I’ve always been envious of people who have Big Goals for their futures. People who have Bucket Lists and 5-Year Plans and Personal Road Maps to Success impress me, because they appear to have achieved a measure of control over the chaos of their own imaginations – something I have always desperately wanted. I think my attachment to trying to control both my environment and my mind first started in 7th grade, when I was taught the terrifying concept of Entropy – the idea that everything in the universe is constantly moving toward disorder and chaos – the jungle will always overgrow the village, the dust will repeatedly cover every surface, the socks will eventually lose all their mates.
Fear of entropy has been a strong motivator in my personal life – it inspires me to keep lists, set family goals, and constantly work to improve the space we live in and the quality of our leisure time. But strangely, when it comes to my career, I’ve never been able to imagine my desires for the future clearly enough to truly know what I most want to do. And I wonder if this failure of imagination, this inability to fully see and claim a future career vision for myself, is something unique to my personality, or if it is somehow related to my social conditioning as a woman.
I had drinks with an old friend yesterday – a feisty and fiercely intelligent woman who I went to college with. These days, she has a big job in which she supervises 400 people and has to make many important decisions. She is wondering whether she might want an even bigger job, and when she sought the advice of a senior male colleague, he asked her to articulate her vision for her professional future. She acknowledged that she’s a bit fuzzy about the vision – she might want to do this even bigger job or she might want to do something else. He advised her to get certain about what she wants and fast – the implication being that at 45 years old, she needs to know what she wants so she can grab it before someone else does or before she gets too old to be considered attractively employable in her field.
As my friend recounted this story, I found myself feeling conflicted about her male colleague’s advice. On the one hand, I think women do often suffer professionally because we don’t have big enough and clear enough visions for our careers. But on the other hand, extensive research has shown that a man will ask for a promotion if he’s somewhat sure he can do the job, whereas a woman won’t ask for the promotion until she’s completely sure she can do the job. So maybe certainty isn’t really the issue. Maybe the problem is that women don’t let themselves dream wildly enough.
Perhaps our lack of future vision is a natural defense mechanism against the painful cognitive dissonance of living in a culture in which women have allegedly achieved equality, but in which there aren’t actually enough opportunities for women to advance professionally in most fields. Perhaps the toxic potential of the dream deferred has led many women to focus more on the work of the moment rather than allowing ourselves the time and space that might be required to tune in to the career futures we most want.
Which brings me back to Entropy. Maybe all the energy I’ve been pouring into creating order all these years has actually prevented me from embracing and exploring my own limitless imagination about what is possible for me in theater. Maybe Entropy isn’t the enemy after all – maybe it’s the portal to the yet-to-be-imagined future. In 2016, I resolve to spend a little less time making lists, schedules, and plans, and a little more time exploring the wild territory of my imagination while dreaming about my professional future.