I am My Own Plan A

by Hadley Duncan Howard

My mother is a feminist. She’s a mid-century, never-employed, stay-at-home… feminist. Her own mother had a career, but Mom stayed at home because she chose to, because that interested her, because she felt called to be there. She always taught me that I could do anything I wanted to do, including (but not limited to) motherhood. During my formative years, she told me many times that she didn’t need my father – that she wanted and chose him, but that she didn’t need him. This in no way lessened my respect for my dad; rather, it increased my respect for my mother. I saw her choices as deliberate and, therefore, valid. True feminism, she instructed, isn’t anti-men, but pro-people – and women are people, too.

In the middle of my eighth grade year, it was time for New Beginnings – that always heartfelt, sometimes corny Sunday evening event that ushers in another year in the Young Women program. Young Women had begun painfully for me two years previously, and would end painfully four years later – I didn’t fit in. I never did exactly identify the problem, but I think it had something to do with my desire to avoid cheerleaders and druggies alike, those, unfortunately, being the two prominent demographics in my Mutual group. I had my sights set on something else, something as yet undefined but not at all indistinct. I had few local role models in the generation preceding me, but I clung to them emotionally with all I had; I was wholly determined to never slot into anyone else’s preconceived notions.

So, at New Beginnings, it came as no surprise that the Stake Young Women president spoke about who we young women could become. I listened eagerly, fully expecting to receive an inspiring message about our limitless divine potential. But that wasn’t the message she wanted us to hear. She told us that we should “get an education” – which she defined as graduating from high school – and this was, she assured us, because life can be challenging, what with husbands dying unexpectedly and all. I was disappointed with the low-level banality of this message but, thinking it absurd as 14 year-olds are wont to do, didn’t internalize it.

What I did internalize is this: the victorious addendum. I could feel my mother squirming in her seat. She fidgeted and fiddled for what seemed like a long while, and then: she stood up. In the middle of the meeting. Without being asked. And this is what she said: “I think we should encourage our daughters to get an education – a real one, one that will enable them to make a life for themselves – not because their husbands might die, as if their own potential is a back-up plan, but because their Heavenly Father gave them brains, and He expects them to use them.” And then she sat down.

I truly have no recollection of what was said or done in New Beginnings after that. I was (being fourteen) embarrassed that my mother had spoken out of turn – at church, no less. But I was proud, too, that my mom had the courage to break with tradition for the greater good of leading her daughter – all the daughters there that night – into herself, not the culturally pre-defined self, but the true self, whoever she was, that God intended her to be.

Mom and I do not always agree; our relationship hasn’t always been easy. But one thing I know with certainty is that my mother, a woman whose career path may seem stunted and unfulfilling to some, is as courageous and forward-thinking as anyone who marched on Washington. She didn’t need battles fought for her, but she was willing to fight them for her daughter. Due in part to her example, I’m a working mother. I fulfill both roles with joy, making my own life on my own terms. Life without one or the other kind of work – at home or at the office – is unimaginable to me. And primary in both pursuits is my faith that God has given me a brain and expects me to use it.

I hope my daughters are watching.

 

Art credit: Mother and Child Taking a Walk | Victor Vignon, unknown date

Three (Economic) Reasons I Want My Daughters to Aspire

by Ryan Hammond

I would like to write specifically about some pressing economic trends that have led me to think deeply about the importance of supporting my daughters in their educational and future professional goals. My concern is colored heavily by my professional life as a professor who specializes in studying the changing nature of work, human resource management practices, and the labor market. While I hope to write some more in-depth articles that explore important changes in the economy and world of work as they relate to the choices facing LDS families and women, today I want to share in broad strokes three basic facts about the modern US labor market that all women and their families should know. The reality is that young LDS women and families face a very different economic environment than that experienced by their parents and grandparents – and they need to be prepared for it. Read More

Without Apology, Without Reservation

by Naomi Watkins

“So what is it that you do?” my friend’s father asked as he offered me a seat in his home.

“I’m in graduate school,” I replied, hoping that he would stop there and not continue to ask questions. But naturally, he persisted, desiring more specifics.

“In literacy,” I continued. And then, one of my friends piped in, “She’s getting her PhD.”

His eyes grew large in surprise. “Well, I told all of my daughters to do something useful.” He paused. I shifted uncomfortably. “But none of them took me up on that advice.”

Unsure as to how to respond, I fiddled with the zipper on my jacket, avoiding eye contact.

His response was not the first or last time that I received a less than positive response after telling someone what I did for a living. And unfortunately, these few negative responses have largely come from church members, both male and female.

I’ve been told that no LDS man would marry an LDS woman with a PhD.

I’ve been told that my PhD makes me too career-oriented and ambitious to want to have a family.

I’ve been told that my PhD makes me incredibly intimidating—to both men and women.

I’ve been told that all of this is a waste of time because one day I’ll just end up staying home anyway.

I could believe all of these statements. And there were times that I have. I have downplayed my achievements and my ambitions. I have given vague responses. I have redirected, focusing the attention on others. I have been embarrassed and ashamed for taking a “different” path. I have given excuses and apologies. I have remained silent during the “Good News Minute” in relief society when I met a school or career goal—even when I’ve attended relief societies where the majority of women were highly educated and working.

On first dates during my initial years of graduate school, I told LDS men I was “just a teacher” (not that teachers are just anything). This answer seemed to satisfy many of them. But when pressed, and when they learned the truth, their reactions told me many of the important things that I needed to know about them and if there would be a second date.

When socializing with stay-at-home mothers, I’ve kept silent about my job, figuring that they couldn’t relate to or didn’t want to be bothered with listening to mundane details about conducting research or grading assignments or writing journal articles. It was just easier to coo at their babies and dodge questions about my dating life than try to talk about school or work.

It is easy to hang on to the figurative slap-in-the-face, to the sting that comes from rejection. So while my default may be to brace myself for that negative reaction or judgment, I am far more often met with comments like, “Wow, that’s awesome” or “I’ve always wanted to do that” or “That must have been a lot of hard work.” When I honestly reflect, I can count far more positive reactions than negative ones. Those are the reactions to remember. We all need to receive more positive responses to who we are and what we do, especially when we do not fit some cookie-cutter cultural norm.

I don’t remember a specific point in time when I decided that this silence, this avoidance, this unfounded shame, this projection, this downplaying of achievements needed to end. It did nothing but hurt me, making me less than who I was and am. And it did nothing to help others to know the true me.

Now, I make it a point to look church members right in the eye and tell them exactly what I do, not just for me, but because I dream of church as being a place where varied paths for women are not just talked about and shared, but embraced and celebrated; where stay-at-home mothers and working mothers are not at odds; where we are just as likely to announce a job promotion in Relief Society as we are the engagement of a son or daughter; where education is not a “just-in-case” plan, but the first plan.

Because really, this dream will only become a reality if we are willing to tell the truth about who we are and what we do—without apology and without reservation. And so, tell me, who are you? What do you do? And what is that you want to still do?

 

Image credit: Paul Hudson

Stop with the Fear

by Holly

I have always been afraid. Lots of fear. Mom says I was born with it, and I think she may be right. My earliest baby pictures show me weeping in terror of the camera. I was afraid of walking to school, of being kidnapped, of falling, of climbing trees, of failing, of roller skating. I remember crying myself to sleep behind the green rocking chair when my uncle wiggled his mustache for my older sisters. I was afraid it was going to fall off.

As I grew into adulthood, two new mighty and pervasive fears developed—the loss of security (financial mostly), and the thought of growing old and dying.

In the summer of 2010, both fears came to a head.

I was not, mind you, dying alone and insecure, but being a single girl in Utah with no prospects at age 35 (gasp!) simply compounded all my angst when I lost my financial security. Yup, laid off. Blast that recession. A few days after losing my job, I wrote the following:

Friday afternoon–around 4:45: Bill, a friend of 12 years and the senior partner at my company–came in and closed my office door. He sat down and said, “You’re being laid off.”

A very surreal moment.

I packed up my office. I backed up my computer. I turned over my keys and credit card. I shook everyone’s hand, noticing that my own hand was shaking uncontrollably (how annoying is THAT?). And I left.

Where did I go? To my celebratory, Six-Years In Our House Anniversary Dinner with my sister, Jill, where I dropped the bomb on her. And then? Then we went to the Apple Store, where I blithely spent $300 on an iPod Touch. Clearly, I was affected.

Truth be told, I DO feel ok.

The other night, Jill was watching a documentary on work. They interviewed a man who had always wanted to be a comic book artist, but who had chosen to go to a “regular” art school and then ended up teaching for years in a high school. He made a comment that struck me then and has stayed with me since–he expressed his regret at living “Plan B” without ever even trying “Plan A.” He gave up his dream right out of the gate because he thought it was unachievable, or irresponsible, or just not “right.”

I think I did the same. I’ve been living my back up plan, instead of living my dream. And part of that probably has to do with me not knowing what my dream is. I always wanted to be a wife and mother (uhh, that didn’t work), and then I wanted to be an artist (but I opted out of that in college years ago). So what now?

Weird that—at age 35—I’m trying to find myself.

The scariest thing about being laid off is that I feel like God is pushing me to make major changes in my life. The world is wide open, and I have so much less to lose, since I’m already in the process of losing it.

I’ve dubbed it already … this is “Life: Take 2.” My second chance to get things right.

Where do I go from here? And how do I stay close enough to God to trust that I’ll choose the right direction? And does it really matter what direction I choose? Does life really have an answer key? Is my chosen career important at all, aside from the fact it should be something that truly makes me happy?

No answers yet, just questions. Part of me feels like this is a new (and big!) test of my strengthening faith. Last year really put me through the ringer, but although much is still unresolved, I feel like I’m finally coming up for air after thrashing around under the surface for far too long. I feel like I’m healing. And that the whole experience has tempered the steel of myself, my relationship with God, and my stability.

In a way, I feel like this is a gift from God. Like I’ve been taking some hideous exam, and I finally finished the hard section. Like God has decided I’m ready for the next thing. Like this is a reward instead of a punishment. It’s a strange sort of reward–at least on the surface.

But I think it is.

Looking back now, it’s abundantly clear that what I thought would be an insurmountable summit—my greatest fear come to fruition—ended up being a bit of a gift. That fear I’d held inside for my entire conscious life, certain that it would consume me if just given the chance, didn’t quite last the first three hours. By nightfall, I was fine.

I let my anticipation of something “bad” gnaw at me for years—as Mom would say, “I was borrowing trouble.” I spent more time fearing the possibility of losing my job than I did being afraid when I actually lost it.

While I can’t say that losing my job led directly to wonderful things, or that I scored high enough of some Divine Quiz to earn rewards I’ve always craved, but what I can say is that God knows our path, and sometimes He has to lead us through what we perceive to be the darkest spots—the things that frighten us the most—not to punish us, or to show Him that we’re up to it, but rather, to show us what we’re capable of.

And we’re capable of a lot.

Two years later, I’m now living the life I always wanted. Employed. Married. A mother. And while I still struggle with the knee-jerk reaction of predicating decisions on fear, I’m learning to trust that the things that look scary to us at first glance can often turn out to be blessings we had never imagined.

So my advice to me (and you and anyone who will listen)?

Stop with the fear. No. Really. Stop it. Just go out and do it, whatever your “it” is.

Image Credit: Andolent

Career Day: Mechanical Engineering

Tell us a little about yourself and about your job.

My name is Brianne Hamilton, I’m 30 years old, and I’m from a small suburb along the Wasatch Front. I now live in Salt Lake City with 4 housemates and work as a mechanical engineer for a medical device company. The company is a spin-off of a University of Utah research project. We work on devices that use microwaves to heat up and/or kill cancerous tumors. For the last 6 years, I have worked doing various aspects of the design process. Mechanical engineers generally work with the design, manufacture, process, and assembly of mechanical devices (things that move, but not necessarily).

The jobs mechanical engineers (MEs) have are varied. Some examples of jobs a ME would have are things which involve fluid mechanics (air, water, etc.), mechanization, manufacturing design (designing processes to build assemblies), quality, medical devices, automation, composites (e.g. carbon fiber), aerospace, automotive, etc. Computer Aided Drafting (CAD) tools may be used for the design, assembly, and drawings of a device to be constructed. Read More

Podcast Episode #2: Graduating High School Seniors

Jamie talked with a group of young LDS women from the Denver, Colorado area in December 2012 about their educational and professional goals for the future. All three young women graduated from high school in 2013 and plan on attending college this upcoming fall.

Crysta is looking forward to studying at a local community college while preparing to leave on a mission when she turns 19. She hopes to attend Colorado State University when she returns. Crysta grew up in Texas and joined the LDS church one year ago. She loves animals, rugby, and chemistry.

Kristen plans on attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah this fall.  She enjoys school and has worked hard to prepare herself for college.  She loves singing and playing the piano and has been in Colorado All-State Choir for the past two years. She wants to integrate music into her future career.

Katy applied and interviewed at Stanford, Yale, USC, and BYU. Since the interview, she has decided to attend USC this fall. She is a good student who has worked to develop a talent for both math and physics. She enjoys helping special education students at her school and is thinking about a career as a child advocate.

Together, the three young women speak openly about their dreams and fears for the future and the challenges they face as aspiring Mormon women. We look forward to following up with the young women in the future.

We also suggest using this podcast during a Young Women’s activity as a way to have a discussion about possible future plans related to college, fields of study, and future employment. Before listening to the podcast, ask young women to share their plans after high school. Are they planning on attending college? A vocational school? Enlisting in the military? What field do they hope to study? And why? Pause the podcast periodically and have the young women share their own answers to the questions Jamie poses. Feel free to share your own thoughts and experiences. 

Also consider using the following quotes:

The whole gamut of human endeavor is now open to women. There is not anything that you cannot do if you will set your mind to it. I am grateful that women today are afforded the same opportunity to study for science, for the professions, and for every other facet of human knowledge. You are as entitled as are men to the Spirit of Christ, which enlightens every man and woman who comes into the world. . . .  You can include in the dream of the woman you would like to be a picture of one qualified to serve society and make a significant contribution to the world of which she will be a part. President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Words of the Prophet: Seek Learning,” New Era, Sep 2007, 2–5.

Resolve now, while you are young, that you will get all of the education you can. We live in a highly competitive age, and it will only grow worse. Education is the key that will unlock the door of opportunity. You may plan on marriage, and hope for it, but you are not certain that it will come. And even though you marry, education will be of great benefit to you. Don’t just drift along, letting the days come and go without improvement in your lives. The Lord will bless you as you make the effort. Your lives will be enriched and your outlook broadened as your minds are opened to new vistas and knowledge.
President Gordon B. Hinckley, “Let Virtue Garnish Thy Thoughts Unceasingly,” General Young Women Meeting March 24, 2007.

Open podcast in iTunes. 

 

Image credit: j.o.h.n. walker

Good News Minute: Work & School Style

If you are anything like many of us here at AMW, we tend to keep silent during the Good News Minute in Relief Society (if our Relief Societies even have such a tradition) when it comes to sharing successes related to our jobs and school work. And while we could discuss at length the reasons behind this silence, we will keep that for another day.

As we head into the Independence Day weekend in the U.S., it’s a great time to not only celebrate our country, but also a time to celebrate the work and school successes and triumphs that these freedoms allow us as women. So in the comments section, share with us your good news related to work and school from the last 6+ months. Did you receive a promotion? Get accepted to the school of your choice? Successfully pass that dreaded class? Land your dream job? Conquer a fear of public speaking? Or something else that’s just as awesome?

We at AMW are celebrating the fact that we’re here with you and getting to know you. Thanks for your support and enthusiasm! There are many, many great things to come. For all of us.

(And don’t forget to share your graduation photos on Instagram).

To LDS Fathers: So, Your Daughter Wants An Advanced Degree?

by Sherman Watkins

In our first AMW podcast, Susan Madsen discussed how her research showed the influential role fathers play in ensuring that their daughters graduate from college. Given that my father was a big supporter of my educational pursuits, I’ve invited him to share his perspective as a father of two aspiring Mormon women.  –Naomi

Having a daughter who decides to complete a Ph.D. can be a bit intimidating. Not because the degree itself is so imposing—though it is—but because in most cases, it involves treading unfamiliar ground. A father has many privileges in guiding his daughter: helping her learn to walk, teaching her to read, or worrying while she is out on a date. But pursuing an advanced degree goes places most fathers have never been. While I did earn a master’s degree, I did so while working full-time and specifically chose a program that catered to the working student. I’d heard, and have now observed, that a Ph.D. is a whole different ball game. For the first time, I could not use my own experience to guide my now not-so-little girl as she ventured on this new path. Instead the question became, “What could I do to help her reach this goal?” And later, upon further reflection, “What had I done to prepare her for this decision?”

Allow me, first, to set the stage. Education is a rich part of my daughter’s heritage, so the idea of college was not radical or new. All four of her grandparents had at least a bachelor’s degree, and six of her eight great-grandparents had at least a two-year degree. She had a leg up over many and was not starting in a hole, having to prove education’s worth before she could ever begin classes.

My wife and I had also encouraged our daughter to excel throughout school, but we did not push her in any one direction once she began college. We did, however, help her to recognize her talents and take advantage of her strengths in choosing a course of study. Her master’s degree seemed a natural outgrowth of her work and previous schooling, and, while we celebrated it, we did not look at it as new or exotic; she had at least a half-dozen aunts and uncles with master’s degrees.

I quickly figured out there were a few things I couldn’t help with anymore. No longer would I receive the occasional paper to review, since they now addressed things beyond my ken. Any parenting skills I could share were of little use in the classes she taught, since her students were adults themselves. She was never studying a book that I had already read. She was an English major, so I couldn’t even check her punctuation. My skills were useless.

So, what could I, or any dad, do in this situation?

First, last, and always, I could be there when needed. Sometimes a girl, even in graduate school, just needs her dad. Unscheduled and unscripted, these visits by telephone could be long or short. Generally they were late at night and never convenient. Their frequency dropped off as time went on, but they never went away completely. I can’t remember a single detail, only that when I was needed, I was needed, and I could not delay my response by a week or a day or even an hour.

Because this was new ground, my daughter spent more time figuring out the right questions than the right answers. She did not need me pushing for answers where she only had half-formed questions. It didn’t help that her adviser had never advised a doctoral student before. If ever there were two blind people seemingly destined for a ditch, it was them. Neither one needed me standing by to give them a shove. I took information as it became available, asked questions to clarify what was known, and did not try to pioneer new territory . I could give opinions when asked and help her sort through options, but I could not decide for her or fault her on decisions only she could make.

I could be a cheerleader. A Ph.D. is hard, hard work. It will never be attained by someone who does not have an internal drive to succeed. But even the most self-motivated person performs better in front of an appreciative crowd. Sometimes I felt like I was watching a new sport with rules I didn’t understand, but my understanding was only incidental to the cheering, which was crucial.

Occasionally I could offer refuge. The pressure of an advanced degree program can be intense, and there is a very real danger of unreleased pressure causing an explosion. Luckily, we had introduced our daughter to camping and hiking. Luckier still, she liked them, and she was smart enough to use them as a retreat when opportunities presented themselves. That kept the pressure tolerable. Trips home drove the pressure lower still. We could see her unwind as “home” worked its way into her soul. Conversely, we could watch the tension rise again as she prepared to return to school. But that tension was never as high when she left home as it was when she arrived.

My support of my daughter through her Ph.D. program was simple and an extension of the foundation laid when she was young. I answered when she called. I listened. I cheered. I did not second-guess. And I tried to give her peace. It wasn’t hard work on my part, but hopefully it made the Ph.D. that much easier for her.

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