Have you ever told yourself that one day, you’ll take a class or get a certificate in something? One day, perhaps when the kids are in college, you’ll take up that long-awaited hobby? Or make that career shift you’ve been longing for?
If so, keep reading. I’m here to tell you a story about putting in hours, gaining experience, and claiming that expertise *now*. (Yes, even without the class or certificate.)
This past week, my kids (now ages 10 and 12) were on a school break, and we spent a few days skiing together as a family in the Poconos. Just writing that statement is enough to shock me. I had some lessons and skied in middle school, but for a good 25 years, between ages 14 and 38, I was largely terrified of the sport.
Five years ago, we decided to try skiing as a family. That first day on the slopes, it took us 45 minutes (and many tears) to get our little ones down the little bunny hill. And I was timid on my own feet. My husband and I took a lesson together, which helped me regain some confidence. But I haven’t had any formal instruction since then.
What has changed over the past 5 years, though, is that we’ve simply done it. Gone each year (minus one year for Covid). Spent hours and hours navigating different terrain. Different weather conditions. Different trails. Yes, it’s still all East Coast skiing (one day I long to head to powdery places!). But the four of us spent time exploring, flying down mountains, and getting much, much better.
When my kids inspired and encouraged me this week to go on my first black diamond (read: quite difficult) trail in 30 years – and when I not only survived but navigated with confidence – said ski run, it hit me. I may not have a certificate or diploma to declare that I’m a skier, but I am one.
My failure – or reluctance – to claim experience isn’t just a hobby-related issue, though. This isn’t just about skiing.
I will admit to you that until recently, I had trouble claiming my status as Chief Executive Officer and Founder of my own company. What is a CEO, I asked myself? Here’s the answer my brain offered me. A CEO is an older, white man, who has an MBA and has risen through the ranks of a large, publicly-traded company. Hmm. I didn’t seem to fit that description in the slightest. Oh, and a “Founder”, my brain said, is someone who is out raising venture capital and wooing angel investors. Again, not me.
For starters, and what was holding me back most from claiming this CEO title, was not having that certificate. That diploma. That MBA. How could I possibly know anything about business, if “all I had” was a mere law degree. How could I possibly be a “Founder” if I’m not out there hustling for VC dollars?
With encouragement from some amazing fellow CEO/Founder peers – and some insights from being in nature, on the slopes – I’ve begun to claim these titles as my own, though. It turns out 8 ½ years of running Mindful Return has provided me with ample on-the-ground, how-to-run-a-business experience. Growing a global team of 20 working parents who share my mission and vision inspires me daily. I don’t have a diploma or certificate to tell me I’m a leader, business woman, or a coach, but I am one. In all the ways.
Though I wouldn’t have claimed it before this year, I am a skier. Why? Because I’ve spent the time doing it. Taken risks. And built confidence doing so. I’m a CEO for the same reasons.
Note that I’m not here to devalue formal instruction. Yes, we need classes and teachers to give us the fundamentals in many respects. Getting that degree or certificate can sometimes propel us forward faster than anything.
But other times, we may not be in the life or financial position to go get a particular degree or take a certain course. Or, many times, a certificate for what we’re learning simply doesn’t exist. I didn’t claim the title of “Medicare reimbursement lawyer” because I went to “Medicare reimbursement school” and got a diploma in this legal practice area. I claimed the title because I learned my legal niche from great teachers and colleagues. And I’ve practiced it for decades with real clients and real fact patterns.
What titles aren’t you claiming but should be? What do you want to learn, but are waiting to sign up for a course or earn a certificate? My advice to you: simply claim the title. Simply start learning the thing. You know things other people don’t, and it’s an amazing confidence-builder to start owning that. As Toni Morrison wrote, “Definitions belong to the definers, not the defined.”
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave