“Don’t you feel kind of powerless?” After almost an hour-long conversation, this was the final question a young woman asked me. I used to be a teacher. I taught in primarily rural communities largely defined by generational poverty. For the last few years, I taught AP US Government and Politics, US History and Sociology. I had never been this young woman’s teacher. She knew of me through my husband, one of the athletic directors at the school where we both used to work and her varsity swim coach. The party was held at a parent’s home for the team to celebrate the end of the season and the students who would soon be departing to the regional finals. My departure from education story is probably different than most. I loved my job even when it was hard; especially when it was hard. I love teaching.
She was a bright young woman. Seventeen years old and enjoying her last year of high school. She walked up to me with purpose. A purpose that took me off guard. I stood there with my almost one-year-old on my hip and tried to blend into the crowd of unfamiliar faces. She introduced herself and then immediately launched into a series of questions about my education, politics, ethics, and the future of our society. Those forty-five minutes were filled with deeper thought and engagement than I experience with most adults in any given year. That’s part of what I have always loved about working with young people. They want to know. They want to discuss, explore, change and learn. We should all be so lucky to be as hungry for knowledge as the youth. We become complacent, comfortable as we age. We begin to question less and tell more.
We should all be so lucky to be as hungry for knowledge as the youth. We become complacent, comfortable as we age. We begin to question less and tell more.Tweet
I must admit, my answer is probably not what most want to hear. I stated simply and honestly, “yes, yes I do.” When I said it, you could see her face sink. Her wonderings were not too unfamiliar to me. They were similar to the same questions I had been fielding for almost the last ten years. I, of course, had clarifications to offer her but it made me wonder. As Millenials, we are often overshadowed by our parents, the baby boomers. We are sandwiched in the middle of two worlds and our legacy is still being written. Part of the legacy is defining who we are for those that come after us.
What I see in the classroom is a generation of young women who are in search of a purpose. In 2012, Anne-Marie Slaughter famously penned The Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All. When I read the article a little while after graduating from college, I found myself agreeing. This was before graduate school, motherhood, or my own successful career. Since then, I have earned many more labels: wife, teacher, doctoral student, mentor, mother, friend, colleague and, most recently, quitter.
All of those labels are a part of who I am but they do not define me. I am so much more than my labels.
Being a woman today includes in large part, constantly having to make sacrifices in order to make others comfortable.Tweet
If I peel back all of those layers and labels one thing continues to stand out to me: I am a woman. We are all different but all united in womanhood. We need to have an honest and open conversation about what it means to be a woman in today’s society. This is not an “us” or a “they” problem; it’s a “we” problem. I haven’t let down this young woman just like Anne-Marie Slaughter did not let me down all those years ago. Hers was a voice that rang true. We can be powerful together. Being a woman today includes in large part, constantly having to make sacrifices in order to make others comfortable. A lesson almost a decade in the making, I have since learned that my legacy is to redefine what it means to “have it all” in today’s society; what it means to have it all the Womanalia way. For me, having it all is nothing short of voicing a movement to connect, share, create, explore, and change our world as women together.