me, left me staring at the page for a few moments longer than the rest. Although Cee wasn’t physically a slave to anyone, she certainly was mentally. She let other people decide her worth, her destiny, her life. In this moment, Cee decided she was worth something, “I ain’t going nowhere, Miss Ethel. This is where I belong.” Cee doesn’t want to die, especially from the doings of an evil, heartless man. She wants to stay here on Earth with her people, friends, family and fight. She wants to put her own mark on the world as Cee, not as another helpless patient who succumbed to the dominant forces around her.

If you couldn’t tell already, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone. I warn you, don’t expect a happy story with pretty butterflies and flowers. But what you will get is hope, empowerment, and a sense of pride. Nothing can hold me back after reading this book. I feel like I can accomplish anything right now because I’m my own person. I have my own hopes and aspirations and I am the only person who can control them.

Whew- I feel like I am sitting back in one of my college classrooms and I couldn’t thank Morrison, my readers, or this blog enough for that.

When does being “comfortable” go too far?

Lately there has been a lot of attention in the media about college-aged women and their sex lives. If you are a normal person you probably already said, “Wait- stop right there. Why should we care?” And you are exactly right, why should we care? Unfortunately, there are many reasons why we should care that go way beyond your personal morals about sex. Barnard College, a prestigious women’s college in New York, is one reason we should care. When students arrived back to campus this Fall they were greeted with a new guest policy that they were never warned about. The new guest policy states that no student is allowed to host an overnight guest “no more than three consecutive nights and no more than six nights total in any 30-day period.” Their guests actually have to sign in (and sign out) with security guards located in each dorm- another reason we should care. The college claims that this new guest policy came about from other students being uncomfortable with their roommates guests- one more reason we should care.

I see so many problems with this that I don’t even know where to begin- it’s actually kind of infuriating. Being a recent graduate of a women’s college this strikes a very personal cord with me. Let’s take it piece by piece. First, the wording and implications of the new guest policy really irks me. Why do they care how many TOTAL nights a student has a guest a month? Six nights doesn’t even cover all the weekends in a month. It seems to me that they are insinuating that when a student has an overnight guest they have sex and they are trying to control that personal choice. I just don’t see any other reason for it. If it was solely for the roommate’s sake they would have stopped at the “three consecutive nights” rule. Yes, even that part seems a little unfair but at least I understand it. It’s uncomfortable to have someone you barely know staying in your room and they certainly shouldn’t over stay their welcome so that part is totally fair. In life you have to give and take a little. But there is absolutely no reason any college or university should be concerned with how many times a student chooses to have an overnight guest. Another reason I feel this new rule is mostly about sex is that it pertains to all students, even those students living in singles. These students are not bothering anyone when they have a guest so why should they be restricted? Why should it matter? I realize that it’s hard to have a rule that only pertains to certain students but that’s one of the many perks of single living or of being an upper classmen. If the roommate issue was the only reason behind the new policy there are many other ways Barnard could have went about it.

Next, I do understand that many colleges have guests policies but how much they are actually enforced is a different issue. I do believe in some sort of guest policy because it’s necessary for the safety of the students but once again, Barnard has gone too far. The fact that these students have to sign in and out their guests with a guard stationed at their dorm is beyond me. It’s like your literally displaying your personal life to the public. I completely understand why students would feel like their guard is constantly judging their personal decisions, even if the guard could actually care less and is just doing his or her job. Every time you bring the same or different person back you are wondering what they are thinking. It’s uncomfortable and a private decision that shouldn’t be logged on a piece of paper. Not to mention that this is occurring in a place that celebrates all the freedoms women have gained and all the successes we have made. But how can you stand for that when your actions say the exact opposite?

Lastly, and the the biggest problem I have with this whole thing, is that this is resulting from the roommate’s “uncomfortableness.” Are you kidding me? How old are we again? Do we know how to use our voices? Apparently not. If these students can’t function in a safe, sheltered, single sex environment there is no way they are making it in the real world. What ever happened to working through your own problems instead of running to administration or a higher power? It’s an essential life skill that these women seem to be lacking. If you don’t speak up your roommate is going to assume you don’t have a problem with her guests so she is going to keep doing it. If these “uncomfortable” roommates could nicely express their concerns I bet 98% of these students would take those concerns into account and be more considerate about their guests next time. There are always going to be the few who don’t care about anyone else or their feelings but that’s what your residential/student advisers are for, not the administration. If three intelligent and grown women can’t work through their problems and differences I really do feel hopeless for the future. Once you bring your problems to a higher power you are then making someone else feel uncomfortable and are invading their privacy and two wrongs never make a right.

This controversial debate couldn’t of come at a better time for my blog, right when I’m talking about being in “uncomfortable” places. So naturally I feel inclined to throw out a few tips about how to talk to your roommate (or anyone for that matter) about something they are doing that is making you uncomfortable:

*Talk to your roommate in private. Not when your or his/her friends are in the room or when you are in a public place. Also, make sure it’s a good time for them to have a serious talk. If they are going through something super stressful they aren’t going to be as understanding as they normally would be.

*Be specific. Don’t just say, “I don’t like when you have guests overnight.” Tell him/her why. Is there something that they do that annoys you? Does it prohibit you from doing what you have to do? If you don’t give them something to work with they aren’t going to be able to fix it.

*Once you voice your concerns, you need to listen to theirs as well. What’s important to you may not be important to them and you aren’t going to be able to change that. You are going to have to find some even ground that you can BOTH live with.

*Whatever you do, don’t be judgmental. Don’t tell them that what they are doing is “wrong.” Make it clear that this is your personal preference, not a matter of right or wrong.

*If you need to, make a list of each of your needs and expectations then compare and contrast. Find a solution that meets all these needs.

*If all else fails, get a trained student involved. Talking to someone else who recently probably went through the same thing you are could be really helpful for the both of you.

*And sometimes you just have to suck it up. That’s what adulthood is all about, welcome to the real world.

College is an essential time for students to grow on their own, think for themselves, make their own mistakes, and learn from them. In four very short years you are supposed to become an adult, a full functioning adult. It’s scary and not easy. But guess what? You have to do it. Rules like these do not exist in the real world but problems like these certainly do. If you can’t learn how to handle them in a safe environment I’m not sure you ever will.

Here are a couple interesting articles about the this new guest policy from The Daily Beast and The Nation.

Miss Smarty Pants

While browsing the internet on a desperate search for inspiration for this week’s post I came across this article from California Watch. In short, it talks about how women in male dominated majors in college (specifically engineering) struggle with constant confidence issues- many of which end up dropping the major because they feel like they aren’t smart enough or feel like an outcast. One mechanical engineering and material sciences major at UC Berkeley reported that her male classmates didn’t take her seriously and often made comments about her blonde hair. She also always felt extra pressure not a make a mistake because when she did it was often attributed to her gender.

As awful and unfair as this is, it’s a reality that women in college and the workplace are going to have to deal with at some point in their lives. Society is continually making small steps forward, but we aren’t going to see a massive change in gender equality overnight. Therefore, we, as female students and professionals, need to know how to handle ourselves appropriately and with confidence so our male counterparts don’t have anything to complain about.

Success and confidence building all starts in the classroom. Your college or university is a safe place to practice the skills in which you will need once you enter into the workplace. In college, you have a massive support system around you that wants you to succeed. Nevertheless, as demonstrated above, the classroom is also an easy and common setting for sexism.

With August quickly approaching (yikes!) and fall following closely behind, I have outlined some basic classroom etiquette guidelines below. Hopefully, this will help ease some nerves, build a little extra confidence, and make all you smart women out there be taken a little more seriously.

*Just like everything else- be on time. If you are constantly arriving late it gives us the impression that you don’t care about the class or your success. If you happen to be late, take the closest seat to the door that you can find and don’t walk across the front of the classroom.

*Dress comfortably and appropriately- especially for women. You want to be taken seriously so dress to impress. No man (or professor) is going to take you seriously if you show up to class in high heels, a mini-skirt, and tight tube top. All you are asking for is inappropriate attention- save that outfit for the weekends.

*Try to use the restroom before class. Getting up in the middle of a lecture is disturbing to both the professor and other students in the class.

*Once the professor summons the class to begin, cease all conversations. You probably don’t like it when you see other people talking while you are so don’t do it to someone else.

*Turn off your cell phone so you aren’t tempted to constantly look at it or so that phone call from mom doesn’t accidently disturb the whole class- embarrassing.

*Try to take your notes the old-fashioned way- with a pen and paper. Laptops are great but they are also a distraction. If you absolutely need to use your laptop because you are a slow writer or your professor talks really fast it might be a good idea to block your access to the internet and other games you may have on your computer so you aren’t tempted.

*Don’t whip out a book, magazine, or newspaper during class and start reading. It’s just rude. Despite how good you are at hiding it, your professor can easily tell when someone’s eyes aren’t looking at him/her. Also, don’t constantly turn your head to glance at the clock. Unfortunately, the end of class isn’t going to arrive any faster.

*If you are chewing gum, do so softly. Don’t blow or pop bubbles. It’s probably best to just save the gum chewing until after class.

*If you are so tired to the point that you are going to fall asleep in class you probably just shouldn’t go. There is no point in being there if you are just going to sleep through the whole thing.

*Hand everything in when you are supposed to. If your professor usually collects papers at the beginning of class don’t arrive twenty minutes late. Show that you care about your work.

*If you need to leave a class early let the professor know either before the class starts or a few days before. Also, try to get a seat right next to the door so you don’t have to walk across the whole classroom.

*Don’t hurry the end of class by packing up your books and zipping your backpack up a few minutes before class is over. Again, it’s rude and distracting. Plus, you may miss the opportunity to write down some essential information about next class, the homework, or an upcoming exam. Class isn’t over until it’s over.

If you handle yourself with confidence, show that you care, and have a genuine interest in learning and furthering your education you will be taken seriously. Showing your weaknesses gives people an opportunity to beat you down. Do what you love and don’t let anyone (man or woman) scare you away from it.

Now, go practice your ‘lipstick confidence’!

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.

Overcoming Obstacles: Real Life Lipstick Confidence

This week I am doing something a little different because I came across a really awesome article in The Wall Street Journal that I would like to share with you all.

In 1992, Jill Chalsty launched a program called Overcoming Obstacles for middle and high school students. Overcoming Obstacles is a life-skills program in which students learn concepts and skills such as confidence, responsibility, respect, teamwork, stress management, problem solving, etc. With the high school students they also focus on college and careers (they learn about scholarships/loans, prepare resumes, and practice interviewing skills). Lastly, the program also stresses community service, guiding the students through the process of starting a community project using knowledge they have gained in the classroom. The program has been used by 2.5 million students in New York, Charleston, Jersey City, and Los Angeles.

Previously, school districts who have participated in the program had to pay from their own funds. The curriculum includes 80 lesson plans, 500 activities, and 180 hours of instruction. But Mrs. Chalsty and her husband have decided that with recent budget cuts faced by many school districts it is time to make the program FREE. Therefore, they launched a $10 million “gifting initiative” in order to do so. The Chalsty’s kicked off the fundraiser by donating $500,000 of their own money.

I think that this program is a great idea and something that all middle and high school students need. Many school programs quickly breeze over bullying, time management, and study skills but very few focus on other life skills such as confidence, style tips, and common etiquette. Overcoming Obstacles seems to cover it all and perhaps if I had gone through this program myself I wouldn’t be so nervous about entering into the real world. I really hope more schools start to adopt this program.

Check out the Overcoming Obstacles website here.

Mrs. Chalsty is definitely a ‘lipstick confident’ woman, now go practice yours!