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  • michelle m. davis

Is there "Mommy Smartness"?

A successful career is often the trademark of a “smart woman.” So, when I resigned from my teaching position when our first son was born, I worried: What would happen when I left my profession? Would being a full-time mom cause me to loose my “smartness”?

Permit me to backtrack for a moment. Before we had kids, my husband and I agreed that after our first was born, I would exit teaching and focus on parenting, along with community volunteering. During this phase of life, I put on the academic learning breaks...I achieved, and I excelled at achieving, but my learning revolved around feeding schedules, planning Junior League fundraisers, and creating Thomas the Tank birthday cakes. I juggled being a parent to two sons with fulfilling many community volunteer positions. This often required sacrificing family time for community projects. But, I believed that I was making a difference. I can’t say that I felt smart, but I was getting the job done. Volunteering became my outlet, filling the void created when I left the classroom. Although I no longer received the positive reinforcements that elevated me to feel smart in my academic learning environment, I slowly became accustomed to my new “job.”

Perhaps it was my false confidence or my strong work ethic that led me to be asked to join multiple boards, ultimately heading several of them. This phase of my life lasted around twenty years. While I learned a great deal about board management, interviewing techniques, budgets, and policy development, my EQ suffered. I was so focused on the end product and getting there, that I didn’t realize how important the process was. Hindsight is 20/20, and although I don’t regret this stage of my life, I do not think that being in these positions made me happy. I felt a great deal of pressure and worried endlessly, resulting in multiple physical ailments.

When I was 47, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, necessitating a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and Tamoxafen. Moments like this cause one to pause. Was I spending my time and energy on the things that were truly important to my family and me? Was the stress I felt through school board worth it? I consciously decided to make some life changes. I finished my term on school board, but I never contemplated another run. I disengaged from a variety of committees and activities. And, I focused on healing - emotionally, spiritually, and intellectually. What was I to learn from this experience? How could I take having cancer and turn it into something beneficial for me and for those I love? Suddenly, being smart as I knew it became less relevant.

I realized that I needed to figure out who I really was if I was ever going to answer these questions. If the goal were to become the best version of myself, first I would have to know me. For years, I’d worn various masks, avoiding the quest to discover my true identify. Sometimes it is easier to be what others expect you to be, to fill the roles that people assume you will meet. In order to be truly happy and purposeful, I needed to search for who I was, what I needed, and how I could make a difference. Not a small task when you're in your 50's!

So here is what I’ve learned:

I’ve recognized that I really am not that smart, I just work really hard, sometimes for myself, but many times for other’s approval. I like to be praised for my efforts – it makes me feel good, but it’s only a temporary sensation. I need to fight the urge to share with my husband all that I’ve accomplished during the day. Do I want to hear myself recount my activities, or perhaps I thrived to hear him say, “Good job!”? Now my goal is to do things for the sake of doing them…. because they need to happen or I want to do them, not because I feel that I “should” or that I will get “rewarded” for a job well done. (Obviously, we all have obligations, be it family, work, or friends; this is not what I am talking about.)

I’ve discovered that other’s approval and recognitions, while feeding part of the ego, is not enough. What is critical is to work hard for internal satisfaction along with what is good for the whole. “It’s not what you achieve, it is what you contribute that matters,” is a phrase that has stuck with me. This makes total sense. Achieving in a vacuum accomplishes little. However, doing to improve the situation for yourself or others, making a contribution, is truly impactful.

I’ve learned that there is a big difference between being smart and being wise. To me, being smart means knowing the answers, and if you don’t, finding them out asap. Then this information can be used to get ahead…to be better, stronger. But, being wise, suggests a calm understanding. It is knowing what is being asked, but not needing to blurt out the answer. It is being a resource to others who want your opinion. It is not showering your philosophies on anyone who will listen.

Once I accepted that I didn’t want to just be smart, I wished to be wise and that I should be contributing more than achieving, I realized that I wanted, no I needed more knowledge. Not just facts, the things that you learn in school. I wanted to understand people – where are they coming from and what are their needs? Who am I, and what is my role in this short time on Earth? How can we best communicate? What allows us to empower each other? How can we become more compassionate with ourselves, those around us, and our environment? These are the big life questions that we so often theorize about in our youth but rarely take the time to answer. In order for me to begin exploring these issues, I had to once again learn how to learn.

While running, no longer do I listen to the same playlists; I plug into podcasts, choosing topics that I never would have visited in the past. I want to read books that open up new realms. I desire a better understanding of politics, hearing both conservative and liberal viewpoints so that I can hone my own beliefs. I feel compelled to have a stronger grasp of the global world because we can no longer live in isolation of our worldwide community. But, most importantly, I want to relate more closely to those I love. I want to enjoy my husband and children, my parents and good friends.

True learning makes us better, empowering us to enhance not only ourselves, but also our world. The more I learn, the more I realize I know so little. I thirst for knowledge and crave information; no longer do I care about being smart… I want to be wise and understand so that I can be better and become a contributor, not just an achiever.

All theologies are straws His sun burns to dust; Knowing takes you to the Threshold, but not through the Door. Nothing can teach you if you don't unlearn everything How learned I was, before Revelation made me dumb.

- Jalal-ud-Din Rumi


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