SHELBY'S STORY: FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES DOING YOUR OWN THING
Your parents were probably thinking about dangerous or illegal activity when they told you "just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you should too." However, I've found this advice to be far more meaningful in my transition into the adult world.
The freedom of choice is an undervalued and underutilized gift that every woman should embrace. With that freedom comes the empowerment to make decisions that allow you to define your life on your own terms, independent of what society deems "normal." These choices range from what bread to buy at the store to an individual’s reproductive rights.
Going to a private, church-affiliated college in Texas has meant seeing a lot of people in their early and mid-twenties getting engaged, married, and having kids. Young men and women I could have sworn I was just partying with are now settling down and starting families. A younger me would have been dismayed by this seeming onslaught of proposals, leading me down a rabbit hole of self-critical thoughts, "Where is my prince charming? What's wrong with me?" This linear life path used to be such a no brainer, "first comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage..." I even remember a time in high school when the topic of marriage and family came up with a friend. She told me with certainty that she didn't want to have kids. I was completely dumbstruck, I thought everyone wanted to have a family, that's just the way things were. For some reason I felt it necessary at the time to hound her about this decision, baffled that anyone would not want to have kids. It seemingly hadn't occurred to me that there was an acceptable option not to, a choice, even though almost all of my mother's closest friends didn't.
College has a way of changing a person though. There, I discovered a sense of purpose and fulfillment from work that had previously lay dormant. 3 years, 3 major changes, 3 jobs, and 2 internships in, I made a new choice, that I'd had enough and was ready to go conquer the world as a "career woman." Walking the winter of my senior year, a semester early, I left behind a glorious crew of best friends and the closest thing I've ever had to a serious long-term relationship.
I moved back to California right before Christmas and started my new job just days after the holidays. The regret was almost instantaneous. My first couple weeks were spent commuting 3 hours round-trip to a job that made me question my ambitions, my intelligence, and my self-worth. I remember sitting in nose-to-tail traffic crying on my way home each evening, completely devastated. Looking back, I realize that in my mind, the value I held as a human being, what made me special, was defined by my newly found drive to be the "girl boss." If I wasn't the most productive, amazing, and valuable employee then what was I other than a failure? It felt like I'd left behind so much good for my choice to follow this idealized dream of success that I didn't want to give it up. I got so negative and miserable that one of the people I had left in Texas completely cut off communication, only further pushing me into a spiral of self-loathing.
Thankfully, the world has a way of eventually righting itself.
After a year of misery I resolved to leave my first job for a new opportunity and then eventually made the difficult decision to leave that position for the company I work for now. I can't tell you I'm exactly where I hoped to be by now, but most days I would say with confidence that my career is on a great trajectory and that I'm consistently striving to exceed expectations. While my work remains a defining factor in my life it no longer defines me. My day to day priorities include myself, my parents, my best friends, and my career. The value of choice has never been more important to me than it is now. No longer do a husband, kids, or a family sound satisfying to me. In fact, all those things sound like absolutely terrifying life commitments. Being happy with my own priorities and pursuits has enabled me to wander the road less traveled.
This is why the freedom of choice is so important. If you’re anything like me and have gone through life with a socially constructed understanding that having a family or a six figure job is the way to go, I challenge you to ask yourself why you want that. Then I challenge you to look at all your life goals and question why it is you want what you want. What is your real end goal? Are there multiple ways to get there? Look at the people who make you jealous and really ask yourself if the life they're living best suits your deepest needs. You have the ability to decide for yourself exactly what it is you want and to let go of the all-too-common dream of being what you think other people want you to be. Chances are they’re too busy trying to fit themselves into the cookie cutter life to notice anyways. If they do happen to notice and react poorly, just remember it’s natural for people to be discomforted by things they don’t understand. Regardless, if your goals are the right ones for you, don’t give up on them, but be careful not to allow yourself to be pigeon holed into perceived expectations.
I make it a point to temperature check myself regularly now to make sure I am pursuing those things which are most important to me at any given point in time. The great thing about being able to choose for yourself is that you are also empowered to change your mind whenever and wherever you want. Just a month ago if you asked me my career goals, I would have told you to run my own company or to have VP, SVP, or Chief in my title at a multi-billion dollar company. This has changed within the past month, if even that, and I'm so happy about it because I got to decide that for myself. As your life compass changes, don't be afraid to reorient yourself to the new North. It's easy to look back at all your efforts and worry that you're giving up on them, but I promise even as you zig-zag your way up to new goals, those old efforts will remain as a foundational ladder below you, growing rung by rung with each new experience.
Your path belongs to you and you alone.
Maybe being a mom is everything you've ever wanted or maybe your goals are similar to some of mine. There is no universal right or wrong when it comes to your dreams. Inaction is far worse than failure when it comes to the pursuit of happiness. So next time you’re feeling the pressures of what's common, remember "just because everyone else is doing it doesn't mean you should too."