I may have mentioned that I quit before I finished getting my MBA.
At the time I worked in corporate marketing at The Coca-Cola Company. I arrived there in a somewhat convoluted way, first getting a journalism degree, then spending several years doing PR, and then finally weaseling my way into the marketing department at a pretty amazing company.
I was doing very well there, but I knew I was an unusual fit for a consumer packaged goods business. I hadn’t come up through Procter & Gamble. I didn’t have a business degree from Wharton or Kellogg. I knew the only way to truly make myself part of the group was to get an MBA.
Stay with me. I promise there’s a parenting angle here.
I dove right in, taking prep courses so I could brush up on my math skills, and then I took the GMAT. Because no amount of brushing up is ever going to make me understand numbers, I still got a dismal math score, but I got accepted into B-school anyway and so I committed to spending two years working at Coke during the day and attending an MBA program at night.
This was all very exciting until I found myself sitting awkwardly in a desk in classes with names like Production Operations Management, Accounting, and Statistical Business Analysis, and wondering what the FREAKING HELL!! I was doing there. This wasn’t me. I couldn’t have cared less about just-in-time manufacturing or inventory methods. Not only that, but half the time I had no idea what the heck they were talking about anyway.
What I cared about was writing. Public speaking. Communicating. Creating. Connecting to consumers. I was trying to mold myself into the person that Coke wanted and needed me to be if I was going to become a vice president some day, but the truth is that no matter how much stuffing and squeezing and heaving myself into that mold I tried to do, it was never going to happen. Never.
So I gave in. I quit the MBA program, and a couple of years later I left my stellar job at The Coca-Cola Company.
Quitters never win. Winners don’t quit! You get your act together and do this stuff, dammit, because it’s what you’re supposed to do. Only losers quit. That’s the message of fierceness, right? Get tough. Get going. Power through.
Not according to my definition of fierce. Remember? Having heartfelt and powerful intensity? There was nothing heartfelt about me getting an MBA. It was brainfelt, but not heartfelt. I did it because it was what I was supposed to do. I was supposed to have an “important” job making lots of money and moving stacks of paper around on my desk and having loads and loads of meetings, not sitting at home with zit cream on my face typing out a blog post like I’m doing right now. Except that sitting on my couch in my jeans and bare feet typing out these words is what fulfills me. Whee!
I ended up being able to find my purpose — the real one — in part thanks to quitting. I learned that I am not and do not want to be a generalist. I don’t want to try to be all things to all people any more. I’m a specialist, and I need to focus on my gifts and what I love to do. The same thing is true for my parenting.
See? I told you I’d get to the parenting part.
I’ve tried in the past to make myself into a different kind of mother. The one who likes to craft. The one who happily forms her children’s lunch items into the shapes of cartoon characters. I can’t be her, or at least I can’t be her and be happy. Instead, I’m the mom who likes to read aloud to her children for 30 to 45 minutes each at bedtime, thus taking almost two hours to put her kids down for the night. I am a bedtime specialist. That makes me and my children happy.
As my husband explained to me a couple weeks ago when I started to forget that I don’t need to be a generalist, motherhood is music, not math. It’s not a formula where x + y + z = happy, fulfilled children. “There’s no correct equation for doing it right,” he said. There are infinite combinations of notes that will lead to an artful outcome.
He might as well have said all of life is music, not math. You don’t have to check off all of the boxes, or be a renaissance woman (or man). You don’t have to carry out every creative parenting idea you’ve ever seen mentioned on Pinterest. You might find more contentment if you start thinking of yourself as a specialist. What are you good at? What do you love doing with and for your children? Do it in spades! And as for all those things you can’t stand but are making yourself do right now because you saw it on morning TV or Twitter, quit. Quit right this second.
It takes quite a bit of fierceness to quit doing what everyone else thinks you should be doing, but you can do it. This whole idea about quitters never winning is a bunch of crap. Quitters can totally win.
Tell me, as a parent, what’s your speciality?