I am Heather Stone, and I have owned and managed businesses for twenty-five years. Most recently, I run a small organizational consulting firm out of a lovely little office in American Fork, about a mile from my home. I help companies figure out how to sustain a fast pace of growth without destroying their employees and owners in the process. This usually involves innovation in organizational structure, communication skills training, interpersonal coaching, and lots of possibility thinking. And I’m a word person so people always ask me to write documents for them. I am in the final year of my PhD work at the University of Utah. I expect to finish in May 2018 with a dual emphasis in Communication and Writing/Rhetoric. I am an award-winning teacher who has co-taught, taught, and assisted with twenty-three course sections in four departments. I spent the last two years observing teachers and helping them improve curriculums and learning in online and face-to-face classrooms. For my dissertation, I am conducting oral histories with women who moved from Mormon-minority to Mormon-majority communities as LDS teenagers between 1975 and 2000. I am examining the communication strategies women use to establish and sustain group membership and individual identity. You can find me at heatherjstone.com
I want to tell women—especially LDS women—that it’s ok to do things their own way. So often people get trapped in the “shoulds.” I should stay home with my kids. I should work shorter hours. Or longer hours. Or go to school. Or quit school. I should look better, be better, think better, and above all, do better. Well, what would happen if you stopped trying to do all the things you think you should? A wise conflict resolution facilitator once taught me to ask, “How could things be otherwise?” If we really take time to answer that question, it may open up all kinds of possibilities. How could our lives be otherwise? I try and identify the one thing that is bugging me the most because I’ve found there is almost always a way to change just one small thing. I still remember the moment when I realized that I could get my dishes done by hiring a teenager. For $68 a month, my kitchen was cleaned to the bare counters twice a week without my having to touch a single plate. The neighbor kid who did the work was thrilled to have a flexible job he could do after football practice, and his work with me prepared him for the career position I referred him to when he got home from a mission. Far too often, the biggest barrier to having our lives be otherwise is our own limited vision as to what is possible. My brother once said that we are only as far away as the next good idea. We can think our way out of so many of the constraints in our life if we can truly believe that things can be otherwise than they are now.
This topic of spirituality in business is a complicated one. We each interpret our relationship with God differently. When I studied hymns written by Mormon women, I found many variations in how these authors described spiritual guidance. Some women said they were inspired to write, that the words sprang into their minds fully formed. Others said they worked intellectually to create the hymn and then were guided by the Spirit to refine it so it would be consistent with God’s desires. One woman boldly owned her authorial position as she claimed that God’s part in her hymn was to grant her musical talent, which she then used to produce the song. I have been guided by the Spirit in nearly every aspect of my life, including professionally. I pray in the car on my way to every client engagement, every class I teach or take, and every meeting I attend. I believe my work is a calling given to me in my patriarchal blessing. I feel very strongly that God wants me to use my brain and my energy to do good in the world. But I usually keep quiet about my beliefs unless someone asks. I wonder sometimes if that limits my influence, but then I remember that we writing teachers really do encourage our students to “show” not “tell,” so maybe this way is ok after all.
The thing I enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur is also the thing I hate the most: that I manage my own time! Like many others in the AMW community, I am overly busy doing a whole bunch of personal and professional things that are very satisfying. I consult with companies, teach at a university, do research for my dissertation, and try to write articles for publication. And I have four kids plus a stray teenager who joined our family a few months ago, and a husband and two cats. But oh, is my life chunked. Chunking is a concept pedagogical researchers have used to talk about why online teaching is so different from on-ground teaching. Teachers who interact virtually with their students find themselves doing that interaction continuously, in tiny snatches here and there between their other commitments.
LDS women have always chunked but our chunking was previously in a single arena because it was nearly impossible even ten years ago to nurse the baby while simultaneously participating in the business meeting. Technology has allowed work to be distributed to more locations and formats, but it has also turned us into whirling dervishes who spin from job to kid to gym to email to laundry without even stopping to think about what new responsibilities we now have for imposing boundaries and structuring our time. I’m finding the self-awareness requirements challenging in a world where I can no longer rely on familiar organizational constraints to define my relationship to people and tasks. The personal and the professional are blended together for me in ways that are sometimes really fabulous and sometimes really unhealthy. And I have no one to blame but myself.
Oh, don’t even get me started as I type these answers at 3:45am. I often say that parenting is not for the faint-hearted. Well, neither is entrepreneurship. One of my favorite quotes is this: “The value of all education is learning to do what needs to be done when it needs to be done.” Let’s just say I am well educated. And tired. Of course, my other favorite quote is, “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well-preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, martini in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming, ‘Woo hoo! What a ride!” I believe in living life. When I get the choice to sit it out or dance, I want to dance. Three uncited quotes in a single paragraph. My dissertation advisor would be disappointed.
Artist Arnold Friberg’s images of Nephi building a boat or Alma baptizing new converts near the waters of Mormon have become almost inseparable from the stories contained inside the Book of Mormon. These paintings decorate meeting halls across the world and have graced LDS Church materials for decades, but they were actually not by the church or originally intended for an adult audience. Instead, they were generously commissioned by Adele Cannon Howells as a gift to the children of the Church.
Addie, as she was known to her friends, was born in Salt Lake City on January 11, 1886. She attended LDS Business College and then graduated from the University of Utah in physical education. She began her career as an English teacher and then taught physical education at the LDS Business College. She published an article about playground movement in children.
Addie also worked as a secretary for her husband, who owned a company that distributed American silent movies throughout Europe and other countries. The pair adopted three children, and the family traveled the globe together.
Addie was also committed to church service, and she was especially interested in the spiritual and cultural development of children. She wrote articles for The Improvement Era and served an editor of the The Children’s Friend magazine. She later introduced new features to the publication to try to make it more child friendly and age appropriate including coloring pages and thicker paper. She was called as a counselor to the Primary General Presidency in 1940 and then called as General Primary President in 1943. President Howells took her stewardship over the children of the Church very seriously and worked tirelessly to benefit them. She attended multiple childhood education conferences and was the idea woman behind a new radio hour for children that encouraged children to write and recite poetry. She was also involved publishing a songbook made for Primary children and a television program.
As part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of The Children’s Friend, President Howells sought to have acclaimed artist Arnold Friberg paint twelve scenes from the Book of Mormon—one for each issue of the magazine. When church funds were not made available, President Howells commissioned and paid for the paintings herself, ultimately selling some of her own property in order to pay the artist. President Howells donated the paintings to the Church as a gift. She also commissioned work for the baptistry area in the Idaho Falls temple.
In addition to her work in church leadership, President Howells was instrumental in the building of Primary Children’s Hospital and the “This is the Place” pioneer monument in Salt Lake City. She was admitted to the Salt Lake City Hall of Fame for her community contributions. She died in 1951.
Addie truly lived by the motto she taught her children, “We must not keep everything for our own comfort.” Her sacrifice and effort to make the church a more artistic place have blessed generations of adults and children alike.
Hi! I’m Natalie Hansen, and I am graduating this month with a BFA degree in Illustration and a minor in Family Life from Brigham Young University. I am a freelance illustrator, and you can view my work at nataliehansenart.com and find me on Instagram and Facebook. Trying new foods, long boarding, reading, and small rabbits are some of my favorite things.
I need to know I can do it. Before being able to write, I made picture books and attempted to sell them to my babysitter. Illustration was the obvious choice for a major once college came. BYU’s Illustration program challenges its students and is very competitive. Mid-college I was very discouraged and seriously considered changing my major. However, I decided to stick it through to see how much development could happen. I am so glad I did. Freelance illustration is my choice in order to prove to myself that I can provide for myself with my skills. It seems to be necessary for my personal sense of confidence and satisfaction to know that I can be independent.
Maybe with some explaining of what I have done, it will reflect on where I think I’ll go with a future business. I just put up my Illustration BFA Show. It is a series of posters depicting the Young Women Values as individual women. I researched and wrote a 15-page paper on how women are depicted in art and the media, and it boils down to this: women are often portrayed in art nude or as decorative objects, and passive. They also reflect the current cultural ideal body type which is usually very limited. In my posters, I strove to put each woman in an active pose (even if it was symbolic or spiritual action). The models consisted of women who are varied in their skin, hair, and body type. I wanted to combat the message that the most important thing about women is their appearance by drawing attention away from what they look like to the attribute they are displaying or developing. This way, I could focus on the significance of women’s traits and gifts, and most importantly, their spiritual character.
That being said, when it comes to a career, two paths sound good to me currently. One path I can see myself going down is to use my illustrative and design skills to assist an organization that directly benefits people, especially women. (Part of the reason I had my mid-college crisis was because I couldn’t see how art directly helps others. Creating beautiful things for the sake of creating beautiful things or competing to be one of the best illustrators seems pointless to me.) I could see myself as a illustrator/graphic designer making posters and advertisements for a women’s organization to promote true ideas about self-respect, body image, and activities that promote their heath and wellness in all aspects. I could see myself working as a part of a team and helping others in practical and tangible ways with my art talent.
Having interned with a children’s book illustrator, I can also imagine working from home, building up my talent through freelance and then making and pitching my own story books. The next step would be marketing them and presenting at elementary schools and bookstores. In any case, I see children’s books as definitely being a part of my future, because they’ve always been a part of my life.
One thing I like to imagine is reading a published book I have written and illustrated to my children. I imagine I will be working hard to put my family and the gospel first, and continuing to actively develop my talents.
Because I am beginning with my business, I have a lot to learn. This is definitely a little nerve-wracking, but I would be terrified if it weren’t for some things God has told me. He has reminded me that I can bless others, and that as I am righteous and do my part to be successful, He will provide. He has told me to put Him at the center of my life. As I do this, it blesses my relationships. I have been taught that relationships are essential in business, because opportunities come more from networking than anywhere else. It’s interesting that having good relationships is essential both in the gospel and in business. I have faith that God has a hand in my application and portfolio preparation, and that he will guide me to a path that will bring meaning and fulfillment. I am grateful that he has helped me and will continue to help me develop my talent so I can help others.
Tell us a little about yourself and about your job?
My name is Elise Tang. I am a nuclear physicist. I am originally from Boise, Idaho, but now I live in Los Alamos, NM. I received my BS from BYU and my Master’s and PhD from the University of Kentucky.
What does your job entail?
As an experimental nuclear physicist I do many things you might not expect! Physics is all about proving or disproving theories about how our universe works. Typically experimental physicists work together in collaboration to do this. We design and carry out experiments based on predictions from our models about the way things work. To do this we have to wear many hats. First we design the experiment, which requires not only math and physics calculations, but also precision engineering design and manufacture. Then we build the experiment, which often requires actual construction and manual labor. We also build all the electronic data collection equipment and write the code to run the experiment. After (and during) taking data (sometimes for years), we analyze the data and compare it to the expectations of the model, which gives us new information about the physical world. Then we write about it so that other people know, too! So, throughout my career I have worn a hard hat as well as a lab coat, used hand tools in addition to electronics, and written code as well as equations.
I specifically work with neutrons, using them to probe the basic questions of the universe, such as the forces that bind nuclei together and why there is more matter than antimatter in our universe.
What drew you to physics?
I was initially drawn to physics during my physical science class in the 8th grade. Another student and the teacher began discussing atomic electron transitions and energy levels. This quantization of energy really amazed me and I began studying every physics book I could find!
What kind of education/training is required? What skills/personal characteristics are important to have/develop?
A PhD is required to be a career physicist. However, students are paid to help with research as graduate students and even sometimes as undergraduates. Hard work is necessary for success, and you must be willing to work long hours and overtime. A willingness to learn new skills on a regular basis is essential, as research at the edge of science requires creativity to push the limits.
Patience is also important since experiments don’t always go as planned. There can be many setbacks. Often the unexpected happens and you must work hard to figure out how to fix things or do things a different way.
Being able to communicate with others of varying expertise is very useful. Often we work with people who help us with building, engineering, design, and construction, as well as other physicists with different assignments. Collaborating with all these people is easier if your writing and verbal communication skills are well developed.
What kind of job opportunities are there in your field?
The traditional career path of a physicist is to finish a PhD, work for 3 years as a postdoctoral researcher, and then begin an academic career at a university. In modern times, physicists work in many other fields, such as at national research labs, in politics and consulting, and in industries like oil extraction, in Silicon Valley, defense, and on Wall Street.
What types of jobs have you had within your profession?
My daughter was born 3 days after my dissertation defense, so since I received my PhD I have been a “volunteer” researcher working in ultra cold neutron physics at Los Alamos National Lab. I am currently going through the hiring process for a job that would work around my mothering schedule.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of being a physicist is working to solve the mysteries of the universe. On a daily basis the best part is the thrill of being able to solve problems in every part of research. It makes every day interesting.
What is the worst part of your job?
The worst part of this career is the long education and the long work hours. It takes a lot of work and dedication to be successful, as in many professions, and there isn’t much room for anything else until later in your career.
What’s the work/family/life balance like?
While establishing your career, a work/life balance is very difficult to achieve. After finishing a postdoctorate, I think it is possible to find some jobs that are more 8-5, but not usually in academia. It takes some creativity and a flexible boss to find jobs in physics that are “mother friendly”/flexible/part time. I’ve found that the search for this balance benefits from living gospel principles and asking the Lord for help. It certainly can happen. If you don’t make your family and family planning a priority, it can quickly become relegated until nonexistent. I’ve found you have to stick to your priorities, and things usually work out, especially when you have the Lord on your side.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
The biggest misconception about physicists (I think) is that they are all super smart. While being a genius is always helpful, it’s been my experience and observation that hard work is what makes success. Geniuses might not have to work as hard as the rest of us, but I’ve seen smart people be unsuccessful because they didn’t work hard, and normal people be successful because they did.
What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?
I’ve had many opportunities, such as hearing lectures from Nobel laureates, traveling, giving talks at conferences, and just doing great physics. The best opportunity I’ve had due to my profession has been meeting and marrying my husband. We met on an experiment we performed at Los Alamos National Lab while we were in graduate school at different universities. He wasn’t Mormon at the time, but eventually joined the church after I followed promptings to give him a Book of Mormon. By following my heart, brain, and the Lord’s will for my life I was blessed with a husband who is a true equal, and respects my intelligence and education, something that was very difficult to find.
What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?
Interestingly, I’ve felt nothing but support from most priesthood leaders and other women. I think it has been men of my age that have mostly seemed put off by my career choices. This is illustrated by an experience I had one night at an Institute activity. I was wearing a pink shirt that said “Physics” on it and a guy remarked that I shouldn’t wear it since I would scare all the guys away. I was of course stupefied by this, but certainly felt that any man that was scared off by this wasn’t worth being around anyway!
What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?
I have always tried to put the Lord’s will first, and have always felt that He approved of and supported my path if it was what I wanted. There were certainly times when things were hard and I wondered if it was worth it or if I had made the right choices, but in the end the Lord blessed me, both in my career and in family life. I always felt strongly about both my career and my desire to have a family and be a mother, and I was frequently worried about one sacrificing the other, but the Lord is allowing me to be fulfilled in both ways, albeit at the expense of the “all-in” career that most physicists have. However, I find this to be an appropriate sacrifice for my daughter, who I love very much, and I am still able to be involved in the research I enjoy on a part-time basis.
Any other thoughts, advice, or stories you’d like to share with other women?
My strongest advice, especially to those contemplating life paths, is to not allow preconceived notions of what Heavenly Father wants for you to impede what He actually wants for you. There are a lot of ways our gospel “culture” insists we live that may not actually be correct. Be sure to open your mind to allow God to inspire your life in the ways He knows are best for you. Allow the instructions of prophets and the commandments to be a guide, along with prayer and a knowledge of your own self and your dreams. Along with this, realize that our life is finite and we cannot “have it all” all at once. Don’t allow mortal dreams to block out opportunities for eternal ones. It is a balancing act in expectation, one with opportunity cost, but this is something everyone deals with. Remember all this, also, when influencing young women, and be careful with how you portray it.
Once upon a time twenty years ago, I was a seventeen-year-old high school senior with aspirations to become an engineer. I grew up outside of the “Jell-O Belt,” and my ward had several examples of LDS women who balanced career, family, and church service. Lessons in Young Women, however, tended to focus on two main life objectives: getting married and raising a family. While local and general leaders did encourage us to pursue higher education, they fell short of encouraging us to pursue actual careers. Instead, motherhood was presented as some kind of career substitute, a more righteous occupation that–if done properly–was incompatible with full-time employment.
I wanted to be a mother, but I also felt conflicted over whether or not my entire life should be focused on this one aspect of who I might be as a person. Was it wrong to want a career? Or did God require me to choose, with full-time motherhood being the Correct Choice? Was a mother all I was meant to be?
I don’t know how much these questions influenced my decision to turn down a four-year, full tuition scholarship to study engineering at UC Berkeley, but I believe they played a part. I enrolled at BYU because it was righteous to be educated, even if I ultimately was “just” a mother. I believed it was also practical to have a degree so that I would be able to support myself if I didn’t marry in the next few years or if my future husband became unable to provide for our family.
Still interested in a degree in a tech field, my first few semesters included classes in higher math, science, computer science, and engineering. Over time, I became less and less sure that a technical degree was a good choice for me as a woman, and I ultimately switched majors. Multiple factors played into this choice:
I did finish my BA in linguistics with a minor in audiology and speech language pathology, but by the time I graduated, I’d already given birth to one baby and was pregnant with my second. I had some thought that I might pursue grad school in the future if I wanted or needed to work since I had no idea how to secure a job with the degree I had. I didn’t worry about it much because my husband had a good job.
After being a SAHM for a few years, I spent about eight years operating my own small business in a field completely unrelated to my degree. At the height of success I was earning about 25% of our family’s total take-home income. I worked between 15-20 hours per week, mostly in the evenings. During that time my husband co-founded and sold a company, which put us in a financial position that allowed me to close my business if I wanted to. I did because I was exhausted. At this point in my life, I was the primary caretaker of five young children. Three months after the birth of my fifth baby, I was diagnosed with a chronic illness. It took me a few years to learn how to manage my new condition.
Now it’s almost sixteen years since I graduated from college, and I’d like to work. My first degree doesn’t open many doors in terms of lucrative employment. I looked at graduate programs in that field, but while I find the subject interesting, it’s not a passion. That first degree does, however, unlock the option I’m pursuing: a post-baccalaureate BS in Computer Science. Yes, after twenty years, I’m going to earn the degree I meant to earn in the first place.
Assuming that I would have taken a break from work to stay home with my babies, I can see that a fresh CS degree will make me more employable today than an unused one from fifteen years ago. However, I’m frustrated that my decisions were so heavily influenced by unhelpful and even harmful ideas about motherhood being the focus of my life’s work. The reality is that being a mother is only part of who I am as a person, and it is healthy for me to have interests and pursuits unrelated to my children. As my sixth child approaches kindergarten and my oldest approaches high school completion, I see my role changing.
A decade from now most of my children will have left the nest. If my grandparents’ lifespans are a predictor of my own, I will live another forty or fifty years. Without a career or children in my home to actively mother, I think I would feel somewhat lost. This highlights a fault I see in focusing so much on motherhood as the primary purpose of a woman’s life: In the majority of cases, intensive mothering is merely a phase. It’s also important to acknowledge that not all women go on to raise children, for a variety of reasons. We have purpose regardless of whether or not we become parents, and we should not be encouraged to sacrifice our passions and personhood upon the altar of motherhood if we do become parents.
When considering educational and career aspirations, we should plan for the various seasons of our lives and how to integrate and balance our myriad roles and interests. I wish that as a young woman I had been counseled to view education as a stop along my life’s journey instead of a destination. I wish I had been counseled to determine and achieve my professional goals and passions in addition to pursuing marriage and family. I wish I had been counseled to embrace my “and” instead of being taught that my education was not meant to be used outside of the home or that my husband’s professional interests were the only ones that truly mattered.
As I raise four daughters and two sons into adulthood, I hope that they benefit from my awareness. For now, I’m leading by example as I begin coursework for my program. Approximately two years from now, I will still be a wife and a mother, but I will also–finally–be the engineer I’ve aspired to be for more than half my life.
And it makes my heart sing.
Laura Lund has a BA in Linguistics with a minor in Audiology and Speech Language Pathology from Brigham Young University (Provo). She is currently pursuing a computer science degree from Oregon State University. In her free time, she enjoys reading, traveling, and learning new songs on the ukulele. She lives with her husband and six children in Orem, UT.
Name: Meredith Fredline
School/University: Idaho State University (Online)
City/Location: Houston, TX
Major/Field of Study: Master’s Degree in Speech-Language Pathology
Marital status/children?: Married, one son (18 months), baby #2 due in August
What led you to the program that you are currently pursuing or have completed? Why did you select this major or field of study? Please tell us about any experiences that inspired you to pursue this area of study.
I don’t know if there was a single experience that led me to speech-language pathology. Growing up I thought I wanted to be a teacher, and I also loved to sing, so I figured I’d be a choir teacher. After being rejected from BYU’s music education program twice, I had to reconsider. I started taking coursework in elementary education, but it just wasn’t the right fit for me. I have great respect for teachers, but I just couldn’t stand being graded on my art project skills in college (yes, this really happened). I was doing my visiting teaching one day, and the sister who I was visiting told me all about how she was about to graduate with her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology. I’d heard of it before, but didn’t know much about it. She told me you have to major in communication disorders and then go on to get your Master’s degree to practice. I had never considered going to graduate school before that conversation. But I went home and looked up the coursework required for the degree in communication disorders and I knew it was the perfect fit for me. I never looked back after that.
What feedback did you receive from friends, families or acquaintances about your schooling?
My husband has been my biggest source of support. He never questioned me continuing my education even though he makes enough money for us to live on one income. We have been blessed to pay most of my tuition out of pocket, only taking out small loans as needed. We’ve had to live frugally, but we’ve made it work. I don’t think that would have been possible without my husband being 100% on board. My parents have also been supportive, especially my mom. My program is mostly online, but requires 2 summers of on-campus commitments. Last summer, my mom spent a week in Idaho with me to watch my son while I did a week-long intensive clinical program. I feel like when I graduate my husband and mom should get honorary degrees for all the help they’ve been to me!
What advice would you give to a student pursuing a similar course of study?
Speech-language pathology is a great career to go into if you have a wide range of interests. You can work with newborn babies up through end-of-life care. You can work in a hospital or nursing home or school or private clinic or work from home. There is so much flexibility. The online master’s degree through ISU is great for a non-traditional student– someone who works full time, or of course, a mom. The program is part-time and gives you the flexibility of doing school a bit more at your own pace. However, doing school online is challenging in the sense that you are removed from your classmates and have to build relationships from a distance. You also don’t get the same kind of relationships with your professors that you would on a traditional campus. My advice would be that if you are very self-motivated and driven, and a traditional program isn’t a realistic fit for your life, then this is a great option to pursue.
What did you learn about yourself when you became a student?
Being a student has been such a part of my identity for so long! I haven’t taken any breaks in schooling. However, when starting this program I learned that I can push myself in ways that I didn’t think possible. The first summer of my program I spent 8 weeks on campus in Idaho doing clinical work while my husband stayed in Texas to work. I was very pregnant at the time (8-9 months) and it was lonely. School was hard and the loneliness was harder. There were so many moments where I wanted to give up and go home and be done with it. But I stayed, and now I am almost done! I also learned that I can multitask and balance different aspects of my life. I’ve made it a priority to be present as a mom when my son is awake, so naptime and after bedtime is when I get my work done. I have also worked part-time each semester (unpaid) in different clinical practicum settings. So between work, school, and being a mom, there is a lot to juggle. But it is possible!
What do you most enjoy about school?
This question makes me laugh because I have an actual countdown on my phone going for how many days I have left of school (forever!). But, I say that tongue-in-cheek. I have always enjoyed school and have always loved learning. It’s great that I have something to do with my brain. I hope to continue giving myself opportunities to stretch my brain after I am done. I’m required to earn continuing education hours to maintain my professional licensure, so, in that sense, I will get to keep that learning going in a structured way.
What are your current or future plans for employment or future schooling?
I’m having my second baby in August, so my immediate plan is to take a break and figure out life with the new baby and spend as much time as I need before I start to look for a job. Once I’m ready though, I plan to find a job as a pediatric SLP, either in an early intervention or school setting most likely. To become fully certified I have to work about 1200 supervised hours as a “clinical fellow,” which can be done full-time or part-time over the course of five years. At this point, my plan is to work part-time until I get certified. From there, who knows? Eventually, I’d love to take clients privately and have my own in-home practice.
In around 1990, I had a dream, not the kind that Martin Luther King, Jr. had, but the kind you have when you are sound asleep. In the dream, I was at work, at Brigham Young University where I taught writing as part-time faculty. I was climbing the stairs in the old Jessie Knight Building Annex, my arms full of papers to grade. At the bottom of the stairs were the classrooms where I and the other part-timers taught writing classes. Our offices were down there, too. My office was literally a former closet, an airless, narrow space shared with four other teachers, with two desks crammed along the wall and barely space to walk past them.
In the dream, I was walking up the stairs toward the third floor, where the Real Faculty Offices were. In real life, up there, on the third floor were roomy offices with bookcases and actual windows. Also on the third floor, in real life, was the English Department Office, where all the decisions that affected me were made—when and what and whether I would teach. My contract was always for only a semester at a time, and there were no real guarantees that it would be continued for the next semester.
Perhaps even more difficult, again in real life, on the third floor I felt invisible. Full-time faculty would pass me in the halls without a greeting or a nod. If they recognized me at all, they knew I was one of the part-timers and did not feel a need to get acquainted. Who could blame them? After all, I may not even be around next semester. Certainly, they knew that as a part-timer I would have no input on any departmental committees or decisions. Why bother forming even a working relationship?
In my classroom, of course, I felt like a real teacher. I planned my syllabus, chose my texts, created lesson plans, and designed writing assignments. I cared deeply about my students’ success in the course, and kept trying new ways to improve their learning. I did not see my work as temporary or ancillary. I loved my work and I wanted to learn more about it. And when I found something that helped my students, I wanted to share it with others. But I did not see a path to doing this. After all, I was only part-time. More than that, I had no PhD, that all-important academic credential.
So, in real life, I was worried about my position as a teacher, about my career, about my future.
Now, let’s go back to the dream where I found myself scaling the stairs from the basement to the third floor, my arms filled with papers and books. I climbed a short flight of stairs, turned on the landing, and climbed another short flight to the second floor, and then another short flight. I turned on the landing and…I froze.
There were no stairs. That last flight of stairs to the third floor were missing. Nothing led from the landing upward—just thin air through which I could see all the way down the staircase to the basement. I looked up—above the empty space was the third-floor lobby, looking just as it always did, with the display case showcasing faculty books, the directory board with office numbers of the faculty, and teachers walking to and fro, completely unaware of the strange problem with the staircase.
I didn’t know what to do. I stood there and considered. I couldn’t stay on the landing forever. I could just turn around and head back to the basement, to my closet office and continue as usual. But I didn’t want to.
Then I heard the voice. It was clear, unambiguous, and definitely from outside myself. It said, “Just put your foot out into the air. Climb the stairs as though they were there.”
And that is what I did. I stepped out with my right foot, a little way up, and, though still invisible, the surface held. I put my weight on that invisible step, and then moved my left foot up a little way up. It held too. Step by invisible step, I climbed the staircase that should have been there until I found myself standing solidly on the third floor.
When I woke up, I knew this was a true dream. I thought, how do I climb the invisible stairs? How can I become a contributing, full-time member of my discipline and my department?
What if I started acting like I already was?
I started by doing scholarly research in my field, learning the conversation of my discipline by reading scholarly journals. Then I thought of personal research projects I could conduct on teaching, which I completed. I proposed sharing those projects at national conferences, and I was accepted. I asked for and received funding for travel to the national conferences, where I shared ideas and experiences with scholars from all over the country and the world. I found I had things to say in these conversations, and I gained confidence.
Back in my department, I volunteered to serve on committees and to help with designing courses. I presented at departmental conferences. I co-authored with a faculty member.
Then, when a 3-year full-time appointment became available for non-PhDs, I applied. And I didn’t get it.
No problem. The next year, I applied again.
Wait a minute. That’s a lie. Not the part where I applied again, but the part where I said, “No problem.”
It was definitely a problem when I didn’t get the position. I was devastated. I knew—I thought I knew–I was the most qualified. I couldn’t imagine why I wasn’t chosen. I felt betrayed by the hiring committee–colleagues whom I had felt were my friends, who I had assumed would appreciate my hard work and clearly want to choose me. I’m pretty sure I went home and pulled the covers over my head. I wanted to just give up.
The lie I want to correct was the impression I may be tempted to give that the journey up the invisible stairs was easy. It wasn’t.
It wasn’t easy to try to figure out a professional discipline without classes or professors to help me along.
It wasn’t easy when my proposals to present papers at conferences were rejected. Nor when I sent articles to journals for publication and they weren’t accepted. I didn’t understand what was wrong. I felt like I didn’t know the rules, but I was trying to play the game anyway.
It was not easy to take over a tutoring program and make changes that were not totally popular with the tutors. It was not easy to deal with budget cuts and unhappy teachers and ineffective tutors. It was not easy to keep reading and learning and researching. It was not easy to create workshops that were initially poorly attended. It was hard work.
Just like every worthwhile thing anybody has ever accomplished. It’s hard to be a mom. It’s hard to be a good friend. It’s hard to go to school. It’s hard to become an accountant or a doctor or a mechanic. It’s hard to do stuff that matters and makes the world a better place.
But as in in all hard things, there are joys.
When I applied again for the three-year appointment, I was offered the job. Then, after three years of full-time responsibility, including serving as a section head, I was back to part-time. But people knew me, and when a position became available directing a university-wide tutoring program, I was offered that job. That job led to becoming the Writing Across the Curriculum Coordinator for the entire university, a full-time position. Along the way, I wrote a couple of books, one with national distribution, created a university-wide newsletter, and started a series of university training programs that continue to this day.
For me, in each difficulty, I found support and encouragement to get through. I had mentors to help me, generous colleagues. I had students and tutors who believed in me. I had a wonderful family: my husband and children helped me with my work, were patient when I couldn’t complete home responsibilities, and, especially, comforted me when I was discouraged. With all this help, I kept trying and learning, and there were many more times of joy than sorrow. Along the way, I found friendships and experiences that I would never trade.
So that is how my dream came true. I shouldn’t have been able to do it, but because I just pretended I could, I did.
Just like all of you, as you have climbed your own invisible staircases. Climbing that staircase is hard, but it is worth it. The invisible steps hold.
The moral of the story is this: If you want to do something, do it. Nothing need stop you. Not even thin air.
Beth Finch Hedengren taught English Composition at BYU for over forty years before retiring to enjoy grandmothering fulltime. She is thankful she was able to teach part-time while her children were little, which maintained her sanity while still allowing her to be home with the kids when they needed her. She is also thankful that, as the children became more independent, she was able to transition to full-time work in a career she loved. She is wife to the very patient, kind, and smart Paul Hedengren, mother to five fantastic adults, and grandmother to seven wonderful children.
A version of this essay originally appeared on Beth’s blog, Beth’s Line Upon Line.
Just reading the list of organizations Elizabeth Anne Wells Cannon participated in her 83 years of life is tiring. But when I think about the kind of enthusiasm and persistence that such active leadership required while she was also raising twelve children and serving in various church callings, I can’t help but think about the Energizer bunny.
Annie, as she was known, served as an editor—alongside her mother, Emmeline B. Wells—of the Woman’s Exponent for 19 years and was actively involved in the suffrage movement right up until women were granted the right to vote. She also served as a stake Relief Society president for 16 years; served as a member of the Relief Society General Board; became president of the Utah Daughters of Pioneers; was a charter member of the Utah Red Cross; was the first president of the Utah War Mothers organization; served as an elected representative in the Utah state legislature for multiple terms; and was picked by U.S. President Herbert Hoover to be Utah’s chairman of the European Relief Drive, of which she was the only female member.
In a Woman’s Exponent editorial for which Annie is listed as a contributor, the publication celebrated the right to vote that had been extended to women in Utah and two other states and urged women to use their new gift to its fullest potential.1 “Women have been given the franchise in this hour of need undoubtedly for a wise purpose. The spirit that wrought upon the great women of the nineteenth century, to urge the claim of equal suffrage was just as much from the Almighty, as that which inspired Washington or Columbus. . . . The women of Utah have been given the franchise at an opportune time, they should see to it that the opportunity is not thrown away.” A woman’s duty, the editorial continues, “is not only to cast her ballot but to use her power of speech whether it be silver or golden in the direction of ‘peace and goodwill,’ and the promotion of harmony instead of friction and a spirit of contention.” Moreover, “[t]he women of the Latter-day Saints who have passed through such trying ordeals, who have been taught such lessons of humility and self-sacrifice by the very force of circumstances, above all women in the world, should be able to act wisely in the present crisis of affairs in the new state. And if they are not recognized as the peers of men, should show by their fidelity and faith, their loyalty and love for the principles of justice and equality that shine so conspicuously in all times of great undertakings or of telling events, and eventually cannot fail of recognition.”
Annie’s life began and ended in Utah. She was born to pioneer parents in 1859 in Salt Lake City, and she attended and graduated from the University of Deseret in 1879. She married her husband, John Q. Cannon, who later became the editor-in-chief of the Deseret News and served for a time as a General Authority.
Annie loved literature and was actively involved in promoting the spread of both political and artistic material to Latter-day Saint Women. “The hardships of pioneer life are not generally very conducive to the cultivation of the finer qualities of the mind and soul,” she wrote in an article about early literary efforts in the Utah territory.2 “The making of new homes and conquering desert wastes naturally calls forth all one’s energy and the tired work-worn body would naturally require all the faculties of the mind to assist in providing life’s necessities.” Nonetheless, Annie wrote, “the pioneers brought with them across the plain a printing press,” and literary societies and newspapers began to fill the “dearth” of literary work available in the territory. Annie’s own efforts to give exposure to budding writers through her work as an editor of the Woman’s Exponent, the publication through which many Utah poets, lyricists, and authors began their careers.
Annie’s list of accomplishments is especially impressive considering the hardships she endured in her personal life. After her third child was born, her husband was excommunicated from the Church while serving as a general authority for having an affair with Annie’s sister, Louie. Church leaders asked the couple to divorce so John could marry Louie, who was pregnant. The couple did so, John and Louie were married, and Louie died tragically a short time later after a stillbirth. John eventually remarried Annie and was again baptized into the Church. They went on to have nine more children. Despite the loss of her beloved sister and the rumors she was subjected to and the public interest in her life, Annie refused to fall back in the shadows and instead moved forward in confidence in her leadership roles in both the church and in politics.
Annie seemed to draw her fortitude and work ethic from her pioneer parents. She frequently praised and honored the efforts the generation just previous to hers had made to start a new life. She wrote a poem that was set to music and sung at a celebration in 1905 marking the anniversary of the arrival of the first pioneers in the Salt Lake valley.3 While Annie penned it as a tribute to the pioneers, there is no doubt that Annie herself lived with similar strength and courage:
O’er prairies vast,
And deserts drear,
There came a valiant band,
Through mountain pass
And rivers clear
Unto the promised land,
Unto the promised land,
Oh praise. Oh praise his name,
Oh give, Oh give him fame
With courage bold,
With heart of gold,
His deeds we do revere,
Oh none so brave,
His life he gave,
The bold, the dauntless pioneer.
His hardship great,
And toll untold
Transformed the desert wide
Now gardens fair,
Homes rich and rare
Appear on every side,
Apparent on every side;
Oh praise. Oh praise his name,
Oh give, Oh give him fame
With courage bold,
With heart of gold,
His deeds we do revere,
Oh none so brave,
His life he gave,
The bold, the dauntless pioneer.
–Annie Wells Cannon