When I was in third grade, one of our school assignments was for the class to break into groups and complete a project together. The project was simple, but it required each person to take on a portion of the task in order to complete it in the allotted time. After a few minutes of our group sitting around staring at each other and eating boogers or whatever it is third graders do, I became frustrated. We weren’t making any progress. So. I picked up the assignment paper and began doling out tasks to each member of our group.
Each person accepted their task, seemingly happy to have some direction and clarity on their portion of the assignment. I completed my part and then checked with my other group members to see if I could help them. One person was stuck on something that I knew how to do, so I offered a solution, and, lo and behold, it worked.
Our group finished the project in the allotted time — the only group to do so — and we all got an A. I felt so proud of my little third-grade self. That was until the teacher, a treacherous human being who was in no way fit to be in charge of the tender hearts of 8-year-olds, announced in front of the entire class, “Katie told her group what to do. She is very bossy.” Sidenote: This same woman also discussed my parents’ divorce in front of the entire class, so she obviously wasn’t the best judge of what will and will not crush a third grader’s soul.
I was equally shocked and devastated by this declaration to my class. I’d “told my group what to do” because we were not making progress otherwise. We needed direction, so I gave it. I helped others when I could, and I did my part as well. I was so confused and couldn’t believe that I’d been labeled as something negative when I thought I was doing something so good.
I don’t even know how long after this episode I perceived myself as bossy. The person who was in charge of my education and at least a part of my development as a human had proclaimed it to my class, so how could it not be true? I was bossy, and that was that.
Twenty-eight years later, I have a different perspective. I am smart, and I bust my ass. I work in the construction industry and have never let the fact that I’m often the only woman in the room phase me in the slightest. I know what they know, I earn what they earn, and, aside from the occasional jackass, I am well-respected by them too. I am also responsible for an entire office full of people, and NEWSFLASH FOLKS, I did not get here by being the booger-eater of the group.
The other night, my 2-and-a-half-year-old daughter was playing in the tub, and out of nowhere she said to me, “Momma I’m bossy!”
After I pulled myself out of my Vietnam-esque flashback to my episode in third grade I said, “Honey, who told you that?” When she replied that one of her teachers had, it was all I could do not to come completely unglued.
I didn’t know what to say to my strong-willed, exceptionally smart daughter to make her understand that the qualities that were recklessly being categorized as something negative, were actually the qualities of which she should be the most proud. My brain was frantically searching for the words as I got her out of the tub. The defining moments of a mother’s life, I tell ya.
I wrapped her in a towel and sat her in my lap. As soon as I looked at her precious face the words came to me. “My darling girl, you are NOT bossy. You are a leader.“