By Angie Mizzell
“Mommy, you can be anything you want to be.” Many times, I’ve tried to recall what prompted my 6-year-old daughter to say that to me while we were sitting on the couch one evening. Was I typing on my laptop? Were we watching TV?
What sparked our conversation? What I distinctly remember about that night was the hint of concern in her voice, as if I wasn’t living up to my potential. You can be anything. How many times have I heard those words, said them myself?
Because I’m self-employed, work from home most of the time, and have a flexible (aka random) schedule, there’s a lot about my work my young daughter doesn’t understand. Most of the time, she sees me as Mom, and I’m OK with that. When I tell my friends this story, I joke that I resisted the urge to show her my LinkedIn profile and rattle off the laundry list of my accomplishments. Instead, I simply explained that I am being what I want to be—specifically, a writer—and I get to work on fun and creative projects all the time.
She wasn’t 100 percent convinced. But convincing her wasn’t my job. It was my job to talk to her about it. It was my job to tell her that I own my choices and where those choices have led me. And to let her know that ultimately, I’m happy where I am.
I’m having this conversation with my sons, too. Years ago, when my oldest son was about my daughter’s age, we were standing outside and a neighbor, an attorney, stopped and rolled down her window to say hello. She was dressed up and looking nice.
When she drove off, my son asked, “Where is she going?” I told him she was going to work. He replied, “Mommies go to work?”
It was a surprise to him that some women got in the car, drove away from the house and didn’t return until hours later. He thought my path was the only path, and until that moment, I had no idea. So I took the opportunity to explain that women—not just moms—work all sorts of ways.
When I traded my corporate career for the self-employed life 15 years ago, I walked away from the unhealthy idea that I had to prove my worth by staying on a path that looked better on the outside than it felt on the inside. But being my own boss didn’t translate to working fewer hours. At one point, I was working at a gym as a personal trainer, running a boutique marketing and event-planning company, and doing freelance on-camera work.
Then, I became a mom. Having children didn’t force me to give up my professional dreams. In fact, having children clarified them.
Recently, author Elizabeth Gilbert came to Charleston and gave the keynote speech for the Center for Women’s annual conference. She talked about drawing invisible circles around those things that we hold sacred. She says women hold the most power and the keys to revolutionary change when we relax into our own calm and deep knowing; when we can confidently say, “This matters. That doesn’t.”
All women don’t have the same sacred circles. The circles are different for everyone. And, in my case, the circles changed over time.
I believe this in my bones: There’s no right way to be a woman. Our great opportunity to be anything doesn’t mean we have to be everything. So when we tell the next generation that they can be anything, we also have the responsibility to teach them what that really means. We start by learning to believe it ourselves.
Read more of Angie’s essays: