Destined for Greatness.

A colleague of mine recently said to me without irony, “I think that you think you are destined for greatness.”  He didn’t say this as a compliment.  It felt more like a zinger – an accusation along the lines of who the heck do you think you are Missy, wanting so much more out of life?  Isn’t this Popsicle stand good enough for you?

Wanting to keep the peace, I bit my lip and said almost nothing.   But the snarky words have been gnawing at me.  Shouldn’t we all feel destined for greatness or at least want to do great things with our lives?  The fact is, what motivate me are fears of failure more than the belief that my fate will be fabulous.  And as it turns out, fear is a fantastic motivator.  But because this comment on my character came during Women’s History Month, the few weeks set aside each year to recognize the tremendous accomplishments American women have made, I found my colleague’s statement not only condescending but also ironic.  

The bittersweet truth is that at one point many of us women did feel destined for Big Things.  We were the “Sesame Street” and “Free to Be You and Me” generation who were told to aim high and dream large and anything was possible, even if you were as awkward as Big Bird.  But as the reality and routines of life crash around us each day, it’s easy for us moms to feel that our dreams have been aborted, interrupted or at the very least deferred.  Kids, mortgages and the utter exhaustion and chaos of managing the two have a way of sidetracking and dashing lots of dreams, which is perhaps why we moms need to be reminded, not belittled about our potential for greatness.  

Maybe this is why I am totally infatuated with Michelle Obama and how she is redefining the role of First Lady, sculpted arms and all.  While Americans are furious with Wall Street and the greedy bums who are getting bonuses at a time when there are apparently more unemployed people in America than the entire population of Pennsylvania, there is some sunny news coming from the Beltway – coming from our nation’s First Mom – the person with no doubt, the greatest gig in Washington right now.       


Today, Michelle Obama and a bunch of D.C. fifth graders started digging an organic garden on the White House lawn.  Growing green produce in the backyard of the White House may be less politically charged than printing Greenbacks and organic Arugula will not exactly kick start our battered economy, but it does make for a tasty salad with a peppery kick.  But hey, this is symbolism.  So while our Commander-in-Chief keeps reminding us that it’s time for Americans to roll up their sleeves and dig deep – sacrifices   need to be made – digging in the dirt and planting organic berries actually seems to be on message, and a heck of a lot more fun than dealing with AIG.

And, yesterday, in honor of Women’s History Month, our First Mom – our nation’s head cheerleader – spoke at a local high school and invited more than 100 high school girls to the White House for dinner.  The message was simple, inspiring and very 1970s – yes, you can be anything you want to be.


It's too bad you didn't get the chance to ask this person, "What sort of greatness do you think I'm thinking of?" How do you think they would have answered? With a mumble and a realization that they were projecting their own self-defeat onto you is my guess. I vote that you disregard the jerk, but enjoy the questions it triggered for you.

The challenge for me over my life has and is still trying to define what being my best self is. The examples of greatness presented me were always too out-sized: richness, fame, perfect saintliness, or beauty. What greatness is left when you have none of these?

I've asked myself why the need for "greatness" anyway. Having an urge for something more meaningful and true to one's nature doesn't mean one's on an ego trip, and it's a lovely privilege to grow up in an place where one can consider such questions, but I think it can lead to a certain amount of sadness and stress, too.

Particularly for mothers, greatness is defined in terms of those things that a good mother cannot easily attain while focused on the needs of needy young beings. I frankly would like whatever was planted in my brain about the possibilities of great achievement to be removed so that I can just enjoy the fact of living and loving. Actually, in my case, that might be greatness.