Pick Your A’s

⏤Excerpted from the forthcoming Pick Your A’s by Dr. Laurie Anderson⏤

I remember the moment like it was yesterday, not 20 years ago. My sons were young—probably around 12 and 8—and very grumpy one night about the dinner menu.

“Not the chili again,” said he-who-will-not-be-called-out.

It is true that my cooking repertoire was limited to about three options. In my defense, I was a divorced, working Mom, and menu variety appeared nowhere on my long “to do” list.

With a big dose of snark, I responded to their fussing something like this:

“Listen, kids, I’m not looking to get an “A” in dinner. Got it? There are other things I care about a whole lot more so judge me on those.”

Something snapped into focus at that moment and with HD clarity, I saw that I’m just fine with being graded “C” or even “D” in dinner options. Unless the local police show up at our door with evidence of malnutrition (versus chili fatigue), I am going to limit what I feel bad about to those areas that are most important to me.

Turned out that limiting self-criticism would be a life-long struggle. But I had started, and there was an immediate benefit to me, my sons, and possibly everyone I encountered: I became less defensive, less hair-triggered, and yes, more empowered—while still being pathetic as a cook, but not as a Mom.

My thoughts evolved over the next few months as I kept playing with the idea of a personal report card for the lanes that mattered most to me, which were work and family. To be clear, my roots were still deep as an overachiever who wanted all A’s, all the time, from everyone—roots I share with most of my clients. But I had started down a smarter path to getting clearer and feeling better where it mattered most to me. And I wasn’t going back.

Here’s what I believe today:

  • The “get an A everywhere, with everyone” mindset is a recipe for perpetual feelings of stress and failure, leading to disease and unhappiness.
  • Nobody is getting it all done, doing it all perfectly, or pleasing everyone all the time. At home or at work. Including the motivational speakers and all the “winners” we hear about.
  • We’re not here to do what’s been done before, or even the way it was done before. We are here to do better. And the 21st-century Steady Eddies of stress and “not good enough” must be confronted head on and disarmed (or sent to their rooms or put in “time out,” for those of us who are getting a little tired of the war metaphors).

After this seminal life moment, I started testing out the notion that we all need to “pick our own A’s,” the things in which we truly want to excel.

And no outsourcing the grading. We decide. We define. We grade.

We applaud success and lessons learned. Rinse and repeat.

This concept became one of the more practical and powerful pivots that I shared with my leadership clients and friends.



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