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.
“Someone in your school thought you had a lot of potential,” the First Lady said to students from Southeast Washington’s Anacostia High School, a school in one of the poorest neighborhoods in D.C. “I didn’t want to talk to kids who had already arrived; I wanted to talk to kids who are pushing to get to the next place.”
I get the feeling that Michelle Obama never believed it was her destiny to live in the White House, but I bet her husband believed he was destined for greatness or at least, like me and other neurotic high achievers, was either motivated by a great fear of failure or had something to prove to his father.
But as the First Lady reminded me this week, we can’t stop dreaming and trying to make a difference. We must each keep striving for greatness, not just for ourselves, but to show our children that yes, anything is possible.