Monday, November 07, 2011

Marie Curie—Obstacles No Excuse for Failure

Marie Curie at 16
When Husband and I were first married, I would be confronted with certain challenges, tasks to complete or problems to solve, and my first response would be something like, "I can't do that. I didn't go to school for that." And Husband would repeatedly reject my fear of the unfamiliar. But it wasn't so much the unfamiliar that made me balk. It was my feelings of inferiority for not having finished college. I didn't have (and still don't have) a degree or even a certificate of completion, and that lack of experience and paper suitable for framing had me feeling I had no choice but to sit on my hands and watch someone else achieve the things I dreamed of. Despite my achievements to date, I still have that sense. It just lays low most of the time.

But then I come across a story like that of Marie Curie's. I don't mean the one about her isolating radium and dying from the process. I mean the one about how she refused to sit on her hands and insisted on an education. I wrote about her in this week's column for Small Town Newspaper. When I began working on my column, I thought I would be writing about chemistry and the Nobel Prize and Yay! Strong Women, but I was more inspired by her part in the Floating University than in her success as a chemist.

In the 1800s, Russia was in control of Warsaw, Poland and subjugated the natives by censoring their education and replacing Polish culture with Russian culture. Women weren't admitted to universities no matter where they were born, and this big group of disenfranchised people reacted by forming a secret, underground university. They taught each other, and they found ways to learn despite laws and threats to their very lives. They learned because it was essential whether there was a college for them or not.

I mean, just look at the expression of determination on the girl's face in this photo. She was just 16 here, and you can see the wheels turning in that amazing brain. "You think you're going to hold me back, do you? You're not going to hold me back. I will take what I need, and I will stomp on your nasty head with my angry heal."

My obstacles don't compare even remotely to Curie's, and I don't pretend to relate to her struggles. But I do find her example of getting what she needed, by force if necessary, inspiring. That's not to say I need to run out and get a degree, but there are clearly other ways to educate one's self. And the only thing that's stopping me is my own hand sitting. What's stopping you from getting what you need?

1 comment:

dive said...

You know how to take the right lessons from all your pieces, Robyn. Another wonderful read and more inspiration.
And boy, does she look scary at sixteen. Ain't NOBODY going to win an argument with that girl!