Angie P is a longtime reader of the blog. We’re really glad she sent us this guest post.
I was recently asked to speak at my ward’s Young Women’s mutual activity for a Career Night. I thought this was a great idea and wanted to share so that it might inspire some other YW programs.
The career night was for the entire YW, and there were about 15 girls in attendance. They invited three women from the ward: an elementary teacher who teaches in Oakland, a hairdresser, and myself, a paralegal. They asked each of us to talk to the YW about how we chose our careers, the education/training it took to get where we are, and the best and worst parts of our jobs. Below are the thoughts I shared. I also asked two of my closest friends for their thoughts and what they would say, and appreciated their comments so much that I handed out these thoughts to the YW as well. Those thoughts are found at the very end.
I am excited to be here tonight and to speak with you. I love the idea of a career night for the Young Woman, and I wish that I had had one growing up, because whenever someone would ask me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would rattle off some important sounding career like psychologist or lawyer, but I would always follow up with “But what I really want to be is a mom.” Almost all of the women I knew were stay-at-home moms, and I thought that choosing to be anything more than that would be selfish and against God’s plan. Now, I love being a mother and feel very grateful to have two wonderful children. But for multiple reasons, both of choice and circumstances, I have a career outside the home. And I love my career!
During college I switched my major a couple of times, from nursing to teaching and then to a general English degree (with the intention of becoming a high school English teacher). But in all honesty, I didn’t plan on “using” my degree, so I never purposefully thought about a career path in college. I chose those majors because I thought they would be conducive to being a SAHM, and a good “back up career” if I HAD to work. My senior year at BYU, I worked at my aunt’s law firm in Sal Lake City as a legal assistant, and enjoyed the job. Shortly after I graduated I landed a job at a law firm in Provo as a full time legal assistant/file clerk, and soon trained as a paralegal. During this time, I worked full time during the day, and my husband and I also had full time night jobs assisting adults with disabilities while my husband finished his degree. After my husband graduated three years later, we moved to California. Before we moved, my husband and I discussed our career plans. At that point, we didn’t have any children, and didn’t plan to have children for a few more years until we were stable in our careers. As I mentioned, I had intended to become a high school English teacher, but this was circa 2009-10 during the recession and I heard that in California there was a hiring freeze and a lot of teachers being laid off. So I decided to continue with my paralegal career. I studied for and passed a national certification test, which was a two day test that I’ve heard compared to a mini-bar exam that covered both technical skills, such as writing, and legal knowledge and application.
After we moved to the Bay Area I was fortunate to land my current position at a small law firm where I have worked for almost six years. People often ask me what exactly a paralegal does, and I like to compare the paralegal and attorney roles to the equivalent of a nurse and a doctor. Our law firm focuses on estate planning, meaning Wills and Trusts, Trust Administration, Probate, and some tax preparation. I do a lot of drafting of documents, client interaction, court filings, and work closely with the attorneys in my firm on projects. Some of my favorite projects at work involve compiling accounting reports, which I think is funny because math wasn’t my easiest subject in school. But I enjoy my job and feel very fortunate to be in a family-friendly firm. With the births of both of my children I was able to take four month maternity leaves, and negotiated to have Fridays off when I went back to work after my oldest was born. My career is very fulfilling to me; I love using and learning new skills, learning about the law and how to apply it, and working with my colleagues. I also feel that my career is good for my mental health and that I am a better mother because of it. My career has also been a blessing to my family when I was the sole bread winner when my husband was searching for a job, and we are able to live in this expensive area because we have dual incomes. I’m also grateful to have a good daycare situation, and we now consider our provider and her family part of our family.
I also love the security I have in knowing that I can provide for my family. Growing up, money was always tight, and I watched the ongoing fights between my parents about money. Unfortunately, my mom would share her frustrations with me, and I hated feeling helpless or worried about surviving financially.
Some things that are hard about having a career are not spending as much time with my kids as I would be able to if I stayed home, I don’t do all the crafty things that I always imagined I would do as a mother, and I miss out on building relationships with other women in the church because a lot of socializing goes on during the day while I am at work.
My husband and I share the housework; he’s a great cook and makes dinner most nights, and I’m more picky about the “right” way to do dishes and laundry so I manage those areas. We also make it a point to check in with each other on a regular basis to make sure that our situation is working for ourselves, each other, and our family; and we keep an running dialogue going about our future options if we have more children or as the children get older and how we could balance everything. Communication is vital for us.
If I could impart any wisdom to my younger self, I would tell myself a few things:
First, don’t think of an education or career only as a “back up plan,” and know that “a man is not a plan.” You never know how you life will unfold. You may never get married or might not have children, you may need to be the sole breadwinner in your family, or you may need two incomes to survive. You may become divorced or widowed. Or you may choose to work because you want to. Even if you have the privilege of staying at home while your kids are young, that is only for a small period of your life. If I could go back now, I would go to law school and become an attorney. I may still do that one day, but it’s not in the cards right now.
Second, seriously consider your career, and invest in yourself and your education. Don’t limit yourself to merely “safe choices” either. Develop your skills and work hard; you never know where an opportunity will take you. If you do have a family in the future, I also would argue that the more education and experience you obtain the more family-friendly options you may have. For example, a doctor working a shift or two a week could probably make more than a nurse working full time.
Third, remember that any decision you make is between you, the Lord, and your husband/family (if you have one). Don’t limit yourself or make decisions based on people outside of that circle. If you choose to be a SAHM, own it and be the best you can. If you choose to have a career outside of the home, don’t be apologetic. You and your family will live with the consequences, so don’t let others make these decisions for you. Each family gets to decided how the needs of the individuals and family are best met.
Finally, remember that you are loved daughters of Heavenly Parents who have given you abilities and gifts. You have such great potential and bright futures, and I wish the very best of luck to you.
Life doesn’t follow a formula. We need to prepare our female youth for a broader picture than simply graduate from high school, seek education until you get married and then have a good excuse to quit. I believe very strongly in family and motherhood and I love being part of a religion that values these roles in society, especially when they’re becoming less and less popular socially. With that said, I would say to my own daughter that life isn’t so black and white as we like to make it out to be. I was brought up thinking it’s “motherhood and family” or it’s a “education/career”. Those are the options. Some people would say, “You can’t have it all!” but I tend to side with the whole “You can have it all, just not all at the same time” concept. Sacrifice will inevitably be required if you find that you, as a woman, desire the fulfillment of both family life AND education/career. You’ll have to make choices day by day, year to year, constantly re-evaluating your priorities to make sure everyone’s needs are being met. Sometimes you’ll pull back from the work scene to devote more to the family, while other times career or educational choices may require your devoted focus for a time and family members will have to sacrifice a little bit for you. But isn’t that beautiful? A family that sacrifices for each member? I wish I had been taught how intelligent and capable I was, to feel more confident and less guilty for being so ambitious and career-minded. Today, I love the challenge before me of balancing family demands and personal fulfillment demands (for me, teaching yoga and running a healing center in partnership with my husband). It requires creativity, ingenuity, and ambition–that’s womanhood- fierce to behold. Let’s build their self-confidence, show them how high they’re capable of flying, while at the same time, instill in them a sincere desire for motherhood and family life. I feel that as LDS women, we ought to be able to stand confidently with heads held high in the work field if we so desire, but hopefully doing it because of the pure pleasure it brings to our lives, and not because we’re seeking outside validation, desperate for public accolades to compensate for previous generations of female suppression and obligatory homemaking. This is key in my mind. It changes the dialogue from “I’m a career mom” and “I’m a stay-at-home mom” to….we’re all just following our hearts, not obsessed with “doing what’s expected of us” but instead being led by the spirit. In other words, I would hope that my daughter, if it turns out she’s crazy passionate about architecture, would feel no hesitation in pursuing said career. Say she falls in love, gets married, has kids…then what? It would require creativity at times. It would require sacrifice at times. It could flow beautifully at times. It might seem impossible at times. But she’d find a way, if motherhood and architecture were truly in her bones. But it requires of us, as women, to be self-assured, not afraid or insecure or hesitant. I guess what I’m saying is, we as women should strive to follow our hearts. If your heart is wholly satisfied being “maker of the home”, you go girl! If your heart yearns for stimulating conversations and higher education, bring it on! Things have a way of working out when we do that.
I think one thing for me is that I wish I had been told that I didn’t need to limit a career as a back up plan. I think by only considering options that would allow me to be a stay at home mom I ended up limiting myself and missing out on experiences and opportunities that I was really passionate about. Of course, never to downplay the importance of being a mother, but I think it is better for girls to reach for whatever it is they love and there will always be ways to accommodate your career to make motherhood a priority when that time comes. And in fact, that the more education and experience you get in your career, the more options and flexibility you will have when it comes time to be a mother and when the time comes to go back to work again if you decide to take time off.
Another thing is that I wish I had taken time to expose myself to a lot of different career options at a younger age. I wish someone would’ve told me that I didn’t need to just do what I was good at in high school, but that there was a whole world out there of possibilities that I might love. Even just being encouraged to talk to people in different fields, especially women, would have been useful for me.
One more thing is I would encourage them to put their whole heart into what they are doing at every stage of life…be present, be happy, and don’t wish your time away.