I do OK for myself, but I know I'm not living up to my potential. I'm definitely the kind of person who is good at things I don't value, but not good in the things I do. Case in point, my undergrad and grad school paths.
When I was in high school, it was all but understood that I was going to law school. I was a standout on the mock trial team, watched ALL those legal shows (forensic and courtroom). Got into my top choice school, but didn't go. (Blog for another day … *still* not over it). But the reason that was my top choice school was because it was going to prepare me for law school. The problem? While the expectation was there, the support wasn't. I'll rephrase that, because there were tons of people who believed in my ability to succeed, but there wasn't enough follow through to push me to do so. How do I know? Because I wasn't a biochem major, like I said I would be.
I had decided sometime after being told I'd be at the state school that I'd forego pre-law as a major and pursue forensic pathology. How'd I just go from law school to med school? I still don't know. Or who was going to pay for that lol. Whatever. I decided biochemistry would prepare me for the intricacies of luminol and that super glue stuff they use to lift fingerprints off dead bodies (I told you I was SERIOUS about this … had set up autopsy observations and all that). Anyhow, it only took ONE course to derail my life: BSCI105. I tried, honest. But it killed me. I slept through lectures to the point where someone left a note on the desk next to me that said "Wake up Sleeping Beauty". Damn, was I that obvious? Apparently. I managed to fail EVERY exam except the one on genetics (punnet squares, dominant and recessive genes, etc.) C-. WTF? I hadn't gotten a C since 6th grade! Sigh. It was the first in a string of 4 science/math courses that completely shook my faith in my intellectual abilities. To this day, I'm not at all sure of myself in these areas. Stats? Nope. Astronomy? Nope. Pre-calc (mind you I took AP calc … got a 1 on the exam, but still). Nope. How the hell was I going to be a biochem major if I couldn't pass the entry level course?
Easy answer: I wasn't. I picked magazine journalism and African American studies. To this day people tell me how great a journalist I would be, or how I should really use my AASP degree. *shrug* I won't lie, it was what I needed at the time. Can't say I loved it all the time, but when I chose them, the feelings were genuine. Fast forward to spring 2006. I graduated, my plans to apply for grad school were completely derailed by emotional trauma (best friend died the week I had to turn my apps in … needless to say they didn't get turned in). Sometime over the summer Rutgers Camden was piloting a new admissions system that accepted high GREs in lieu of LSAT scores.
Law school? Not what I planned, but why the hell not. No really, that's what I said when I opened the letter telling me about the program. I have a friend in Philly, it'll be fine. Well, I filled out the application but got tripped up on the damn essay. Even I couldn't bullshit through it. I didn't feel like going to law school, and couldn't come up with the words to … "fake it til I made it." I'm sure I'll always have an intense interest in understanding law, especially civil/family law, but not enough to devote three years of my life to it. A few of the folks I had told were disappointed in my choice, especially mom. She'll always support me, but I know she wants me to be a lawyer. Part of me does, too.
But I've said all this to say … I think I could have done it. I wonder every time I see a young, black female who's in a STEM field, what was not there in me that I couldn't stick it out? I'm soooo much of a "grin and bear it" kind of person, so it really doesn't make sense that I didn't just suffer through 4 years of science. Or 3 years of law school. I ended up suffering through 2 years of journalism once I started hating it … I know I have that ability.
Maybe it was a fear of failure. Getting a C killed my ego like no other. It's that whole "Bam, you're AVERAGE" thing. Can't take it, to this day. Nope, not having it. I need to be great at something … or at least a lil better than the next. I think the people around me know that fairly well, and didn't push me because they wanted me to find something I could be good in, even if it wasn't what I loved.
Yet and still, it's something I see too much in general. We don't push our girls to live up to their intellectual potential, even if it means it will be a challenge. I took the easy road, but some of my closest friends didn't. They're engineers, chemists, attorneys, etc. We're so capable. I can't pinpoint a reason that as a community, females, especially females of color, aren't pushed more — supported more, given higher expectations, etc. Perhaps it's that we don't want to set them up for failure, knowing that it's going to be harder on top of everything else they have to deal with. Maybe it's that they are expected to contribute more by pursuing something based in the humanities or social sciences. I don't know.
It's bigger than majors, I know, but it manifests there in some really alarming ways. It's as if there's a perception of underachievement that we've come to accept, that it's OK to be bad in math and science … to just leave it to the people who are good at it. But what if *we're* the ones who are good at it, if only someone would push us enough to see that? :-