You have probably heard the phrase, “You can’t be what you can’t see.” I’ve repeated it here on these very pages. And while I agree with this statement, I’ve always wondered about those women who were the firsts–they had no model to do what they did. They were the pioneers, the ones who dared to do and be something different. They obviously accomplished great things without models.
I especially think about this point when younger Mormon women ask me for a mentor who embodies all the traits they hope to embody: “I’m looking for a married Mormon woman with children who is in ____ and who has done ____ and ____ and ____.”
Sometimes I know of a woman who fits (almost) all of these descriptors, but other times, I think, “So what if that woman does not yet exist? Have you ever considered that you may be this very woman–the woman to be the very first who meets these descriptors?”
When we limit our visions to only what or who we now see, we are in many ways limiting ourselves. In the American Mormon world, for example, Mormon women are working in careers and in varied fields like never before. Female leadership in the Church also now has women who are serving and leading who had their own careers–accomplishments that a few years ago we did not see emulated at these levels. The number of late-stage career women who are also Mormon is a small pool, and thus, finding mentors for all of the women who may want them proves challenging. As Tara Mohr states in her book, Playing Big: “Younger women can’t find the mentors they seek, often because female leaders in their fields are so few or so overtaxed. Or, when they look at those leaders, they don’t see careers or lives they want to emulate, and the advice they receive from them simply doesn’t resonate.”
I’m in no way knocking the importance of women models. A large part of what we do at AMW is provide models of women who are doing great things in their educations and careers. For many, models serve as the first spark to making changes in their lives; these models may also serve as the inspiration and strength to persevere. However, at some point, models only propel us so far. Eventually, we outgrow the models and find that we have to embark on our own paths.
In Playing Big, Mohr uses the phrase: “You can’t be what you can’t imagine.” To me, this twist fills in the holes or expands beyond the limitations of “You can’t be what you can’t see.” She expounds, “The traditional mentor-mentee hierarchal relationship is particularly tricky for women as they step into playing bigger, because that often involves their pioneering new ways of crafting their lives and careers or acting as change agents in their organizations or communities. As innovators, their primary need is not for someone who went before them who can show them the ropes and give advice based on what worked for them. Rather, they need tools and encouragement to find their own unprecedented ways forward.”
She adds, “American women are liberated but not empowered…it’s a failure of imagination. If people haven’t been taught how to use their creativity, how to imagine, then they can’t create a dramatically different reality than what they know today, because they can’t imagine it.”
And so I’ve been thinking about the importance of surrounding ourselves with models–not because they serve as blueprints for exactly what we will be and accomplish, but because they rather serve as a bouncing off point for what we imagine for ourselves, incubators for our ideas and scaffolds for creating and developing never-before-seen paths.
These thoughts hit home on Friday night when I had the opportunity to attend an event at the Relief Society Building on Temple Square. Despite having lived only blocks from the Square for several years, I had never entered this building before (partly due to its M-F, 8-4pm hours), but also because I embarrassingly had no idea what was inside. So imagine my surprise when I entered the reception hall finding myself surrounded by four walls of Mormon women leaders’ portraits. Never before have I been in a room where ALL of the portraits were of women leaders. Never. Once. Typically, I scan the walls of a room or hallway looking for even one woman’s face, and I am often disappointed to find none. I was thus unprepared for the feelings that washed over me while standing in that room in the Relief Society Building, a building erected due to the sacrifice of thousands of Mormon women. On all sides, I was surrounded by my Mormon foremothers, and I felt buoyed–not to be just like them–but to use that collective symbolic support as propulsion for imagining my own dreams and endeavors.
Elder Jeffrey Holland has said that “God is eagerly waiting for the chance to answer your prayers and fulfill your dreams, just as He always has. But He can’t if you don’t pray, and He can’t if you don’t dream. In short, He can’t if you don’t believe.”
The women in these portraits and the women in my real life and virtual communities buoy my belief; they help me imagine and to dream creatively. While I knew about these women’s work and sacrifice, seeing their physical portraits on those walls was an experience I will not soon forget. Sure, the portraits of the current women’s leaders are hung on the 3rd floor of the Conference Center (finally!), but the visual reminder and power of what was, what is, and what we imagine to be, that’s powerful. That women’s building and space is powerful. And so, if you’re ever on Temple Square, I highly suggest visiting and touring the Relief Society Building. I wish all could have the experience I had on Friday and that these portraits weren’t such a well-kept secret. At the very least, a virtual tour of that room for those who can’t make it to Temple Square would be awesome. We need to see them. We need to read about and know them. We need to study their words and teachings. Isn’t it about time that these women’s teachings make their way into our curriculum?
As Mormon women, our belief in personal revelation combined with the strength and fortitude of our foremothers and their accomplishments and what’s currently being accomplished by present-day women–these things provide a great basis for imagining what we can be.
According to the American Research Group, shoppers around the country say they are planning to spend an average of $929 for gifts this holiday season. Really, is that all?
The one time of the year that I become most vulnerable to overspending is during the month of December in preparation for Christmas. There are several reasons why this happens, most of which are deeply rooted in tradition and memories of “tales of the glories of Christmases long, long ago.” I love to give thoughtful and practical gifts to show those I love how much they mean to me.
Some background information may be helpful. I have NEVER EVER liked to shop. In fact, when I first started working as a professional in a CPA firm, my sister bought all my clothes for me. I have two daughters who LOVE to shop; they did not get this genetic disposition from me. I wish I could enjoy a session of “shop therapy” after a bad day or week like they do, but I know in my heart of hearts that this would not bring me any lasting joy.
So fast forward to the Monday after Thanksgiving. “Did you have a nice Thanksgiving?” I ask everyone.
“Yes” they reply, “got my Christmas shopping done.”
Oh how I wish I could say, “Me, too!” Actually I want to scream. Am I the only person who doesn’t have her Christmas shopping under way or finished by the end of the Thanksgiving holiday?
And so it begins. I abandon all reason, pull out the credit cards, and start shopping like there is no tomorrow. In so doing I’ve determined that when it comes to Christmas gift-giving, I am an emotional spender. I end up in the same boat every year, spending and spending, and I very much dislike the reality check in January.
So, my hope is to provide some tips that might help me to be more in line with “national averages” this Christmas season. I hope some of these suggestions will be helpful to you as well.
Set up a Christmas club account. When I was growing up, every month my mom would take us kids with her to the bank. She would make a deposit towards her “Christmas club” account. When I became a young mother, I would start a Christmas club every January. I set aside funds each month so that in December there were financial resources for gifts, food, and participation in holiday events. Maybe if I got back in the habit of the annual Christmas club, it would inform my holiday budget.
Establish boundaries. This really comes down to drawing a line BEFORE you embark on Christmas shopping. For me, this is REALLY hard, because I would love nothing more than to give everyone I know a gift at Christmas. Drawing the line is probably the hardest thing for me and is what causes me the most stress and guilt. As a young widow, I was the recipient of many gifts at Christmastime, either in secret or as a token of love for my family. I have this deep sense to “pay it forward” to others because of this. Perhaps drawing a line to include a donation to one or more charitable organizations may be in order. Perhaps settling in my heart what I can and can’t do—before I start spending—will alleviate the stress and guilt.
Budget, budget, budget. Although I know everything there is to know about a budget (I’m a CPA), somehow at Christmas I abandon all reason. This is probably due to the fact that I typically procrastinate my Christmas shopping until the last minute, when gift options may be limited and thus more expensive. I may get out of control because I don’t put a list together and I don’t keep track of what I’ve spent on each person. How much better would it be to have a list and a budget and track my spending for each person I’m purchasing gifts for?
Don’t forget to bump up the food budget. One thing we may need to budget for is extra holiday baking supplies (stock up during the fourth quarter of the year) and that ham, prime rib, or whatever your family’s favorite Christmas food traditions are. I will always remember the year I gave up cooking on Christmas Eve and instead decided that we were doing Café Rio takeout. Although it ended up saving me money in the long run, there were lots of complaints about breaking special family traditions! Wow. They really DO care about those things! So if we’re going to do them, we’d better plan for them.
I know these suggestions are not earth-shattering, and many of you have probably implemented a version of these to help with your Christmas spending. For me, the one thing I will need to come to terms with is establishing and living by the boundaries I set before I commence my spending spree. I will report next year and let you know how my emotional spending ended up.
Happy Holidays to all!
What are your holiday spending tips?
Cindy Psuik joined Squire & Company, PC in 2003. Cindy received her MAcc from Brigham Young University. Cindy’s area of focus is Assurance Services with industry specialties in Manufacturing, Construction, Franchise Organizations, and Not-for-Profit Entities. In her spare time, Cindy enjoys quilting and playing the piano.
Are you shopping for an aspiring Mormon woman (or girl!) this year? Check out our 2016 gift guide, containing some awesome and inspirational items to wear or read. As always, thank you for supporting AMW by shopping through our Amazon affiliate link.
First, we are excited to announce that AMW has teamed up with Jewelry by Jilly Bean to offer four custom #EmbraceYourAND necklaces. You can purchase these items at our new AMW shop. Proceeds directly benefit the AMW organization and help subsidize overhead costs and programming.
Also, Kayla Scott, an AMWer, has custom-designed AMW- inspired “EmbraceYourAND” Jamberry nail wraps. Order the custom design through this direct link plus other Jamberry products here, and all proceeds from your entire order will be donated to Aspiring Mormon Women. Your custom nail wrap order will also include a few basic manicure tools and instructions to assist in application.
Next, Ashmae’s We Brave Women cards. Each card features a hand-drawn, hand-painted portrait with a stories, facts and a quote from each woman. The 60-card set comes in a beautiful, sturdy box that holds all the cards. We recently interviewed Ashmae about her new book, One Hundred Birds Taught Me to Fly.
The First 50 Years of Relief Society. The nearly 800-page book comprises 78 key documents, including meeting minutes, sermons from women and men, newspaper articles and editorials, political speeches, poetry, letters, and journal entries. Read our interview with author Jill Mulvay Derr here.
Flowers Coloring Book by Brittany Watson Jepsen. Whip out your colored pencils and take a turn through the colorful garden that is Flowers. Divided into 10 beloved botanicals, artist, designer, crafter, and blogger, Brittany Jepsen, created Flowers Coloring Book, 60 pages of hand-illustrated patterns, bouquets, and scientific charts awaiting the distinctive color palettes only a flower lover could imagine. Coloring difficulty ranges from easy to challenging.
Rad Women Worldwide: Artists and Athletes, Pirates and Punks, and Other Revolutionaries Who Shaped History. This book tells fresh, engaging, and inspiring tales of perseverance and radical success by pairing well researched and riveting biographies with powerful and expressive cut-paper portraits. From 430 BCE to 2016, spanning 31 countries around the world, the book features an array of diverse figures.
The Assertiveness Guide for Women by Dr. Julie de Azevedo Hanks. Grounded in attachment theory, this essential guide will help you identify your thoughts and feelings, balance your emotions, communicate your needs, and set healthy boundaries to improve your life. Check out our book review here!
Everyday Bravery pins. Emily McDowell Studio brings us universal, emotional truths and observations on being human, and turns them into products that help people feel understood.
2017 This Day in Women’s History Boxed Calendar: 365 Remarkable Ways Women Changed the World. From Joan of Arc to Malala Yousafzai, this calendar takes a deeper look at how women have changed the world throughout history – those behind the scenes centuries ago, and many right out in the open today! A testament to the strong female role models and maybe even a few more infamous than famous. Discover what they did, how they changed the world, and decide for yourself what their impact on history really is.
We Are All Wonderwomen Print. From the creator: “We hope these prints find special homes with many women and girls. Our goal with this design is to inspire girls and women to become more confident, and to achieve greatness.”
Our Heavenly Family, Our Earthly Families. Celebrating distinctive LDS doctrines, this landmark children’s book illuminates the essential role of families both in heaven and on earth. No matter where we live, what we look like, or what we believe, all of us are children of Heavenly Parents who love us perfectly. Read our review here.
Girls Can! Crate. From Marie Curie to Bessie Coleman, Irena Sendler to Florence Nightingale, Patsy Mink to Malala – GIRLS CAN! CRATE inspires girls to BE and DO anything by introducing them to fearless women who made the world better.
The Paper Bag Princess. This bestselling modern classic features a princess who rescues a very snooty—and ungrateful—prince.
The A to Z Guide to Jobs for Girls Coloring & Activity Book. An adorably illustrated coloring and activity book featuring career options for girls such as astronaut, firefighter, and quarterback!
Kazoo Magazine. A new kind of quarterly print magazine for girls, ages 5 to 10—one that inspires them to be strong, smart, fierce and, above all, true to themselves.
Amelia to Zora: Twenty-Six Women Who Changed the World. Twenty-six amazing women; twenty-six amazing stories. From Amelia Earhart, pilot and adventurer, to Zora Neal Hurston, writer and anthropologist, learn about the hardships and triumphs that inspired each woman to change the world around her. Detailed collages and illustrations draw from various events in the women’s lives.
We hope you can use this list to inspire the girls and women in your life. Happy holidays from the AMW team!
Going to therapy is a lot like getting a teeth cleaning: it’s really not that big of a deal, and you should probably make an appointment every six months whether you think you need it or not. Combine that with regular, daily maintenance and you can mostly avoid major breakdowns or root canals. I have never missed a teeth cleaning, I show up every six months, no matter what, and haven’t had a cavity in over 20 years. I cannot say the same for regularly taking charge of my mental and emotional health, however. It can feel very uncomfortable to allow a trained, medical professional to root around in your subconscious and memory, asking difficult questions, poking a little here, scraping away a little there. The truth is, we all could probably benefit from a little cleaning and polishing, and a regular maintenance plan to keep the icky build-up at bay. By doing the little things every day we catch any issues while they are still small instead of waiting for something to fester, rot, or decay before addressing the problem. And no, I’m no longer talking about teeth.
Okay, so we agree that regular check-ups are important. Where do you begin? How do you start the process of better communication and learning how to be assertive instead of a doormat? Better question, how do you come to truly understand how being assertive is a positive and healthy thing, despite a culture that often tells you otherwise?
In her new book, The Assertiveness Guide for Women: How to Communicate Your Needs, Set Healthy Boundaries & Transform Your Relationships, Julie de Azevedo Hanks spells out some basics of emotional self-care and improvement without getting all textbooky or preachy about it. Hanks talks specifically about how and why we behave certain ways in our primary relationships, and she goes chapter-by-chapter through identifying, correcting, and maximizing Self-Reflection, Self-Awareness, Self-Soothing, Self-Expression, and Self-Expansion in order to become assertive and confident in our behaviors and thinking. Her book covers a lot of ground, but with numerous case studies and personal examples it doesn’t feel overwhelming. She has some easy-to-remember metaphors and illustrations for the reader to start practicing better communication and more mindful practices, whether that is with friends, or family, our children, or parents, or a significant other.
After a tumultuous childhood and a truly horrific (and thankfully brief) marriage and divorce, I spent most of my early twenties with weekly visits to Dr. Nancy, my kind and firm therapist. I had weekly homework and reading assignments and we spent hours and hours trying to piece my life back together. I wanted desperately to feel whole again, and I went into therapy with arms and heart wide open, ready to accept all of it if the trade-off was feeling like myself again. I learned about being clear and direct in my communication style; I learned about listening and responding with empathy and compassion; I learned how “I feel” statements instead of “you are” statements; I learned about how to realign my thinking to better reflect who I am: a daughter of God and a force to be reckoned with. Honestly, I think our “blank slate” personalities know as much, it’s through ten million tiny (or not so tiny) negative interactions throughout our lives that we start to doubt, and fear, and self-censor, and quiet the inner voices that tell us we’re awesome. (Have you talked to a three-year-old lately about how great they think they are? My queendom for a little bit of that unselfconscious confidence!)
Much of Hanks’ book details some of the basics self-awareness and self-care practices I learned to recognize while I was therapy. Her conversational style and anecdotes from her own family make it feel like you are curled up in cozy armchairs with a friend, fingers wrapped around mugs of (herbal) tea, listening to her tell you something she’s learned that really helped her out. Hanks details three overarching communication styles: the passive Doormat (gets walked over), the aggressive Sword (will run you through without thinking twice), and the healthily assertive Lantern (brings clarity and illumination to the situation at hand). In the last 15-ish years, my communication style has changed drastically. I was a Doormat for a long time, until I refused to be stomped on any more. And then I was ferociously Sword-like, unwilling to bend for anyone. By learning more about myself and about healthy ways to communicate, I finally figured out how to be a Lantern. (Although, I’ll be honest, when I get feisty/frustrated/defensive that trusty Sword is still right there, waiting for me.) “The Assertiveness Guide for Women” is a really great guide for anyone wanting to learn how take control of their lives in a positive way, improve their relationships, and all the while learning to be healthy and assertive, instead of persist in less-healthy habits.
For more details and updates on online ticket sales, visit the event page on Facebook.
I am an expert in product validation, go-to-market strategies, product development, marketing and technology. I have validated and built hundreds of technology products used by the world’s largest brands, retailers and companies including Disney, Microsoft, ProofPoint, Ancestry, Marvel, Star Wars, Facebook, MLB, MLS, Warner Brothers, NFL, Disney Stores, Target, Walmart and Toys R Us. S
I founded and was the CEO of 3DplusMe, a 3D printing software platform, that was recently acquired. Prior to that I spent 4 years at Disney building products and businesses from technology research and launching those products into Theme Parks, ESPN, ABC and Interactive. I am faculty for the Goldman Sachs 10k small business program where I teach go-to-market, sales and marketing. I am also an Operating Partner at Mercato, a growth equity firm. I am co-founder and President of the Women Tech Council, a non-profit with more than 10,000 members in its community. Prior to Disney I was COO and CMO at several successful technology companies. I holds a master’s degree in business administration and a bachelor’s in computer science from Brigham Young University.
I am married and live with my family in Cedar Hills, Utah. I have 3 awesome kids two boys 15, 11 and 9-year-old daughter. And a husband that supports me, my career, and is an equal partner in raising our family. I was born in Chicago, IL. I moved to Utah when I was 5, and I am the oldest of 8.
As CEO of a software company my day was spent on 3 main activities 1) closing customer deals 2) working with our partners 3)fundraising for the company. When we started the company we decided to raise venture capital for the company, I raised millions of capital to build and grow our company. Our product let anyone become Iron Man or an MLB player for their favorite team by taking a 3D scan of their face and building a 3D printed action figure. One of the most fun things about my company was the opportunity to work with the largest brands and retail companies in the world. We had the opportunity to offer our products at Super Bowl 50, the World Series, the MLB AllStar game, San Diego Comic Con and D23 – it’s not very often that small companies get to work at the large of a stage. I loved working every day with those brands and having a product they wanted to work with us on. We also got to work with all of the big retailers from Target to Toys R Us to Walmart. When you have the opportunity to work with partners like that you learn a lot, you build relationships and you have the opportunity to do something you never imagined.
I always have a passion for new opportunities and ideas. I loved that a new technology 3D printing was at a point where consumers could interact with it. I loved the opportunity to image out we could completely change products and create transformational opportunities for consumers. I saw a big opportunity and wanted to go after it. It also gave me an opportunity to bring a lot of talented and great people into the company that I could learn from, grow with, and create a very cool product.
To believe in yourself. Building a company is hard, a lot of hard work. You have to have the grit to get through all of the ups and downs. You have been given talents and finding opportunities to use those talents to bless those around you, to employ others and to give back can and should be part of your mission on this earth. I have met thousands of great women who are building and leading companies and are faithful members of the Church. And they all have grit, empathy and determination as skills.
In every company, in every career decision, I believe the Lord has created the opportunities and led me to them. Often times I find that opportunities are placed before me, that windows open and I am led to the thing I am supposed to do. I also find that they are opportunities I wasn’t aware of or expecting. I have had to be open, prepare for them and trust the Lord as I have often times struggled to find the answer. For me when I need direction it has come by listening the spirit, making decisions, receiving the confirming spirit that it is the right decision. I haven’t had a vision, I just keep moving forward asking for the spirit to direct my path and open my eyes. And it comes, every time, not like I always expect but it always comes.
Name: Sarah Jones
School/University: Reading Endorsement through Davis (Utah) School District
City/Location: Bountiful, UT
Major/Field of Study: Reading Endorsement
Marital status/children?: Married, parent to six (ages 4 to 14)
I am currently working as a reading teacher in a junior high school, and a reading endorsement is required for my position. The endorsement is 21 credit hours (7 classes), includes a PRAXIS test, and takes just over two years to complete. Learning about how people learn to read, how to support that process, and what to do when traditional methods fail has been so exciting to me. Not only have I found my classes fascinating, but I’ve also been able to apply what I’m learning right into my classroom.
Most people have been so supportive. My wonderful father-in-law brings dinner for my family virtually every night that I have class, which is generally once a week. My older children are helpful and make sure that they are available to watch over the younger ones before my husband gets home. There have been a few acquaintances that seem worried that I’m a working mother, who is also attending classes regularly, and have expressed that they feel I’m taking on too many obligations and need to cut back. However, those closest to me have been nothing but supportive.
My children have been supportive, but it hasn’t been without challenges. My four year old spends the day with his childcare provider while I’m teaching full-time, and on nights I have classes there is just enough time to pick him up, bring him home, and leave him with his older sisters. There have been a few episodes of a sad boy holding onto my leg and saying, “Mommy, please stay home. Please.” Those are tough times, but I know his sisters love him and will take great care of him. I feel confident that he’s in good hands while I’m gone, and that makes getting out of the door a bit easier. My oldest daughter at times has had to rearrange her schedule in order to be home to babysit on class nights, and that has also been challenging.
My husband is my biggest advocate and biggest help. The first month I that I returned to teaching full-time, I also started my reading endorsement and my ESL endorsement (an 18 credit hour program). Previously, I had been a stay-at-home parent, and so this was clearly a big adjustment for our family. In order to make mornings work, my husband switched his work schedule and left home later, which meant he would arrive home later, so that he could get five kids out the door to school. He also took on all of the laundry duties, and basically just began taking over many of the home responsibilities that had previously been mine. I don’t know if our family would have been successful without his hard work and devotion that first year.
I absolutely love to learn and have enjoyed my classes, but the biggest challenge is the fact that they are always after a long day of teaching. Classes are generally scheduled from 4 pm to 8 pm in the evening, and I’ve found that my brain runs out of thinking power after about 7:15! After I finish my reading endorsement, I will start a Master’s program, and I’m seriously considering an on-line program so that I can work during times that I’m most alert and haven’t spent many hours managing a room full of 12 and 13 year olds.
Working full-time as a teacher as I’m working on my reading endorsement has been wonderful. I’ve had students to try new strategies out on, and it’s been so affirming to see my students succeed, knowing that much of what is contributing to their success as a reader has come directly from what I’ve learned in my classes.
I’ve currently completed an ESL endorsement, I’m working on my reading endorsement for this school year, and then next school year (2017-18) I’ll begin a Master’s program.
Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Julie K. Allen. I grew up in Laie, Hawaii, which is a fairly small town on the north shore of Oahu. Growing up surrounded by amazing people with mixed ethnic heritages from Samoa, New Zealand, Japan, the Philippines, Germany, Tahiti, China, Fiji, and so on, I always wanted to be ‘hapa’ (half) something, rather than just haole (white/foreign). I think that is where I first became interested in the question of cultural identity—how we know/decide where we belong and what factors influence that decision/discovery—that has been a central preoccupation of my research and teaching. In the 11th grade, I went to Germany as an exchange student, learned German, got infected with the travel bug, and discovered I was passionately interested in European history and culture. I majored in European Studies and German at BYU, with an English minor. I spent two years in Provo, a year at the University of Hamburg as a freelance exchange student, then served a mission to Denmark before completing my last year at BYU. I then earned a PhD in Germanic Languages and Literatures from Harvard, which led to my job as a professor of Scandinavian Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison from 2006-2016. I loved Madison and UW and my colleagues and students with all of my heart, but we decided to move to Provo this summer to teach at BYU after my husband finished his PhD in Linguistics and see what new blessings the Lord might have in store for us.
What does your job entail?
My job encompasses three major areas—designing/teaching/grading college courses on literary and cultural topics; designing/carrying out/writing up/presenting/publishing research into literary and cultural questions; and providing various kinds of service to students, my department, my college, the university, the community, and the various scholarly fields in which I work. Each day involves some parts of all three of those areas, but in completely unpredictable patterns. Depending on the day, I might spend it writing an article on African LDS women, working in a German archive with old sales records for silent films from the 1910s, lecturing to 250 students about fairy tales, meeting one-on-one with students about their papers, writing grant applications, filling out scholarship recommendations, or attending meetings where we give away a million dollars to various student groups or are charged with evaluating our colleagues’ research, teaching, and service records. Email takes far more of my time than I am really aware of in the moment, but it can be very satisfying to spend a few hours at my computer to set up a research trip with flight, hotel, interview subjects, and archive appointments, or answer a slew of student questions and concerns, or to remind a group of fellow scholars about an upcoming deadline for an edited volume or journal issue, or complete a final edit on an article or journal or book manuscript going to press. There are a thousand moving parts and there is never a day when I don’t have a to-do list as long as my arm, but I revel in it.
Why did you want to work in academia? What drew you to the profession?
I am the daughter of two college professors (and granddaughter of two more), so my path in life was pretty clear to me from the outset. I grew up in a college town surrounded by college students and professors. From quite an early age, I helped my mom grade English papers at our kitchen table, developing a lifelong disdain for dangling modifiers. I can’t remember when I decided that I wanted to get a PhD and teach at a university, but it was, like wanting to serve a mission, one of the lodestars of my youth. I have been an avid reader my entire life and I am drawn to stories, so history and literary criticism were natural fits for me, though in college I toyed with majoring in Political Science and going to law school to get involved in politics. I enjoy making connections between texts and ideas and the world around me. I love to talk and tell stories, so teaching and writing articles are a pleasure, and I love hearing people’s stories, so the constant influx of scholars and students into a university setting gives me a steady stream of interesting people to meet.
What kind of education/training is required?
Technically, all you need to teach at the university level in my field is a PhD, which generally requires about 8 years of advanced study, research, and dissertation writing, on top of a bachelor’s degree. Along the way, you need to read thousands of pages of the texts that have been written in your particular area (in my case, German and Danish literature and history of the 19th and 20th centuries), as well as hundreds of pages of critical theory that can serve as a toolbox for unlocking the meanings contained within those texts. You have to pass qualifying exams at various points in your studies to show that you have mastered both the language and content of the material, before you embark on conceptualizing, researching, and writing a book about something that no one else has ever really looked closely at before. In order to pay your way through grad school and prepare yourself for a job in academia, you will need to assist faculty members in teaching their courses, by leading discussion sections, writing intensive sections, grading papers, or doing whatever grunt work needs doing, to learn the ropes of teaching. If you’re lucky, you’ll also get to design and teach a few courses of your own—in addition to assisting with courses on Scandinavian culture and mythology while in grad school, I developed and taught courses in German language, Danish language, German grammar, and German national identity. That’s all pretty standard stuff, though. What makes people really successful in academia, in my opinion, is a passion for ideas that leads them to keep reading and looking for connections and gaps and unresolved tensions and untold stories. That kind of ongoing quest leads to new courses, new research topics, engaging conference papers, enlightening articles and books, and provides fodder for public lectures and community engagement. It takes a lot of energy, in my experience, and a lot of time and patience with yourself and others, particularly students and colleagues.
What is the best part of your job?
The best part of my job is the freedom to explore interesting questions and see where they lead, both intellectually and geographically. I particularly enjoy the possibilities for research and conference travel.
What is the worst part of your job?
The worst part of my job is grading, having to pass judgment on someone else’s work and try to explain to him or her both what it needs to be better and how to get there, and be blamed when some people don’t do as well as they’d like to.
What’s the work/family/life balance like?
Being a professor can be a really flexible job, schedule-wise, which has been terrific while my kids have been young, but the same fluid work boundaries that make it possible to take kids to the dentist in the afternoon make it necessary to sit up until 3am grading papers or finishing a conference paper. It is really hard to keep any distance between my work and family life. I have loved getting to be home when my kids get out of school, but it has been hard to have to run off for meetings or try to carve out time to finish course prep or grading or writing an article. When my youngest daughter was about 2 years old and was going down for a nap, she used to say to me, “Good night, have fun at your meeting!” In many ways, my work is my social life and my main hobby outside of parenting, but one of the reasons we chose to move to Utah was to strive for a better balance by spending more time together as a nuclear family, with grandparents and cousins, and in the mountains.
What is the biggest misconception people have about your job?
From a lot of the rhetoric that circulated in Wisconsin after Governor Scott Walker slashed the university’s budget and criticized professors for being lazy, I learned that people seem to think that we don’t do much, that we lie around reading romance novels and eating chocolate-covered strawberries most of the time, rousing ourselves to teach a class now and then. Nothing could be farther from the truth—all of the successful academics I know work all the time, moving from task to task to task, motivated more by the love of their work and their students than by the (adequate but unspectacular) financial rewards of the job. Some people also seem to think that what I do is obscure, irrelevant, or restricted to self-described smart people, but that’s not true either. It’s all about making sense of the world, of human experience, of ourselves, and anyone can get something out of it if they’re willing to put in the time and energy to read, think, and talk. There are such great stories to hear!
What opportunities have you had because of your education and profession?
To quote from the satirical blog of the same name, I have been “seriously so blessed” by my education and profession. I have been able to support my family during my own and my husband’s graduate studies while still being able to bear and raise four amazing children. I’ve had financial security and independence. I’ve had the chance to travel to five continents and work with interesting, thoughtful, smart, funny, wonderful people in all of them. I have the freedom to learn about almost anything that interests me, often by teaching a class about it, and to have stimulating, meaningful conversations with really smart people, young and old, on nearly a daily basis.
What stereotypes or criticisms have you faced as an educated Mormon woman with her own career?
I haven’t really noticed if anyone outside my family has had a negative opinion of my career, but my younger son thinks I’m gone too much, that I’m too busy with all kinds of work, including grocery shopping, cooking, and other household work. I have an incredible emotional support system in my family of origin, my extended family, and my marriage. My older sister and I got our PhDs together in Boston, which meant that I never felt weird or alone for pursuing this path in life, and I have been validated in my choice by all kinds of amazing women and men that I have met along the way.
What spiritual guidance have you felt as you have pursued your education and developed your career?
I feel like the Lord has guided me every step of the way, from before my birth to the present. My grandmother was one of the most important people in my life with regard to the relationship between my spiritual and intellectual lives. She was a sociologist who taught at Utah State University and served on the Relief Society General Board in the 1970s, which allowed her to write Relief Society cultural curriculum and travel the world teaching women in the church about their own worth and potential. She was a thoughtful, compassionate, intelligent, feisty, feminist scholar who taught me to be both patient and generous in my relationship to the church and the gospel. She raised my father to respect and empower women, which turned out to be a very good thing, since he married a strong-minded woman with whom he had seven daughters and a son. He always validated my desire to get a PhD and set an inspiring example of harmonizing faith and the search for knowledge. My patriarchal blessing encouraged me to use my talents. My time in Germany and my mission in Denmark opened so many professional doors that the Lord had to be involved in making those experiences happen. My husband and I have continually sought the
Lord’s guidance about how to live our lives and raise our family and have done our level best to follow where He has led us, even when it has seemed paradoxical or just plain heart-wrenching.
Any other thoughts, advice, or stories you’d like to share with other women?
As much as I love my job for the intellectual stimulation and financial security it provides, what I am most grateful for with respect to my career is how it enables me to feel like I am reaching my particular potential as a human being and daughter of God. There is a lot of overlap between my job and my role as a wife and mother—in both of them I get to teach, comfort, counsel, question, and learn constantly—and they inform each other in many ways. Being a wife and mother, however harried and flawed, makes me a better teacher and scholar, while being a teacher and scholar, full of random interesting facts and curious tales and bolstered by the kind of external
validation that I rarely get as a mother, makes me a better wife, mother, and person.