I have always loved the theme of people being able to forge their own path in life, especially if it involves defying expectations. In America we often take this for granted, but I think it was a fairly new concept in the course of human history. Throughout the ages, most people simply followed in the well-worn paths that had been carved out for them by generations of their forefathers. If your father was a farmer, you became a farmer. A blacksmith? A printer? You began learning the trade as you grew up and worked alongside your father until you were ready to take over the reins.
I admire people who defy expectations. In The Lady of Bolton Hill, Daniel was destined to work in a steel mill until he was an old man…..but with an immense amount of work, a bit of ingenuity, and a lot of luck, he broke free of the mold that had been built for him. Clara also defies expectations. Despite her father’s determination that she become a world-famous composer, she breaks away to forge her own path as a journalist. It is not always easy to break out of those expectations, but if a person is true to him or herself….has a level of introspection and faith that they are on the right path….forging your own destiny is not only possible, it is the best way to live.
We have so much more freedom now. This can be a mixed blessing, which I see on my college campus every day as young adults struggle to define themselves. Panic begins to set in during their senior year when they realize that reality is looming just a few short months away and they are still uncertain about what they want to be “when they grow up.” The temptation to dive into graduate school is intense. In many cases, it is a mistake.
I don’t think we can blame young people for struggling with what kind of career they want to pursue. In the course of history, this is a very new concept. I tell the my students that there is nothing wrong with “treading water” for a few years while you decide what you want to do. I certainly did. After college with a degree in history (and what precisely do you do with that?) I worked in an entry level position as a data entry clerk. It was during those two years of self-reflection that I determined what I ultimately wanted to do with my life. To my dismay, I learned that becoming a librarian would require a master’s degree in Library Science. This was in the early 1990’s, before the era of online education, and since there was no graduate program in Virginia, it required me to move to Indiana for my degree.
Leaving everything I knew behind to trek out on my own was scary, a financial burden, and a lot of work, but I had the gift of freedom to forge my own destiny. And that turned out to be a very good thing.
Photo courtesy of James Walsh