One week ago, on Saturday January 12, our whole family was sitting around our kitchen table, waiting for 11:59 am to tick over to 12 noon. Waiting for our 17-year-old daughter, Morgen, to make that fateful click onto the admissions portal of the university she has been dreaming of since she was 11 years old.
We were all quivering, nervous. Morgen could hardly hold her hands steady over the keyboard. She cared so much about the outcome. Jeff was praying for her, in fragments, finding it hard to concentrate. Even her younger brother, just in 8th grade and hardly a high-strung person, was tense. We all knew how hard she had worked for this moment.
And in that moment, in a flash, I had to wonder: what is it that builds drive into a person? Why is it that one child has a laid-back approach to academics, and another gets a laser focus and never quits? Regardless of family of origin, personality, and opportunity, why is it that some kids see a vision ahead and pursue it so strongly? There are plenty of smart kids out there who are perfectly fine with an approach to life that says, “I’m fine with B’s; I don’t want that level of academic stress; I want to be able to be a kid and enjoy life; I’ll still work hard and get into a decent college, and it will work out fine.” That is a perfectly legitimate approach, especially in an era that often doesn’t let kids be kids. That was more my approach; I was okay with some B’s as long as I could be in every musical and every choir and every performing-arts opportunity offered at my school.
And then there are other kids, like my daughter. When she was 11 years old, starting middle school and trying to decide what her elective should be, she asked the boys in her class, “What is this STEM class thing?” they said, “It’s engineering and math and building things and stuff. But it’s only for boys. Girls take the Choir elective.” Morgen said, “Oh yeah?” and became the first girl in her school to take STEM. The school was delighted, since the only thing discouraging girls from taking STEM was the fact that no other girls were doing so! She broke the ground for dozens of girls to follow.
She decided then: I want to go to Georgia Tech and be an engineer.
She joined a champion robotics team in 8th grade – again, the only girl. And was so discouraged that the boys on the team didn’t instantly offer to let her be one of the main people who drove the robot. (They were only 13, after all.) She wanted to quit STEM opportunities entirely. But months after the season ended, on reflection, she decided to listen to her team’s “robotics mom” (a woman used to being in a male-dominated field professionally), who said “Morgen, you have to step up and assume that you have a seat at the table. No one is thinking about you—they are thinking about themselves. But they aren’t trying to keep you out. It’s up to you to decide if you want to step up to the table and take your place.”
Morgen was extremely shy. But she told me: “If I want to be an engineer, I’ll always be one of the only girls. So I guess I have to learn how to do this now.”
We told her: our income isn’t high, but we will scrimp and save and borrow to send you to a private high school that has an outstanding STEM program, because that will probably give you the best opportunity of getting into Georgia Tech (which is by far the most competitive university in the state, and the #4 engineering program in the country). We said: we will do that, on the condition that you take this opportunity seriously.
And she did. After long volleyball games, she would study until midnight and wake up at 3:30 am to finish her homework. After getting a bad grade, she would calculate exactly what she needed to do to make it up, and do it. Yes, she has the teenage tendency to procrastinate with Netflix, and there were plenty of occasions where she didn’t do her best because of it. But she always had her eye on the prize, and made it up. She is graduating as a straight-A’s STEM scholar at her school.
But as we sat there last Saturday, we knew that MANY excellent students don’t get into Georgia Tech. Last year one of her school friends, a STEM scholar with a 4.0, 35 ACT, Varsity athlete and Eagle Scout didn’t get in.
So there we were, at 11:59 am on January 12, waiting for the moment she had sacrificed so much for – which we had ALL sacrificed for – for seven years.
Here’s what happened next:
— Morgen Feldhahn (@morgenclaire) January 13, 2018
There’s no way to prepare for that! In the time it takes to blink an eye or click a link, suddenly: not just a vision but a future. Suddenly, not just a dream but a reality. And shortly thereafter, the sobering gratitude that comes from hearing from so many friends who have spent the days since January 12 mourning the death of that dream. Including one of her friends from that 8th grade robotics team who went on to almost-perfect grades, national robotics championships, being mentored by the GA Tech robotics team, and a stellar recommendation from the Georgia Board of Regents… who got a Georgia Tech rejection letter that day. (We are all still reeling from that one.)
I know many of you have walked both sides of this road. We are still processing it. And I don’t really know the answers to what gives someone a DRIVE toward a specific future…. other than the only answer that matters: it is a vocation, in the old sense of the word; a calling given by God.
Today, Jeff and I are very grateful to our God for giving her that vision, and so very proud of our little girl for working so hard to reach for it.
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Shaunti Feldhahn loves sharing eye-opening information that helps people thrive in life and relationships. She herself started out with a Harvard graduate degree and Wall Street credentials but no clue about life. After an unexpected shift into relationship research for average, clueless people like her, she now is a popular speaker and author of best-selling books about men, women and relationships. (Including For Women Only, For Men Only, and the groundbreaking The Good News About Marriage).
Her newest book, The Kindness Challenge demonstrates that kindness is the answer to pretty much every life problem, and is sparking a much-needed movement of kindness across the country. Visit www.shaunti.com for more.