A Career: God’s Surprising Plan for Me

Image credit: aekpalakom

by Aleesa Sutton

The life I am living is one I never imagined for myself as a young woman. Like plenty of other teenage Mormon girls, I imagined that by my mid-30s I would be married and have a brood of children I was happily raising at home. Instead, at 33, I live alone, I work full time, and I’m back in school.

The future wasn’t something I considered much as a teenager. There wasn’t a lot of time for it between school, piano practice, a part-time job, family obligations, and hanging out with friends. I was homeschooled, so opportunities to socialize, especially with those who shared my religion, were very valuable to me. Of course, what the other girls and I usually talked about were the cute boys in the ward, and so early in life my focus narrowed to dating eligible Mormon dudes. Whenever I did take a moment to contemplate the big blue sky beyond grade 12, I tended to wave it off with the assumption that I’d be married to one of those cute guys pretty soon and my future would be all set.

Lessons at church also fueled those expectations. I remember one Sunday when my Laurel leaders invited the class to write letters to our future selves. The paper, feminine stationery with blue ribbons curling around the edges, had a series of blanks to fill in. The first one was: I will be ____ years old when I meet the man I marry. The other 16 prompts were, as it turned out, also about my future marriage. I was to imagine everything from the length of the “courtship” to my mate’s most attractive physical characteristics. Question 13 was about my prospective husband’s education and career goals. There was no question like that for me. At the time, I don’t think I noticed. The message I took home was that meaning would come to my life through marriage.

My parents had their hands full with homeschooling four kids, so talking to me about my future wasn’t something they really did. They trusted me and were supportive, and when they had time to think about it, they probably felt sure I would figure out a good path. Little did they know that at graduation, I had almost no plan in mind. Sure, I’d taken the required career and personal planning classes, which had helped me discover some interests and potential aptitudes, but secretly, it all seemed moot. I was sure that marriage was just around the corner. Mr. Right, whoever he was, would return from his mission, propose promptly, and (I’m ashamed to admit now) save me from ever having to get a job.

It was with that attitude that I started classes at Brigham Young University. I was determined to get myself a bachelor, and I’m not talking about the degree. To my 18-year-old mind, finding a man was more important than whatever learning and career opportunities higher education could provide. It was marriage that would create a meaningful life, I thought.

Nonetheless, I picked a major—music—and worked hard in my classes. Dating happened, but nothing worked out. As my second year passed without any real marriage prospects appearing, I began to get concerned. The career planning worksheets started to seem like something I’d have to take seriously. As my third and final year came upon me, concern deepened to panic. I was going to have to figure something out. With a degree almost in hand, I could do anything I wanted and live wherever I wanted—but all I really wanted was to be committed to someone who, with his career prospects, would decide it all for me.

After graduation, I ended up getting an internship in a theatre, which turned out to be a lot of fun. That led to freelancing as a musician in Toronto. There were lots of work opportunities—with lots of people competing for them. I was focused on getting work, but I was even more driven to find the right man. I still felt rather bewildered and even put out that I was forced to take care of myself; it was just so unlike the script I’d written.

In the midst of this, I happened on a summer job teaching English overseas. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to pursue that career path. And that, I think, was the beginning of the sea change. I began building relationships with fellow teachers and students alike and learned how satisfying it was. I began to see that I could provide something that others needed, and that was meaningful.

For many years I had believed that marriage was the only important task I could fulfill, which had always made the other things I was doing seem unimportant. It had seemed that God had only a work—the particular work of getting married—for me to do, but over time I realized that God has work for me to do, even if it’s not yet what I once envisioned it to be. I had been waiting for someone else to empower me to contribute, but I came to understand that I already had that power. Through years of trial and error, I learned that the meaning I expected marriage to bring to my life could be achieved in other ways.

Of course I still hope to have that marriage and brood of children I dreamed of many years ago. But now I know that whether I do or not, I still have important work to accomplish in the kingdom of God.

Aleesa Sutton head shotAleesa Sutton has degrees from the Royal Conservatory of Music and Brigham Young University (Provo). She is also a Cambridge-certified teacher of English as a second language and has taught in Korea and Italy. Her memoir, Diary of a Single Mormon Female, was published in 2013. She lives in Vancouver, BC.

9 Comments on “A Career: God’s Surprising Plan for Me

  1. I am glad someone other than me noticed the messages taught to young women even if this author noticed it in hindsight.
    As a youth I looked around and noticed that not all worthy, lovely and talented women were married. I wondered why we were indoctrinated to grow up and marry a return missionary with little emphasis on personal preparation be it educational, emotional,etc. Even though I loved young womens and mutual activities this was an area in which I did not agree with the lessons. So my goal became to grow up to be my best self. To serve a mission and get an education. I hoped to marry but I knew that might not necessarily happen. I often would tell my young women leaders that my husband was probabably one of the stripling warriers!
    It was interesting to me to attend New Beginnings with our first daugther this year and discover that the message from the leaders is still the same. The girls were asked survey questions and among them were questions about what temple they wished to be married and and which movie star they would like to marry. On the way home I ranted to my little eleven year old and said how I struggled with the mindset when I was a young woman that all I needed to do was prepare for was marraige. I highlighted to her that while it was a most worthy and the best goal, it wasn’t the only one she should have. I mentioned that the quality of return missionary (quality of the individual) was important and not just the fact that he had served a mission. I talked about how my education allowed me to help sustain our family in this transitionary state of our home (my husband is back in school and runs his own business). I really wanted her to see that it was important for her to prepare herself for whatever Heavenly Father had in store for her and that through personal preparation she could face anything. I then asked her what she understood from my rant. She said something like: “You want me to get a good education and to be worthy to enter the temple no matter what. You want me to marry someone if I get a chance to that will be worthy to enter the temple but that also will be worthy of me”. I replied: YES! YES! YES! That is my hope, I am amazed you understood that!

  2. Fantastic post! I think you really nailed the cultural forces that keep so many young women from meaningfully planning their futures. I think it’s important for women of all ages to understand that happiness, meaning, and fulfillment can be found in a variety of pursuits.

  3. Thank you for this post! I had to learn much the same things, as I married later than I ever would have expected in life. I think it is sooo very important to teach our young women these things. As an older single adult, I was saddened to see so many other single women in the church who had not pursued education beyond high school because they thought they would be married soon after. Some struggled to be self-reliant because of that choice. I was so very grateful for the encouragement from my mother to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees and other worthy pursuits as a single woman.

  4. Your story sounds so familiar, because it is not unlike mine. I wanted to serve a mission and get a college degree, but I also hoped to marry by the time I graduated from BYU so I could be a wife and mom. And have a companion to plan my future with and make big decisions with. Despite my hopes and dreams, life did not follow this plan. I married at 36, after twelve years of building a career and serving in the Church…as a leader in my YSA ward, implementing single adult programs in two stakes, and as an ordinance worker in the temple (all work I couldn’t have done if I married and had kids). Today I am the Mia Maid adviser in my ward. My goal is to prepare the girls for whatever is ahead. I chose to skip the “letter to your future self” activity in a recent lesson.

  5. Aleesa,

    Lovely post! Thank you for your honesty. So glad we crossed paths in Toronto.

    Melissa Blumell

  6. Obviously our narrative needs to change, and not just because not-everyone-gets-married. It needs to change because it is just wrong for any young person to think that her value (to God, to society, to her family, to herself) is only to be found through her posterity and her spouse. I did not wait too long to be married (though even at 24 I remember that terrible feeling of panicked urgency over every boy I met after my mission), but to my surprise the man I loved not only didn’t solve the problem of work and decision making, but his own, immediate lack of preparation suddenly became MY problem! While my own goals were clear, his were muddy. I was free of debt. He was saddled with it. I had a biology degree . . . he wasn’t passing biology. Contrary to much I was taught as a youth, HE seemed to be the one waiting for marriage to answer his lack of direction. What were they doing over there in priesthood all those years while we were being taught to be devoted and dutiful wives?

    Don’t get me wrong; I have loved this struggle that we have had together. But it would be disingenuous to say it hasn’t been a struggle. We have both worked and prayed and fasted and moved for jobs or more schooling. BOTH of us. The narrative shouldn’t merely shift to include the caveat “And the ambition of work is in case you need it.” The reality is that married or not, the vast majority of women will, at some point in their life or maybe their whole life, work. They might as well be doing something that they find valuable for themselves and for others.

  7. I really appreciate this.

    As a convert (and lover of school-yes my long-term relationship has been with a bachelor…of arts haha) it scares me a lot when I hear this dialogue taught from all sides. I once posted a rant on Facebook about how so many Disney princesses “solve” their problems by being swept off their feet and into marriage. My rant included a comment that went something along this line “why can’t they solve their own problems and slay the dragon/win their own freedom/grow a backbone and get some independence and maybe THEN meet Prince Incredibly Ordinary?” and a guy friend then treated me to a lecture on the plan of happiness and how God doesn’t want us to be alone blah blah blah.
    Maybe I’m just lucky but it seems like so many of the young LDS men I encounter feel the need to “correct” me when I mention more forward modern opinions. I have gotten into arguments with guys about going to New Orleans for Mardi Gras (they insisted I never ever go based on stories they’ve heard and since I’m a “sweet and sensitive woman with an delicate constitution” [rolling of ze eyes] they figured it was their duty to save me from a misadventure in this horrible worldly world of ours).
    I think men are wonderful and if they are “stupid, lazy cowards” (Bishop’s words, not mine) then it might be as a result of social conditioning and the “boys will be boys” attitude and not because they are anything like that naturally. Maybe if the activities for the YSA guys taught menu planning and homemaking instead of just paintball/laser tag (at least in my ward) and the women weren’t constantly doing homemaking-related activities and the young women didn’t do ALL the babysitting (maybe give the young men a chance? As a group? Then send the young women to play laser tag?).

    And may I add that finding someone with whom you want to grow old with for all eternity may not be the one who can take you to the temple right away. Temple marriages don’t guarantee eternal happiness. Perhaps what the emphasis should be in our classes isn’t marriage (emphasis on the “temple”) but eternal progression and self-love for all eternity. There’s no need to constantly teach about marriage (or gently berate those who are single) but there IS a need to constantly teach about self-improvement and self-growth. I see too many young people jump into marriages before they really know themselves and the marriage dissolves. Let’s teach the young people to take their time and really get to know themselves before committing to anyone for keeps. Falling in love is easy but staying in love (especially with yourself) now that’s the real kind of love.

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