I had a flash of deja vu a week or so ago, something triggered a childhood memory and I was struck by the oddest thought…I’ve somehow become the person I wanted to marry. I guess I’ve always been a planner, and I had a very clear vision of what I wanted as a child. I wanted to live in Northern Virginia, married to a man who was a lawyer, and who did international work. (What that actually meant was a little hazy to me, but that’s what I wanted.) I now live in Northern Virginia, and am a lawyer who facilitates criminal justice reform in other countries. (I have a better grasp now of what the job actually entails, which I’m sure is a relief to my boss.)
I didn’t plan it this way. I majored in Russian and secondary education in college and finished all the course work, except the student teaching, to qualify as a high school teacher. I didn’t decide to go to law school until the end of my junior year, and the whole process of making that decision was painful and jarring–it seemed daunting to me as a single woman. In law school, I never considered going into public service, I was pretty sure I wanted to be a litigator, and I wound up at a law firm in D.C. doing commercial litigation after graduation. Unhappy with private practice, I took a huge pay cut for a government job, unrelated to law, and wound up with a surprise transfer to my current position–it was not something I applied for.
I’m willing to admit that my interests have always been my interests, and I’ve gravitated towards them, even in the most circuitous ways. I also believe that I was working towards goals that I didn’t want to admit to myself. I’m also aware that I was very, very lucky.
I’m fascinated by the fact that my tween mormon self in Salt Lake City could not fathom that I could achieve the life I wanted in any other way than marrying into it. My thirty five year old self finds it odd that for someone who was so academically driven as a child, I was alarmingly without long term goals, or the concept that those goals were valid for a woman to possess. I think I would have told other girls to set goals and that they could be anything they wanted, but I was so disbelieving of that concept, that I wouldn’t even allow myself to admit that this career was what I wanted. No one told me I couldn’t achieve, I just set those boundaries myself. And then, over years of tiny decisions, negated those boundaries. I’m horrified and relieved; embarrassed and proud. Crazy what a little nudge of deja vu can reveal.
So how do we help girls avoid the mental boundaries? How can we get them to not only repeat the cliche of “follow your dreams,” but actually visualize themselves doing it?