What a Waste


If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times. It’s the old one-two kiss-of-death combo that used to destroy my self-confidence. A friend or acquaintance, thinking that she is paying me the highest of compliments, will say something like:

It is such a waste that you don’t have your teaching certificate/ haven’t gone to grad school/ haven’t gone to law school/ blah blah blah (pick one or all). What a waste. You could be doing so much more!

And there it is.

The remark starts off sounding like a compliment… but then its implications crash down around me like a rogue wave. I have to face the fact that this person thinks: 1.) I have a big brain (yay, me!), and 2.) it’s gathering dust. Ouch. Funny how something that I assume was intended as a compliment– I refuse to believe otherwise– ends up making me feel completely invalidated. Or at least, it used to.

It’s hard not to dissect a remark like that. You just have to know why someone you love, or anyone for that matter, would feel compelled to tell you, basically, that you aren’t reaching your potential. You worry that they may be right, that you really could be doing more or better things! Am I really selling myself short?, you wonder. What does my life look like to other people that would warrant that remark?!

And then one day it hit me… Although I do care about how my friends perceive me (I’d be lying if I said I didn’t), it doesn’t really matter how my life looks to others, because I would still choose the same life! Yes, the comment on waste still stings a little, but in the grand scheme of things, they are just words. Not only are they just words, but they are words uttered by someone who can’t possibly know what it’s like to be me! They can’t possibly understand all the tiny little details of my life that led me to where I am today.

Sure, there are many things I could have chosen to do differently in my life. The same is true for anyone.

I could have chosen to return to work after my girls were born. Instead, I opted to stay home with my daughters until they started to school. Making this choice never for a moment felt like a waste to me. Staying at home afforded me the opportunity to watch my girls grow. It gave me an endless cache of memories that I can never put a price on. Staying home allowed me to determine early on that my daughters have autism, and has allowed me to learn how to be the kind of parent they need. Being with my daughters was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up, so I chose to put my career on hold. I would do it the same way if I had it to do again. For me, it was the right choice.

I could have chosen to go to graduate school while focusing on my teaching career. Instead, I chose to do neither. I felt the need to gain life experience and work experience, and I am so glad that I did! I never felt like I was wasting my college education by choosing to do work outside of teaching. My college degree and my teaching skills were and continue to be extremely valuable and useful in every role I take on. Not only that, I have loved the work I have done, even if most of it is lacking in glamor or prestige. I am especially grateful for my work experience now that I have kids! The experience I gained working with people, and the lessons that work taught me about behavior, consequences, and human interaction are far more valuable to me as a mom than a Masters degree or Ph.D. For me, skipping grad school when I was younger and opting to try different roles was the right choice.

I could have chosen to use my skills and talents for my family’s financial gain. Instead, I chose to use these skills to benefit my family in other ways. My training as an educator, negotiator, counsellor, manager, chemist and salesperson were the best training I could ever hope for as a mom, and I felt extremely prepared for motherhood because of it. Now that my girls are in school, I choose to work as a substitute teacher and volunteer, so that I can be involved in the my kids’ educations directly and daily at school. I choose now to use my research and communication skills to be an advocate and public relations agent for my daughters. I choose to use my time and effort to go to bat for my girls at school, and elsewhere, to assure their equal and fair treatment as kids on the spectrum. In addition, I choose to write my blog in hopes of raising community awareness and understanding about autism– for my daughters and others like them. Although my paycheck doesn’t reflect it, my skill set is being used to its fullest extent, and I couldn’t be happier with my choices.

It really all comes down to the choices we make. Although my life may look different than I envisioned it in my youth, and my successes seem small compared to the expectations others have of me, I don’t feel I’ve wasted a thing. My life choices– to focus on my children, to stay at home with my kids for seven years, to not go to grad school or law school, to be the devoted wife, to be happy as a substitute teacher instead of being a “real teacher”, to be an advocate for my girls– were not made with resignation! My choices were calculated, tolled and tormented over, and made knowing that no one else could do these things for my family better than I could. I made these choices with difficulty, but also with pride. So did many other mothers I know. We all choose what is right for our families. My choices have made all the difference to my family, and to me, that is all the success I need.

Everyone’s life is a series of choices. We all start our journey in different places, with different opportunities and obstacles along the way. Each choice we make on our journey leads us to new opportunities and more choices. Because we are all different, no two people will ever take the same journey, and that is okay. Where we go wrong is when we judge one another’s choices, rather than respecting them. We all need to realize that living a life full of documented achievement is not the only way to live a life of importance. An important life is one spent doing the things that make you feel successful and that positively impacts the people you encounter, no matter how small the impact may seem. Your life, your time, your energy, your mind– they are all to be used as you choose, and you have to trust yourself to make the right decisions for yourself. Since we only completely know our own life journey, the only success any of us can judge is our own.

After that, the best we can do is respect and support the decisions those around us make for themselves, and assume that they too, would never choose to live wastefully.


The Scary Mommy Community is built on support. If your comment doesn't add to the conversation in a positive or constructive way, please rethink submitting it. Basically? Don't be a dick, please.

  1. 1

    Mom Off Meth says

    My dad recently said to me “you are too pretty of a girl to be overweight.”
    Um…thanks and ouch?
    It has taken me awhile (41) to find what makes me happy. And to believe in it, no matter what anyones feelings are about it. I enjoy writing and studying. So that’s where I’ll stay.

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  2. 3

    Tinne from Tantrums and Tomatoes says

    Oh yeah, I hear you on this one… I’ve got not one but two masters degree’s (History and Tourism Management) and the equivalent of a bachelors degree for secretarial studies. And yet I work as – hold on to your chair – a management assistent.
    When people hear what I studied and what I do for work their main reaction is : ‘Oh, that is nice… but aren’t you a bit overqualified for that’.

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  3. 4

    Shanan says

    This post just proves how very smart you really are. You have figured out what some people cannot. It doesn’t matter how many initials you have after your name or how many years you toiled away in school, what really counts is that you are happy doing what you’re doing.

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  4. 5

    Arnebya says

    It’s a wonderful feeling to realize you like who you are, huh, and that you are happy with and proud of your life. People say stupid things, oftentimes unintentionally. I love how people assume things about another person’s life, though, like how my oldest daughter’s mom confided to me that she idolized my life (insert this lady must be high face here). She went on and on about my nice clean house and my balancing work and home and never seem upset and never speak sharply to my kids. I just smiled and told her things are not always what they seem (while inside I’m screaming bitch, please; I’m tipsy RIGHT NOW at 2 in the afternoon. THAT is why I’m mellow). She can’t imagine the realness that is my life, so I just left it alone.

    I’m glad you know your worth is not related to working or degrees or what anyone else thinks about your life and you aren’t wasting a damn thing.

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  5. 6

    Kristin says

    Imagine what people did with their big brains before degrees and licenses and other sanctioned papers of smartitude. :)

    I do sometimes grumble to myself, “For this I earned a Master’s degree…” as I wipe up spilled milk or pick up Legos for the umpteenth time. But despite those moments of frustration, I know in my head and heart that I am using my experiences every day.

    And I’d never dream of saying that to someone else, unless I was sincerely wondering how she (or, perhaps, he) felt about it. I do appreciate the times that people have sincerely asked me how I felt about not actively using my degrees.

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    • 7

      Christina Allred says

      I agree, Kristen– I also appreciate it when I am asked how I feel about not using my degrees. It is only the negative assumptions made about my life and my choices that drive me bonkers. :)

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  6. 8

    Erica says

    I used to get comments like that from people close to me, too. However, like you, I have (nearly) eight-year-old twins on the autism spectrum, and once people spend some time with us, they really get it in a whole new way. I think for so many of us in this community, whatever we were going to do or not do prior to having children with special needs just had to go by the wayside (at least for a while), so we could focus on being full-time advocates for them. Definitely not a waste of time!

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    • 9

      Christina Allred says

      You are so right, Erica. All my priorities, plans, and my perspective were completely altered by the arrival of my children and their challenges. That is in no way a complaint– it’s just the way that it is. I love being there for them, I am so grateful that my life experiences helped to prepare me for the challenges my girls have presented. Never a dull moment and never a regret. :)

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  7. 10

    Aimee says

    I have had this same experience! I have a bachelor’s degree from a “Big School”…. and did not go to grad/law school. I went right into the work force, and then cut back to part time when our son was born. He’s 11, I’ve continued working part-time…. I feel like it creates balance in my life. I don’t have the fortitude to work 50 hours a week (and then bring more work home), AND do all the cleaning/cooking/shopping/errands etc. Our extended family simply aren’t available to pitch in for us (pick up from aftercare, bring to music lessons/sports, take care of kid when he is sick, etc… things that I hear many grandparents do in other families), so I need the flexibility to juggle all that.

    I do beat myself up from time to time when someone says, “You’re so smart, you should be doing more.” But what if I’m already doing as much as I can?

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  8. 11

    Diane says

    Woooooo-hoooooo Christina!!! Congratulations! SO well-deserved!!!

    Do I leave a comment here or at your place?!? Ummm…so confusing?!? I’ll leave one at both. :D

    Great post as always! You are absolutely right…being a mom can be the toughest and most underpaid job yet one of the most rewarding.

    I’m off to celebrate your blogger successes! Di

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  9. 12

    Grown and Flown says

    It’s not over. You are so young and so much of your life is still ahead. So you may have not done some of these things…yet. Some of them you may never want to do, but others are not off the list, just further down it. My kids are in high school and college and watching women around me have whole second lives…truly amazing and inspiring to watch.

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