Encouraging a Questing Spirit

by Heidi Doxey

When I was in 4th or 5th grade I remember having heated arguments with my cousin, just a year older, about which one of us would be the first female President of the United States. We got in actual fights about who would be elected first which were only settled by deciding we would be each other’s Vice President and flip a coin when we were “of age” to determine who would be in the White House first. The details of a Presidential campaign and election race were clearly a little fuzzy for both of us. However, I distinctly recall believing that either of us could run the country.

Through the next few years I aspired to a wide range of potential career paths, never quite settling on one for very long. For any number of months or years I wanted to be a marine biologist (one who played with dolphins, not one who played with algae and fungus), Hollywood stunt woman, international attorney, architect, Broadway stage manager, Air Force fighter pilot, FBI agent, politician, writer, professional traveler, and back to architect.

I always I knew I wanted a career, and not just as a fall back plan. My Mom struggled to make ends meet for my sisters and me on child support payments and her small earnings from teaching piano lessons. She always told us to go to college, but she didn’t necessarily encourage college and a career as a Plan A, it always seemed relegated to Plan B (or C, or D). A few months ago I found this poem written by my 18-year old self (and I’m only a little embarrassed to share it here). It is both heartbreaking and helps me remember that despite our circumstances we are able to use education to break the “status quo” or “cookie cutter” cycle.

Mom, I want to be a doctor when I grow up.
It’s very hard to become a doctor, my sweet.
Mom, I want to be a scientist when I grow up.
Not many girls are scientists, precious.
Mom, I want to be a lawyer when I grow up.
Lawyers cheat people out of their money, angel.
Mom, I want to be an architect.
Architects never have any free time, honey.
Mom, I want to be an actress.
Only girls with no morals are actresses, darling.
Mom, I want to be a writer.
Writers tend to be eccentric and lonely, love.
Fine! I don’t want to be anything!
These days every girl should have a profession, pumpkin.
Who do you want me to be Mom?!?
Why, anything you want, dear…

I feel it is so important not only to encourage intellectual independence and career potential, but to also encourage follow-through. Education for education’s sake is important, absolutely, but discouraging our young people, especially our young women, from using those intellectual and academic talents throughout their lifetime is a huge disservice both to the young women and to the larger community.

I realize that a Ph.D. is not for everyone, and that is not what I am advocating, although if you want to pursue that route I am behind you with Diet Coke and snacks in bulk to provide sustenance. However, constantly improving our minds, flexing our intelligence, learning more about ourselves, the people around us, our world, or dedicating study to God and religion is a responsibility we should take very seriously.

Hugh B. Brown, former First Counselor in the First Presidency (1963-1970), said “Education has always been recognized by the Church as the number one obligation of each generation to its successor and of each individual to himself. Each one of us is a divinely endowed, eternal, and intelligent being. It is incumbent upon us, therefore, to encourage and keep alive the questing spirit, to learn and continue to learn everything possible about ourselves, our fellowmen, our universe, and our God” (Hugh B. Brown, in Conference Report, Apr. 1968, p. 101)

I love the line “it is incumbent upon us…to encourage and keep alive the questing spirit.” He does not say it is our responsibility to earn every degree ever invented, nor does he say it is our responsibility to work in an office, nor does he say we must constantly take courses at the local community college. He says we must “encourage the questing spirit,” which I take to mean both in ourselves and also in our friends, family members, and congregations. We are duty-bound to dream big and continuously learn more about our surroundings, and we are to inspire those around us to do the same.

I wonder what wonderful and amazing things will be achieved by a generation of men and women who are encouraged in their individual questing pursuits, what inroads would be made in traditional fields like science or medicine or computer programming, but also how much good could be accomplished by those who felt their calling was to establish organizations to help disadvantaged people or those who just needed some extra love and support. The possibilities are endless!

What does your inner questing spirit nudge you to do? What would you like to learn? 

10 Comments on “Encouraging a Questing Spirit

  1. I love the poem – don’t be embarrassed at all. I think it is beautiful. I love this – I think that so often we focus on “the quest” as trying to be more like other people instead of searching out what is right for us. I’m trying to focus more on that this year. What is my quest? How will I do it? Is it OK to be content with most things in my life and be on a more spiritual quest? xo

  2. I’ve considered trying to write for AMW, but you just said what I was gonna try to say but better. 🙂 Because of my mom and our religious culture, I never really planned for anything more than being a mom or a job (notice not the word career) where being a mom would be the first priority. Fortunately, Heavenly Father interceded, but we definitely get mixed signals. And lately I’ve found myself wondering what I would have planned for if I’d gotten a clearer “no, really…you can do anything” message.

  3. “I feel it is so important not only to encourage intellectual independence and career potential, but to also encourage follow-through.”

    Yes! Showing up is all and good, but doesn’t count for a whole heck of a lot unless one finishes. So spot on, Heidi.

    I just want to say “Amen” to all of this.

  4. Well said! I relate so much to this sentiment. I always felt a bit guilty for my desire for a career and to gain as much knowledge as possible. However this was not brought about by my parents – they were crazy encouraging almost to the point of pushy. I think the feelings of guilt stemmed more from what I took in from my peers and culture. I had many dreams of different careers like you Heidi but I think it’s my undeniable urge to create that made me turn to design. When I was a lowly underpaid illustrator and designer and continually doubted my decision I would have intense bouts of rethinking my decision.

    “I could have been a doctor. I could have been a lawyer. Why did I choose this again? I am hardworking enough to do anything and I chose design??”

    I don’t doubt my decision anymore but am grateful that I didn’t ever question my abilities to succeed but my choices of direction for success. Independent intellectual goals are incredibly important and I hope I instill that same desire in my children some day. Desire and hard work cultivate enriching lives based on knowledge and personal responsibility.

  5. I just want to add that an education comes in so many forms. Who says that going to college is the right education for everyone? There are so many forms of education. Ultimately, we need to learn how to develop our talents and add upon them and serve as much as we can. How we get an education that helps us do that, is up to each individual. Great article, and it is a really heart-breaking poem. I have tried not to do that to my children. Those limitations can be very discouraging.

  6. “What is your name? What is your quest? What is your favorite color!?” Life lessons as taught by Monty Python. (Inappropriate here? Maybe, but hilarious!)

    I also think that finding one’s own quest and then pursuing it–while not condemning the quests of others–is so vital for our happiness and for the greater good. I hope you find something to hang on to this year!

    xox

  7. Adri,

    I think the mixed signals is such a tricky thing, we are told one thing, then another, and then back to the first in this messy messy equation that ultimately you can never “get right.” I often wonder what would happen for so many young people if they were encouraged to “do anything,” as you say. Goodness, the mind reels!

    xox

  8. Naomi,

    I know I sometime fall short on the follow-through, but that perhaps makes it even more important to encourage attainment of goals! Somewhere along there the follow-through will stick, yes?

    xox

  9. Ashley,

    I love this statement of yours: “I am grateful that I didn’t ever question my abilities to succeed but my choices of direction for success.” I think that is something we should absolutely encourage in our own thinking, and that of others, especially of young people who are in the crux of “what should I do with my life!?” I love the idea of delving into whatever it is YOU want to do (even and especially if that changes), and I also think it’s important to encourage others to dream is as far-reaching a way as they would like to with, as Naomi said, some serious follow-through.

    xox

  10. Evelyn,

    I absolutely agree, not everyone needs to have the same path for learning, not at all. I personally think everyone needs some kind of formal education beyond high school (and the statistics back up that statement when it comes to general health, strength of families, and quality of life ). However, there are a LOT of ways to gain that type of education, everyone is different, their situations are different, their experiences are different, and I completely respect that. I think the encouragement is key, and encouragement for any variety of options (and quests).

    Thanks for reading!
    xox

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