On our return trip to Necker Island, I waited for the questions that always come. Those questions that come when people see my three children, my husband and then me.
During this week long business retreat with entrepreneurs, I braced for the questions.
“What do you do in your business?”
“Do you run the business with your husband?”
“Are you a stay-at-home mom or do you do something else?”
“Yes. And NO.” I say. It’s the all-in, in-between place.
How do you describe the all-in, in-between space in life? The one that doesn’t have one title but that holds a significant place.
My husband, my three children and then me.
That’s the order I thought people saw in.
Then one night, I found myself at dinner at a long wood-carved table that can seat 40 people. I met an amazing woman named Natalie MacNeil. She has a beautiful view on entrepreneurship and contribution. She didn’t ask me any of those questions.
Instead, she asked me, “How do you help people? How do you want to help people?”
My entrepreneurial husband, my three children and then me.
That’s the order I thought people saw in.
I know now that’s the order I put myself in when I’m afraid of not having all the answers.
The truth is “What do you do?” stumps lots of folks. Not just moms. Not just the people without official business cards.
For the mom with no title or the CEO with a title in all capital letters, there is a shared understanding. There is more to a person than what fits on the space of a business card.
A business title might trap us into a rigidity of role that doesn’t fill all that we are. For a mom like me with other pursuits but without a title that is easily summed up, it can feel untethered. Being in that space for a long time. The one of not having “the one thing” you do that is simple to describe. The thing outside motherhood that is the dream not yet manifested. Or that you don’t yet get a paycheck for doing. Trying to explain that place has made me feel phony. Unrealized. Unseen.
Then I remember that is my own bullshit. I often look for a role to armor me during those times, instead of just being in that space of discovery.
How do we find validation and acknowledgment of all we do during those spaces?
We give it to ourselves first. We honor our contribution at each step along the way. We have gratitude for the blessing to be in the untethered space. Then, we take the brave steps into the scary but magical spaces one at a time.
Roles can armor us. They can tether us. And they can also bind us from experiencing all that we are here to be.
In that conversation with Natalie, I stopped sweating how to describe my title for a second.
“How do you help people?” she asked me.
These are questions I know the answers to.
I help my kids know who they are and feel empowered in their skin.
I stand by my husband and his team to help people invest in themselves.
I stand by my family and friends in dreaming big and pushing through the adversity that comes along the way.
I help families be brave explorers in learning and life again.
I help people by sharing my stories.
And thank God for the friends that help me. They help me in creating a circle of support that gives me wings and sanity. They give me the freedom to be Maria, not a title.
Today, I have no title and I am grateful. Right now, my family is my business. My three beautiful children, my awesome husband, AND me.
I don’t have a business card. I am not sitting at the conference room and the presentation tables I did ten years ago. Some days I miss it. Some days I don’t.
Right now, the dinner table is my table. The picnic tables are my tables. The car I travel in with my 10-year old son wrapped in long discussions is my business meeting. The bleacher my sister watches her daughter play ball from is her board seat. The yoga floor my dear friend restores bodies and minds from is her Chief Executive Offering. If you are a mother, you are birthing and raising the children that will be sitting at those tables.
Today. My writing desk. That is my table.
Our presence as mothers and leaders and compassionate humans at whatever table we find ourselves in. That matters.
The work tables just look awesomely diverse now.
Call it whatever you want. Pull up a chair proudly to your table.
In the comments section below, I’d love to know, how do you handle the question, “What do you do?”
Resource Links: Natalie MacNeil has an excellent video on this topic at her website, “She Takes on The World.” If you want to hear Natalie’s strategy on how to explain what you do to a 10-year old or at a business function, you can check it out here.
For an interesting take on the in-between spaces in life from an Astro physicist, Jedidah Isler, listen to the first 3 minutes of this TED talk.
Hint: Those spaces are usually where the magic happens in the universe.
Family Photo courtesy of Alex Kane, Photographer & Videographer.