By the time I was 7 years old, I had already decided to become an Egyptologist. My scholastic and geographic decisions from then on were based on that idea. I took French starting in the 6th grade because I knew that it was one of the three main languages spoken in Egypt. I read books, watched movies and documentaries and when it was time for university, I enrolled at the American University in Cairo. Up until I stepped onto the plane, my direction, for the most part had been pretty linear. There had been no detours and I was off on an adventure to a land I had dreamed of my whole life.
Direction Changes Without Warning
But as soon as I stepped off the plane, I knew my direction was going to change. I arrived in Cairo with the promise of housing and enrollment, only to have the rug pulled out from under me. The office in New York had told them I was not coming. And I was not the only one they had done that to. So, alone, 18 and blonde, I tried to navigate the bureaucracy of the education system in Egypt and tried to find some accommodation, most places I looked I was shown in the direction of new developments I wouldn’t have been able to cover financially, places not too different from some of these best compounds in New Cairo. And after a week of talking to everyone I could, I knew it was not going to work. I did not have the resources to do the things they asked of me and I had no one to help me try. I had to go home. The direction changed.
That experience was the first I had with that kind of disappointment. The feeling of your longest dream slipping through your fingers. I took it hard but, as with anything else in life, I did not give up. I enrolled at Arizona State University the following year and focused all of my studies and electives on archaeology. I got good grades and had an internship my final semester. But upon graduation I had come to the realization that I would need to go to graduate school if I wanted to really be anything in the world of archaeology. So I applied to three graduate programs for archaeology and for fun, I applied for a linguistics master’s program.
I should note that languages had been my secondary hobby and after my first experience with a linguistics course in college, I was pretty entranced with the science of it.
That spring, my direction changed again. Of course the only program I was admitted to was the linguistics program. It was at that moment that I had a crisis. I had never imagined myself leaving Egyptology behind. Even in that moment I do not think I truly recognized the departure I was taking from my life long chosen path. The rejection letters from the other programs felt like Archaeology itself had rejected me.
That began my period of wandering. Though I felt a great connection with my new area if studies, I still felt lost, aimless. I had no idea where linguistics would take me and I was really just along for the ride. Unfortunately, I rode along until suddenly I was graduating and my only plan was to work with languages in Washington, DC, which in retrospect was not a plan at all.
It took me two years after graduating to figure out what the direction was and I wanted to do with Linguistics. And it was mostly due to the encouragement of my husband and partly due to a fortunate walk on a beautiful sunny day. I was walking through the campus of my alma mater and I realized that I did not want to leave. I wanted to be on a campus. I wanted to teach. And that was it. The direction and focus that I had lost so many years before returned.
The Direction Is Only Good With A Plan
Though what followed seemed to be a crazy amount of hard work, the journey to that point was the most trying. Then I had to work on the logistics. Direction is only good if you can make a plan around it. So my husband and I needed to discuss possible schools I could apply to and where he could move to. We had to discuss what our plan was for having kids since I would be starting my PhD at the age of 28. And I ultimately had to figure out my ideal destination, my specialty, and what my career will look like.
It has been tough. It has been a long road leading me here. But if I can leave you with anything, I would like to highlight three main ideas, tips, or lessons if you prefer, that I think every woman needs to appreciate to master changes in direction:
- The first is that we are lucky. I am incredibly lucky to have had the opportunities I have had and the experiences, good and bad. They taught me, challenged me and helped me find myself.
- The second is to really question everything. I made to many decisions without planning and forethought. So, take your career and your planning seriously. Ask yourself the hard questions and include every factor you can think of. It is the only way that you can see yourself being truly happy.
- And finally, it is okay to let go of a dream. I know it is scary and painful but sometimes we hold on too tightly to things that are not right for us. I should know, if I had not gone to get my master’s in linguistics, I would not have met my husband.
This is the truth that I know: “It is okay to be afraid. It is okay to lose direction. But never stop searching.
Alexis Ali lives in New York with her husband and holds a Master’s degree in Linguistics. She is a freelance writer of short stories and uses her skills to help others with their writing projects. Her most recent posts here were: “The Worst Advice We’ve Heard About Princess,” and a short story series on parental abuse and healing – “Adele’s Pattern: A Journey To Redemption.”
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