My mom is my lifelong best friend. She’s fun, creative, and always a call away for advice or to dish about embarrassingly bad TV. There are a lot of things I could write about her, but today I want to focus on how she’s a great teacher — in more ways than one.
I had the good fortune of watching my mother take a big chance on herself, and find success in a new career path. Unfortunately, being witness to her inspiring journey wasn’t enough to set me striding confidently down my own path — first, I needed to be shaken out of self-limiting beliefs that held me back for years.
Here’s the story of how my mom helped me wake up and get to work.
When I was about six years old, my mom went back to school to get her master’s degree. For years, she commuted 5 hours round trip, once a week — and took my baby sister with her to class. Now THAT is hustle.
For nearly 20 years now she’s been a middle school science teacher. Whenever I tell people this, their eyes widen and they grimace at the thought of trying to manage—let alone teach—a couple dozen preteens.
But what these people don’t understand is that my mom truly loves teaching middle school science, and has found a career that feels like a calling.
She teaches in a different district than where I went to school, so our vacations didn’t always line up. So, when I was middle school-aged, I would sometimes spend my days off hanging out in her classroom. I’ve always had the ability to sit in a corner and lose myself in a book, no matter my surroundings — but whenever I was in her classroom, I’d get distracted and end up watching my mom teach. The kids were always super engaged, and I—her moody, preteen, right-brain daughter who had been brought to school on a vacation day—couldn’t help but get caught up in her science lessons. I distinctly remember feeling such pride, watching her do her job so well.
But I’ve also seen just how hard my mom works to excel at her job. Nights, weekends, and significant chunks of “vacation” time are spent lesson-planning or grading. Every day, for decades, she has commuted 45 minutes each way on rural Vermont roads.
So. Now that you have some context, consider this: a couple years ago, I was on the phone with my mom, telling her that I felt like a total failure and a black sheep in the family because I had the very rare problem of not having my career figured out by my mid-20s.
She paused (her mind likely reeling with the realization that I had severe selective amnesia), gently said, “But Emily, that’s not true…” and patiently reminded me of her own lengthy journey to find career satisfaction.
(Which, again, I had been witness to.)
I didn’t realize the significance of this conversation at the time. As Steve Jobs said, “You can't connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” But looking back now, I can see that her gentle refusal to comfort me in my manufactured melodrama was a turning point for me. It was that otherwise ordinary phone call that got me to start letting go of the idea that a “dream job” would appear on the horizon, glowing only for me. If I wanted a dream job, I was going to have to get to work and make one for myself.
Because my mom is such a great teacher, I have finally learned that job satisfaction is not a gift, and excellence is not an inherent trait. Excellence is achieved by working hard toward goals that play to your strengths.