We just came home from a family reunion that took place at an economics conference in Atlanta, Georgia. It was an unusual setting, but anytime you get to see 20 members of our family it’s a great time (especially when there’s no cooking or clean-up). The conference focused on changing the world through entrepreneurship and I left with some ideas about my professional path forward. I’ll keep you posted as ideas turn into plans. On our way home Gemma totally conked out on my lap. Turns out its a tough job to be the only baby in the family and she was exhausted!
While Gemma slept I watched Hidden Figures. If you haven’t seen the movie I highly recommend you go watch it. The opening few scenes show a gifted, black, grade schoolgirl calculating complex math problems. As an adult she works at Nasa, and eventually becomes the first woman on the team responsible for getting a man into space. If the movie doesn’t inspire you to be better or try to rise up against the odds, then you probably aren’t paying attention. As I watched I was distinctly reminded of myself as a little girl.
I wanted to be good at math specifically because girls didn’t like math. I wanted to serve a mission (for the LDS/Mormon church) because girls didn’t serve as often as boys. I wanted to go play baseball with my dad and brothers because my dad said he was just taking the boys. Then I started to grow up and the stubborn resolve of my little girl self gave-way to a different reality. After my first semester of college calculus I decided to try an English class instead. It seemed silly to pursue math just to prove a point when I really liked literature (plus math got a lot harder in college and I was intimidated). When I had to decide between going on a mission and dating a boy, the female optionality around serving a mission seemed to make sense.
Over the years I’ve made my peace with following traditional stereotypes, but when I watched Hidden Figures the feminist child inside me was screaming to defy the odds. “Learn to program!” She said. “Get a graduate degree in math!” She said. “Look into the STEM Master’s program for liberal arts majors at BU!” She said. “Don’t let Colin earn all the money!” She said. “Don’t give up!” She said. As you can tell she’s stubborn and persistent.
Sometimes I wonder if I gave up on my math/mission goals too easily. I majored in English and I loved every minute, but should I have stuck out the hard math classes and minored in English?I didn’t go on a mission and I married the man I was dating, but would Colin have waited for me if I’d asked him to? As I think about what’s next for me professionally I need to tap into the determination and grit of the girl who wanted to achieve something because it wasn’t common for women. Right now I need the stalwart voice of my younger self to tell me, “Don’t give up on your professional dreams!” Or I might put them on the shelf.
I am forever grateful for women like Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, and Mary Jackson who overcame seemingly insurmountable challenges. I hope that we can all be inspired by their stories and muster our own determination to push ourselves out of our comfort zones and be the best version of ourselves because that’s how we will change the world.