What makes you feel good? What provides you satisfaction? What gives you a sense of achievement?
A friend of mine who is a respected and accomplished pediatrician recently related to me about a past relationship that she went through. She explained, "I liked him a lot. But I simply couldn't stay with him. He had a very archaic perspective of women and he never really respected me for who I was or what I could be. To him a woman is always second-rate to a man, and even though he didn't overtly treat me badly, I knew that he never truly appreciated me. Even though I love what I do, and am successful and accomplished in my field, to his mind, I should be staying at home, doing what he thinks is right for me. I can't be with someone who views me, and the world, like that."
When I heard those words, something in my mind clicked. What she described was exactly how I recall feeling when I was living in the chareidi world. I don't think I ever consciously articulated it that way, but when I heard them, the words resonated within me. In fact, not only didn't I ever express it back then, I doubt I even realized it until I left that community.
That boyfriend who treated her well was just like that yeshiva society that I grew up in. They never truly treated me badly. They didn't abuse me in any way. Overall, they were kind to me in many ways and treated me quite decently. Even went out of their way at times to show me how much they cared for me. But underneath all that kindness, there was something very basic lacking in the way they viewed me.
I only understood it after I left that world. After I found myself among people who appreciated my skills, my talents, my very nature; who appreciated me for what I could contribute without forcing me to be something I wasn't.
I finally realized that that chareidi world that professed such concern for me never ever truly valued me.
They had a vision of what I should be. A talmid chacham. It's what they value most of all and what they feel each male should be striving for. Anything a person may accomplish aside from that lofty goal is tolerated as a mere consolation prize in the contest of human achievement.
But that's not what I am, nor what I ever wanted to be. It was only after I entered a totally different realm of religious society that I found people respecting me, seeking my input, appreciating my skills, in ways unrelated to any halachic or torah related issues. Only then did I experience that inner satisfaction which made me feel that I was truly valued.
Every society is entitled to have their own barometers of success. I can respect that. But if the qualities which earn one respect are those which a large segment of the society do not strive for, how can they honestly claim to be surprised when people seek their validation elsewhere? Is it any wonder that a person who can never feel truly valued in the chareidi world would want to leave?