It was 2011, it was the end of my 10th grade year, and my mother was trying to sign me up for an SAT prep course for the summer.
My weakest subject is math. Always has been, always will be. I hate that there’s only ever one answer to anything, and if you mess up solving a problem at the beginning you’re screwed. I’ve had maybe one or two good math teachers in my entire life (Ms. Fassacesia in 8th grade for Algebra I and Ms. Dudman in 10th grade for Algebra II/Trig), but all of the other ones have been crappy or just not at the level of understanding I needed them to be at. I have ONE math class I have to take in college — it’s next semester — and I never plan on taking another one ever again after that.
Anyway, (sorry, whenever I tell this story I go off on an “I hate math” rant and that’s not the point of this post) that summer my mom wanted me to take a class so that I could get a better score on the math section.
Be aware, I wasn’t going into this with a very good attitude. This is mainly because she wanted me to take a math class, she wanted me to take a math class over my summer vacation, and she wanted me to start prepping for the SAT before any of my other friends were prepping, and I wasn’t happy about any of that. It seemed pointless, and I didn’t want to do it, and why did I have to do it when my friends weren’t starting their prep classes until the fall?
I had to go in for this practice SAT test so they could see how mediocre I really was at math, and then I had to meet with this lady and my mom so she could talk about what I wanted my score to be and my “SAT goals.”
So we sat down with this lady in her tiny corner office with no windows and several generic motivational posters, with barely enough room for two other chairs let alone hers, and she proceeded to tell me that my scores “could be better” and how important the SAT really is to some colleges and how their program could really help out a student like me. And then she asked me, “Amanda, what is it you want to do with the rest of your life?”
Take note that I am extremely practiced in answering this question. I am the QUEEN of answering this question. The era of actually having to care about college and my future had begun, so I’d been asked this question (and questions like it) multiple times by parents and teachers, just like I was being asked now.
But I’ve also known what I’ve wanted to do since I was seven-years-old, when I read The School Story by Andrew Clements, a middle-grade book about a girl whose mother is an editor at a book publishing company and who publishes a book right under her mother’s nose. I wanted to be in children’s book publishing, and I wanted to make books like that happen, and I wanted to be like the little girl in The School Story and go into it head-first. As an 11th grader, I’d published my own newsletter for middle school students, held an internship position at a fairly well-known magazine, organized and taught an English Language Arts tutorial program to students in my school district, helped edit my school’s literary magazine, and won an English award.
I wasn’t messing around.
As I relayed this information and practiced story to the SAT prep lady, she was unfazed. This concerned me a little bit– I’m not trying to sound pretentious, (of course by saying that I’m going to come off that way, oh well) but most adults aren’t used to hearing such specific ambitions from a 16 year old girl, and are usually surprised or impressed or something. But this woman didn’t really seem to care.
When I finished talking, she shuffled some papers around on her desk. “I see,” she said. I was staring at her, confused.
“You know, Amanda,” she said, leaning towards me and smiling wide. “I had similar plans for my future.” Now, this was something I’d never heard before. I’ve never heard anyone say that they wanted to be a children’s book editor, which was surprising. Like Voldemort didn’t like his real name “Tom” because it was common, I immediately started to dislike this lady because she’d had the same dream. She made me feel common and unimportant.
“I wanted to be in book publishing just like you,” she continued. “And then I realized that sometimes, we aren’t meant for what we want initially.” I was really starting to hate this lady. “It’s a very competitive field, if you weren’t aware. I’d look into other options before I reach for that.”
I sat there, in this woman’s tiny corner office, her motivational posters mocking me, silently fuming. How dare this woman tell me, because my SAT scores were not exemplary (there you go, there’s an SAT word, are ya happy now?) from my very first practice test other than the PSAT ever, that I was reaching for what I’ve wanted to do basically my whole life and should consider something else? She was insinuating that I couldn’t do it, she was basically telling me that I was like everyone else, that I was like her, and that I wasn’t going to be able to do it.
She and my mom chatted for a little bit about my SAT math program. I tuned them out until they were finished talking, shook the woman’s hand, thanked her, and left.
That happened four years ago and I still think about it. It is the one example I have of an outsider telling me that I can’t do what I want to do. And that one time, that sad little woman in her office at the SAT tutoring place telling me that I couldn’t be an editor, has motivated me to try even harder.
This is all clichéd advice, but it’s clichéd for a reason. Don’t let other people tell you what you can and can’t do. Don’t let others make you feel small and unimportant. Prove them wrong. If you want to do something, you do it– if you have a dream, if there’s a way you envision your life to be, I’m telling you, follow through with it and you do it.