Your Version of Great

Bench made of wood pallets with the words Espiritu Libre painted on the backrest.
Free Spirit, indeed.

A little over a year ago, I got a new boss, and a new boss’ boss. Over the first few months of their tenure, they were trying to get a bead on the members of their new team(s), and one of them asked me about my career aspirations. I said, as I always say, “For the love of all that is holy, not management.”  I mean, it’s not that I don’t like to LEAD, I do. I’m even pretty good at it. I just don’t want to MANAGE.

No thank you. Nuh-uh. Nope. Not happenin’.

Boss(2)man laughed and asked why. I gave him my well thought out reasons, including my definitions of what management and leadership meant. He said that in his time as a people-manager, people have said that they don’t want to enter the management stream, but it’s often about their lack of confidence or something that they can’t quite define. They just don’t. Which is valid.

But I started thinking that I was a solid half way through my career. The career phase when people are thinking about what “the next logical” step means. If you ask Dr. Googlez, the next logical step is management. Boo. To their credit, Bossman and Boss(2)man helped me find a good trajectory with work that provides career progression. No management courses required. During that time, I also did some in-house learning that talked about how not all career progression is up the ladder. Sometimes it’s horizontal growth. Sometimes it’s jumping over to a different ladder. Sometimes, it’s sliding that ladder around like it’s on a track in the library of some eccentric uncle’s estate. Heehaw.

Sometimes you have to start with what you don’t want to figure out what you do want.

Fast forward to this year. The women in my family (with birthdays in Sept/October) went to see Michelle Obama speak, courtesy of my Aunt. I was only part way through Becoming when we went, but it was a very engaging biography – so there was a lot I didn’t know yet. As we approached the venue, there were signs and posters and T-shirts with Michelle Obama 2020 written in bold letters. And we all imagined what that would look like.

During her talk, which was a fire-side chat-style question and answer format, she expressed her distaste for politics in general. She said that was Barrack’s thing. When the interviewer cheekily commented that that meant she *wouldn’t* be mounting a campaign for the presidency in 2020, she said she would not. Just because someone thinks you’d be great for something, doesn’t mean you should do the thing. You can’t just do something because someone (or many, many someones) think you’d be great it. You have to want it and feel the passion for it as well.


I’mma let you read that one more time.

Yes. YES. Exactly.

She went on to say that if you’re trying to be great at something, you can’t just be the same great that someone else was. After the election but before inauguration in 2008, she had tea with all the (then) living FL(s)OTUS to get their take on what she had ahead of her. But she couldn’t be Nancy Reagan or Barbara or Laura, or Hillary, or Rosalynn. She had to be Michelle Obama. She said that you can’t be great at someone else’s version of something. You have to be great at your own version of it.

So, because the universe likes to conspire to give you the thinkythoughts you need, when you need them, Michelle’s advice was compounded by a scene provided to me by the TV show, A Million Little Things. In Season 2, Episode 1, Delilah is visiting a lactation specialist because Charlotte won’t latch on. The Lactation nurse is being a bit of a tyrant, with the breast-is-best and you-did-it-last-time-you-have-to-do-it-again. Delilah felt increasingly ashamed and miserable, so one of her friends (Maggie) told the lactation nurse to stuff it. Sometimes, things need to be said with absolute clarity. “You need to shut the hell up” leaves little room for misunderstanding.  Being a great mom and being a breastfeeding mom are not the same thing. And having friends to help you find the path to living your best life is invaluable.

I’ve been chewing on those two takeaways – Michelle’s advice to being yourself, and Maggie stepping in to not let Delilah feel Less Than because of someone else’s opinion – for few months now, as the year winds down. I often feel Less Than. But have I been great at my own version of me?

At work, I’ve cannonballed into a few projects are making me thrive. I dumped a project off my plate that wasn’t. I organized my desk in a way that feels more… organized. I decided to work from home every Wednesday. It breaks up the week so that if the Imposter Syndrome has the upper hand, I only ever have two days in a row that I have to pull together the veneer of having my shit together.

I’m no longer dedicating a ton of time to Cadets, but I am spending more social time with my gang of pals from Cadets. It’s nice when the thing that brought people into your life doesn’t have to be the thing that holds people in your life. Some of us meet for breakfast on Wednesday mornings, most of us meet for dinner once a month. I’ve even got a subscription to a theatre series with one of them.

 And, I’m in some uncharted territory – Child is off at the Royal Military College. He’s a university student and an officer cadet in the Royal Canadian Air Force. My role as a mom has changed. A few nights ago, my gentleman associate made a comment about how I wasn’t a mother anymore now that Child’s a grown-ass-man. Wait, what? No. Hard no. I’m certainly a different mother that he needs for different things. But dude, you’ll pry my Mother Membership card out of my cold, dead hand. Literally.

There are 18 days left in this year and this decade. You can choose to grumble about how the year done you wrong, or you can focus on how you’ve been great at your version of you.

I’m choosing the latter.

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