Tara Westover is quite a unique Young Achiever for a specific reason. She is known around the world for her incredible story of self education during her childhood that would eventually lead to earning her Masters Degree, PhD and write a New York Times Bestseller winning over 20 awards. Here’s her story.
“Whomever you become, whatever you make yourself into, that is who you always were.”Tara Westover
Tara was born in the mountain tops of Idaho on September 27, 1986. She’s one of 7 children with a mother who studied herbs, and a father who worked a junkyard. Both of her parents highly disproved and were skeptical of any public government based facilities like hospitals, schools, etc. They were extreme survivalists which meant Tara was born at home.
“I didn’t even have a birth certificate until I was 9 years old, which meant that, according to the state of Idaho and the federal government, I just didn’t exist.”Tara Westover
Because of those facts, it also meant that Tara didn’t have the choice to go to a typical school like most kids. No history lessons, no math lessons, no writing lessons. One of her older brothers had to teach her how to read. Anything she wanted to learn, she had to do herself. Her and her siblings were often forced to help with their fathers junkyard which was hard, brutal work. Most of the time they’d come home with gashes, burns, cuts, and injuries due to working with the scraps of metal or even explosions. Yeah. Not what you’d expect.
What’s more, her parents didn’t take them to see a doctor because of their strong, off-the-grid beliefs. Everything was treated with herbs and alternative healing methods by her mother. This all made learning difficult, on top of the fact that another one of her older brothers began to get abusive. In Tara’s words she describe her education as haphazard. Their were basic textbooks and such, though not that many. But she decided to make the commitment to teach and educate herself as best she could. Tara had a personal reason for wanting to go to college. Singing. Ever since she first heard classical music she had always loved singing,
“It was the first thing that came into my life that made me think that there might be something out in the world that would be worth leaving the mountain for.”Tara Westover
So, she obsessed with the idea of going to college to learn how to sing, which sparked her motive for learning. In her teen years, she purchased an algebra book so she could study algebra for the ACT exam. This would allow her to hopefully apply for Brigham Young University. Her parents, Tara’s dad especially, didn’t want Tara to go. But this was something that was very important to her.
“You can love someone and still choose to say goodbye to them,”Tara Westover
It wasn’t until she was 17 that she finally entered a classroom for the first time. She had convinced the school that she had been “highly educated” as a “homeschooler” (quotes intended) which helped her get in. But, she was in no way prepared for the schooling environment. An eye opening moment for her came when a teacher mentioned the Holocaust and she raised her hand asking what the Holocaust was. There were no people, or history books to tell her these things.
Tara then began to learn more about the important events of history like the Holocaust and the Civil Rights movements that had been invisible throughout her life. 4 years later, after that tough start, she graduated, earning a scholarship to Cambridge University in England. A year later, she received her Masters in Philosophy and traveled back to America as a visiting scholar at Harvard University. She now has a permanent residence at Cambridge where she went on to earn her PhD.
“First find out what you are capable of, then decide who you are.”Tara Westover
Wanting to share her story, Tara wanted to write a memoir. But, being raised in a survivalist family, she didn’t have access to those types of books and writing styles. So, Tara researched the art of writing. She read books like Pride & Prejudice, The Bluest Eye and The White Album to give her an idea of what writing a story would look like. She also listened to the New Yorker Fiction Podcast where they’d read a story, and then talk about its structure.
On February 18 , 2018, Tara published Educated. It was a huge hit. To this day it has sold over 4 million copies becoming a New York Times Bestseller. The book was added to both Barack Obama’s and Bill Gates reading list. She was even interviewed by Bill Gates, not to mention Oprah Winfrey, and Ellen DeGeneres. In 2019, Tara got to speak to the graduates at Northeastern University, and was also asked to sing. In front of crowd of around 20,000 people, she sang “How Great Thou Art” giving a spell bounding performance.
Tara’s story is so powerful, no only because of the accomplishments, but because of her commitment to educating herself. As a child, she chose to learn. She could have lived a normal, off-the-grid life. Instead, she took action on what mattered to her. Her achievements may not have come so quickly, and sometimes you have to wait to see the pay off. How much are you willing to put yourself out there and risk what you might have to let go of?