Louise Story’s Sept. 20 New York Times article “Many Women at Elite Colleges Set Career Path to Motherhood” has sparked quite the debate on campus about the divide between motherhood and having a career. It is a debate that is unlikely to die down anytime soon, and I certainly do not discount the importance of discussing gender roles and our responsibilities to society as Ivy League college students. Still, I believe Story’s article also made another important, but subtle, social commentary: commentary about our desires, regardless of gender, to meticulously plan every step of our futures.
As a senior, I play special witness to our desire as students to know exactly what will come after we graduate. We are not satisfied to leave our futures to chance, so instead spend hours in our last years here attending recruiting meetings for corporations, graduate school, law school and medical school. As a good friend of mine noted, Yalies seem to enter five major fields: banking, consulting, law, medicine or politics. It often seems that if you cannot find your place on one of these five tracks, you will be lost in the sea of career oblivion, and all talent and prestige accumulated at Yale will be for nothing.
While the desire to create perfect future plans is prevalent on many college campuses, it is amplified here and at other Ivy League schools. We think we are the nation’s best and brightest, chosen to lead and control the country once we graduate. We are not satisfied with ambiguity; we feel we must know exactly how we are going to conquer the world after graduation. Out of fear of this ambiguity, many students force themselves into roles and positions that they would not have come to accept naturally.
I myself am frightened of this ambiguity, and I am constantly feeling the pressure to make up my mind and decide exactly what I am going to do once I leave the guarded walls of this institution. Should I go to the ZS consulting meeting? Do I even know what consulting is? Do I really want to consult? And what about law school? Ask any senior — I’m sure these thoughts, or ones similar to them, have floated through their heads. When I sit back and think about it rationally, I realize that I have no real interest in the five fields mentioned above. I don’t want to take the conventional career paths that most students take. But this scares me because I don’t want to be left behind by my peers, who for the most part appear to be placing themselves on a secure path toward leading important, satisfied lives.
What upset me most about Story’s article was not the fact that the girls it quoted were willing to give up their careers to become stay-at-home mothers; it was the fact that they all seemed to have their futures so meticulously laid out. For example, a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania said that she is going to law school, is planning on practicing law for a few years, and then expects her husband to support her and their children. Forgetting her desire to go to law school, I think it is fairly presumptuous to assume that her husband will make enough money to support her decision to drop her career to raise children. We’ve gotten to the point where not only are we trying to meticulously plan our career paths, but we are also trying to plan who we are going to marry and what our social lives will be like.
I know not all of us are like this, but even the best of us can get caught up in the frenzy over planning your future. I implore everyone to take a step back and think about what really matters to you. I understand that many of us have callings toward law, medicine or even investment banking. If these are your passions, then follow them. But for those of you who don’t fit these molds, don’t feel the pressure to give in simply because so many of us are. Fight for your passions. We still have the rest of our lives to see what the future brings, and life gets awfully boring if you plan it every step of the way.
Emma Vangenderen is a senior in Branford College.