What is your story of strength?
My dad died when I was twenty, which was a lot more difficult than I anticipated it would be. He was sick for six months and passed away really quickly. I obviously knew I was going to be devastated when he died, because it was such a tremendous loss, and because I only grew up with my mom and my dad. But I didn’t anticipate it would change the dynamic between my mom and I, that it would change our entire family dynamic. I also did not anticipate that it would change our home, that there would be no link—after he got sick my mom moved out of our home and went to live with other family, so all of our stuff went from this place I grew up in to being scattered between storage units and family garages. I was halfway through college when this happened, and didn’t have a home base, didn’t have any financial help, and didn’t have any parental unit anymore. I had all of those things in my freshman year of college, and for that to switch to happen in my sophomore year of college shook me to my core.
That was when I completely grew up, when the roles between my mom and I reversed and I assumed the role that people often play later in life. I started to play it at twenty, where I was almost more of a parental figure. Also, my dad and I shared a lot in common, so he appreciated my desire to travel, academics, what I was doing in school, and he translated a lot of that passion for my mom, so she could understand why I would want to do certain things. When he was no longer there to be a translator, the relationship between my mom and I really changed—she didn’t have that translator, that buffer. I hadn’t realized how much of that she didn’t understand or that she couldn’t relate to my world. And, rather than having my parents call to check in on me, it was me calling to check in on my mom, a complete life switcheroo when I was twenty years old.
I also dealt with feelings of guilt. I felt guilty going away to Germany and leaving my mom in Texas, that was hard. I also realized that it was me and me alone, that I was the one responsible for my life, and no one else was going to plan my life or ensure that I was doing the right thing—it was just me. That was a tremendous thing for me, and I learned it at a relatively young age and was able to feel liberated and empowered by it.
What does being a woman mean to you?
Being a woman in 2018 has this whole other set of obstacles than if you had asked me ten years ago, or asked a generation fifty years ago. Today, it is more about trying to overcome that inadvertent subtle stereotyping and conditioning that we have observed our whole lives. I don’t know if the intention is malice, but there are little things, like when I go into a toy store and I see lots of little girls on a box for a kitchen toy, but you don’t see boys on the box, and you don’t see girls on the box for a science experiment kit. It is a lot of the little stuff, and I don’t know if anyone does it intentionally, but we have to overcome the whole “girls wear pink”, “they are nice”, “they are supposed to be polite.” We have to break through that sort of conditioning we experienced when we were little, and realize that we can have anything a man can have, and we have to feel brave enough and have the courage to look inside ourselves to decide what we want.
I read this quote that goes something like, “tradition is a way of letting your ancestors make decisions for you.” I think about that all the time, because we have this template laid out for us, for our lives, and it is supposed to be marriage and children for women, and often we become the caretaker of the children. But today it is about looking at what you want and feeling empowered enough not to take the template, to instead fill it out how you want.
Can you talk about a time you disappointed yourself?
One thing that really surprised me—and it wasn’t that long ago—is that I am seasoned in my field, and I had superiors that I knew were nowhere near the level of understanding I was at in my professional realm, but because of their title, because of their unapologetic confidence, I let them make me feel small.
It was a really good learning opportunity, because now I feel much more comfortable calling it how I see it, rather than shaking my head and saying, “I get that” and then moving forward and actually thinking, “no, I did not get that and I do not understand what they are talking about because they are being unclear.” I feel much more comfortable saying point blank, “by suggesting that, what do you mean?” and getting to the nitty gritty, rather than letting someone’s buzzwords or phrases or fluff or soundbites get in the way. Drilling into the real meaning, and not being afraid to challenge someone on what they are saying.
This was hard for me to get comfortable with, but being in a situation where I saw the result of not doing that previously, it made me feel that the more honest I am, the more transparent I am, the more direct I am, will be better for everyone in the long run, and I shouldn’t have doubted myself. I knew my stuff, and while it ended up being a positive, I was mad at myself for a long time for letting that happen, and for letting doubt get the best of me when I knew better.
What is something you are working on in your own life?
I struggle a lot with where I live. I was oddly self-conscious about moving back to where I grew up, it makes me feel inadvertently like I am failing, that there is a big world out there so why am I living twenty minutes from where I grew up. But, I try to always evaluate what is important to me. I know traveling is important to me regardless of where I live. I know I want to get to know my family, including some of my new-found family, more, and most of them are in Texas. I also think we are moving away from this idea that to do something cool you have to be in New York or Los Angeles. We are becoming much more cloud based and not confined by geography. I try not to limit myself in thinking that just because I live here I can’t do anything and everything I want to do.
My goal for the year is to continue remembering that I can create my own template, and it can be whatever I want. It is not necessarily bound by geography, it is not bound by tradition, by this feeling that, to have a successful life, you have to do X, Y, and Z. I determine what makes a successful life, and I do the things that make me happy. It is really easy to follow a template to follow a path that is already paved. It is really hard to look inside yourself and figure out, what do I really want as a human and how do I make that happen? And for women it is this whole assessment of, do I want to have children, and if so, when do I want to have them, is that important to me now, and being okay if it isn’t important to me now. Do I want to get married? Now? Never?
For me, it is about asking those hard questions, and remembering that whatever the answer is, that it is okay. That is my goal.