Why am I engaged in such competitive mom-ing, as Wendy has so cleverly dubbed it? Why have I taken the life I always dreamed of and turned it into something that has to justify its own existence?
From what seems a long, long distance away, I hear Davis thanking the newscaster, Karen Wetherby, for introducing him. He laughs as she asks him what it’s like to consult with the university’s athletic department—it’s apparently well known around town that he’s on retainer to work with the star student athletes on a regular basis—and he tells a good-natured joke about the women’s basketball coach, a woman who is renowned not just for bringing home trophies but also for wearing the same underpants throughout long winning streaks. Then, smoothly, he says that he’s pleased to introduce another, far less superstitious winning woman, and the bottom drops out of my stomach. This is me. This is me pretending to be an expert on life. A coach. A winner. In front of hundreds of people in real life and who even knows how many people online.
But through the sound of my pulse racing, I still hear Davis. He is talking about all the ways Wendy has helped people, most of them entirely news to me. To hear him tell it, she’s led people from all walks of life through challenging situations and helped them reorganize their lives to make room for their dreams.
It’s no wonder she suspected I needed the same treatment.
I hear her name and a surge of applause from the attendees, and I know no matter how panicked I feel, I have to rise to this occasion. There are probably five hundred people in this room, all here to cultivate their own dreams and reorganize their own lives, and if I do this presentation well, they’ll all line up to get Wendy to help them do just that. And through my nerves, it hits me: This audience—they’re no different from me. Striving to be better, thinner, wealthier, more perfect. When in fact these people, who have Saturday mornings to spend in a convention center listening to productivity tips while they eat tea sandwiches, already have so much to be grateful for.
I should know.
I clear my throat and thank Davis for the warm introduction, and just as I’m opening the first slide, I see someone come into the nearest door of the ballroom. Someone very familiar. It’s me. It’s Wendy, really. And to my surprise, I find she’s brought guests. Hugh, Seth, and all five of our kids are trying to skulk in quietly to hear me speak. I lock eyes with Wendy for a long time. Woman to woman. Mother to mother. Wife to wife. Finally she mouths words that are easy for me to recognize even across the giant room:
I nod back. “Me too,” I mouth back. And then, “Thank you.” I’m proud of her for getting the families here to support me—her. No, us. She smiles a bit, nudges the boys, and I watch them each hold up their science fair ribbons—second-place red for Linus and, to my surprise and delight, a green participation ribbon for my recalcitrant scholar Samuel.
And then, unmistakably, her eyes drift back behind me, and when I follow them, I lock eyes with Davis. He’s staring at me, who he thinks is Wendy, intently, and for the first time ever, Wendy can see how he looks at her when she’s not paying attention. Surprise—and something more—washes over her face. I let her feel it, and I turn back to the notes, clear my throat, and take the plunge.
“Thank you all so much for coming out today, sharing your precious Saturday with me. I think I have something precious to share with you back, something that can change your lives if you let it. But first, let me tell you about a client of mine who generously gave me permission to share with you all what she was able to achieve with the right plan.”
I change slides. What follows is the story of a pro bono client I knew nothing about. She was a former addict who dreamed of returning to school to get her bachelor’s in economics so she could start a for-profit investing club for women in recovery. She explained how after years of working as a bank teller before her drug arrest, she’d always been near the money, but she wasn’t making much of it herself. Then, after serving six months for intent to distribute, she knew she’d never even be able to go back to working at the bank.
“She did the hard work; make no mistake,” I read. “But I introduced her to a few very simple concepts, some of which we’ll be discussing today.” I pause and smile around the room, catch a few eyes, just as it says to do in my script. Lucky Wendy that she body swapped with someone who took a public speaking course twenty years ago, required for my minor in education.
“These are concepts that taught her to believe not just that you can have it all but that you deserve to,” I read. “They can help you toss aside the limitations of your life—the things you’ve been told—or told yourself—that you can’t do. Perfect example: Who here has said they can’t when it comes to getting up an hour earlier every day, even though we know that getting up before everyone else is a trait seen most often in High Achievers and High Wealth Accumulators?” I wait for people to raise their hands, and they oblige. “Ok, there we go! Even in this room full of go-getters,” I read, “here we are, telling ourselves we can’t get out of bed for our own dreams!”
There are murmurs of recognition and nods of understanding moving through the room. I catch Wendy. She’s nodding along, too, and gives me a thumbs-up. She must know this keynote like the back of her hand. She probably worked on it endlessly, sometimes at the crack of dawn when she, too, could have used an extra hour of sleep. That’s how important this is to her. That’s how important it is that I get this right.
I take a deep breath and tell more of the bank teller’s story. How she started by getting up earlier in the morning than her young kids and recruiting help from the community center and the small business women’s association. How she made investments in herself to be the person who was successful in advance of her actual success. How her posture, her attitude—even her body mass index—changed as a result of these new thoughts and steps, until she had managed to double her working productivity, get a promotion at her day job, start business school at night, and join a junior investing club that met for breakfast meetings once a month.
There is the appropriate number of oohs and aahs.
Now comes the part where I introduce her, and she stands to cheers and applause. I announce that she graduated with top honors, and her successful investment group has a waiting list. I tell how she has visited the nearby women’s prisons and empowered dozens of women to start their own fiscal support groups, and she is taking meetings now with major VC firms as part of a new dream to never have a moment of downtime again for the rest of her life.
Well, I don’t say the downtime bit.
Everyone claps again. Frankly, it’s hard for me not to stomp and cheer at this remarkable, if exhausting, story. The business maven waves and beams with pride. What Wendy can help people do is pretty remarkable.
It’s just what she’s doing to herself that I take issue with.
I turn to the next slide. Here comes the part where I tell the audience what Wendy Charles Consulting can do for them, if they are just willing to believe in the idea that they really can have it all.
But when I open my mouth to deliver the big sell-in, my throat starts to gets dry. By the time I’m through to the you-really-can-have-it-all part, my tongue is a desert and my hands are sweating. I can’t go on with this. It’s plain as day. I clear my throat, shake my head.