When I was in school I always focused on being the top student in my class. When we learned our multiplication tables I recited the numbers faster than any of the other students. When the teacher held spelling bees I was always the last one left standing and when I began receiving real grades, (A, B, C’s rather than S’s and O’s), I always aimed for straight A’s.
As an employee I strived for top ratings every review period. While my coworkers seemed to be content to read the newspaper or shop online I searched for problems to solve and then found resolutions to fix them. I often fixed problems my own management team didn’t realize existed. I received the top ratings in all but two of my reviews over a 12 year period and even received the top most rating, (one that only 5% of employees achieve), one time.
My bosses knew I was smart and hardworking. As the years progressed I was put in charge of more challenging and complex projects. At age 24 I led a six person project that included software developers who were more than twice my age. I was proud of that achievement and the work we performed.
While my coworkers were placed onto maintenance projects I was constantly moved onto projects that required new development. I was asked to learn new software packages and to experiment with technologies that were completely new to our company. I loved the challenge of writing code and solving problems.
I always knew that I was the type of girl who liked intellectual challenges, but I never realized how deeply that desire coursed through my veins. To put it bluntly I want to feel smart and it seems I strive for good grades and outstanding reviews as a way to validate my intelligence. Other than the lack of adult companionship I believe it is this feeling that I miss more than any other.
As a stay-at-home mom I don’t perform any day to day actions that make me feel particularly intelligent. While I am challenged to be more empathetic, compassionate and patient I certainly don’t end the day feeling that my intelligence has been tested.
There is also a long term aspect to parenting. I do what I think is best for my son today, but I might not find out if it was the best parenting action for another 20 or 30 years. In software, you write code, run your program and watch it work or fail. While it may take days or weeks to complete the task it certainly doesn’t take years to witness your success or failures.
I do not regret my decision to stay home with my son, but I do believe I need to find a new outlook on my former beliefs. I need to forget about straight A’s and top reviews and realize that I don’t need anyone else to validate my intelligence. Perhaps it is an identity crisis of sorts. After spending my whole life striving for external validation it’s difficult to find myself in a situation where no one is going to pat my back and provide me with parenting kudos.