Open for Differences
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I recently had the
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privilege of spending a week in the company of some amazing young women. They all came from a similar
background and found themselves in a similar situation with similar challenges. The women were in their early twenties, studying various courses at local universities and tertiary institutions going about their daily lives seemingly like any other young woman worldwide. However, after spending some time with them, their challenges got me thinking. Briefly explained, all of the young women found themselves in a catch-22 situation. They came from traditional, rural backgrounds, yet lived in the city with vastly different norms and values compared to those they were raised by. They were ambitious and focused on various professional career paths, which in fact, was expected of them by their elders and their
community. Which brings me to the conundrum: They were caught between the traditions, values, beliefs and norms of their conservative background and the alternative choices presented to them in their present. Ironically, pursuing
a career path and fulfilling the expectations of those around them, i.e. a professional qualification, was causing confusion, turmoil and discord between them and the very people they wanted to please. More specifically though,
it wasn’t the studies or the city or even the people they were exposed to in their new environment that were causing the issues. The issues arose because they became aware of alternative choices, aware of their ability to make choices
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for their own futures, but differing vastly from those that were rigidly instilled in them as children growing up. What to do? The week together progressed with challenging moments exploring their new found need to pursue their own identity. The realization that they had for the most part, danced to others’ tune, at times threatened to overwhelm, but watching the process of getting to meet themselves was exhilarating. Exploring their own strengths, weaknesses, their own beliefs, values, hopes, dreams separate from anyone else and realizing that much of their emotional discomfort was connected to their feelings of dissatisfaction and discontent, was a process that could only be started during our short time together. However, reality needed to be kept in check and finding ways to marry their much loved community’s expectation, beliefs and values with their own will undoubtedly remain a challenge and a journey in and of itself. It will take healthy coping skills based on a solid sense of identity and will no doubt be met with sacrifice along the way too. Looking back I ponder on my own kids and hope that they will find their own way and even more than that, I hope that I can continue to accept them for the adults they become despite the choices that may differ from mine.