If you think you might not be enough: Make more pie.

On this day after National Pi Day, I reflect on a woman in my life who really loved pie, my grandma Edith. She had a famous saying, “The dessert tube is always open.” What she meant was that no matter what time of day or how full you might be, there’s always space and a place for sweets. She loved pie. She loved Hershey’s chocolate bars with almonds. She especially loved a Frosty from Wendy’s. There weren’t a lot of desserts she didn’t love.

Her love for desserts was well grounded. When my Great-great-great Aunt Edith (known as Aunt Edie all my life and yes, that’s three greats) was about to marry my Great-great-great Uncle Flemming (known as Uncle Flem), his mother let him know that marrying Aunt Edie would be a problem. My Aunt Edie was a teacher and the concern her, soon-to-be, mother-in-law had was that Edie would not provide enough pies for Flem. He loved pies and his mother wanted to be sure he would still have pie to enjoy.

This incredible woman rose to the challenge. She made two pies every morning, one for the noon meal, and one for the evening meal. She never failed to make those pies until Flem died of pneumonia in 1933. My grandmother lived with Aunt Edie and Uncle Flem, who were her guardians, for much of her life, so she knew a thing or two about pies.

I often tell this story as it was lore in our family, not only in explaining my own grandmother’s sweet tooth, but also to share how we can do things that seem impossible when we commit to hard work, discipline, and a path to creating positive change. As I started hearing about the college admissions bribery scandal this week, my mind kept creeping back to this story about twice per day pie.

All of us want exponential lives for our children. Our inherent desire for even more for our offspring drives us. I often battle myself internally about how to create a better path for MacKenzie while ensuring she earns that path. Parenting remains one of the hardest things I do, and I screw it up a lot. After my worst days, I thank goodness for MacKenzie’s future therapist and the advice she will give her about reframing all the damage I do with my missteps.

Despite all I get wrong, what I aim for is ensuring MacKenzie does that hard work. It matters that when things get hard, I don’t step in and take over. For example, in my own life, I had to study. I envied the people in my high school that could go to class, read the assignments, and ace the exams. I could not. I had to practice and study, practice and study. As much as I hated that, when I got to college, that habit of practicing and studying served me well.

Similarly, as I entered my freshman year in high school, my mom told me that I needed to find an activity. She did not care what it was, but I had to explore something. I decided on tennis. I had never played before, and I was lousy. I’m not very coordinated. I missed shots entirely. Serving? Really? Throwing the ball in the air and meeting it with my racket and getting it in a specific box?!? It was embarrassing.

Then it became even more embarrassing. Our coach came to me one afternoon and said, “Tansley, you aren’t very good at tennis, but you sure look good in a skirt, so you are a great part of the team.”

That was the end of me being lousy at tennis. I asked my mom for a coach. I took private lessons every single day, all summer long. I signed up to play in a league. From morning until night, I was on the court. By my sophomore year, I moved into playing doubles, and by my senior year, I played number two singles and was captain of the team. 

Just like Aunt Edie, many times in my life, I have been told that I am not good enough. I have been told that I could never accomplish something. In some cases, the chance that I could was small. It was an enormous challenge to go from whiffing nearly every ball that came my way, to winning at tennis. It took determination, grit, and perseverance.

This happens at work too. One of my goals 15 years ago was to become a good public speaker. My dear friend and mentor Mike Neill gave me a chance to speak at his users' group event. I finished and could not wait to hear his accolades. He looked me in the eyes and said, “You need to speak about what you care about. You’ll be better when you do.” My gut churned. I was not good. I was not even average. I spent the next several years asking for every opportunity to speak that I could, and practicing for hours in order to get better.

Our family members at Canvas often ask about their career paths and how to grow into leadership roles. Part of the answer is, “make more pie.” Do what nobody believes that you can. Do the things others may not want to do. Do what scares you. Commit to the work it takes to become great.

I often tell MacKenzie, “Your mom is bad at a lot of things in life. One thing she is good at is setting a goal, grinding towards that goal, and becoming better with hard work.” It matters to me that she understands that so many things will not come easily. I hope that is the lesson we all learn as we watch this college admissions scandal unfold. Sometimes we can pave the path for our kids. We could do the science project. We could write an essay. We could pay someone else to take their tests. What happens when we can’t?

All of us have an increasing number of moments in life, as we mature, when we are alone. My best friend’s dad used to remind us, “You better really start to like yourself, because that’s the person you will be with for most of your days.” It sounded very lonely when he first said it, but he was not wrong. In those moments, fortitude sustains us until the challenge passes.

I wish for MacKenzie to have friends and support. I will be her biggest cheerleader until my dying day. At Canvas, and across our credit union industry, I’ll be doing that same cheering for those that are working hard to grow themselves and their impact (just like my dear friend Mike did with me). With effort, stumbles, and resilience, we grow the determination to dig our way out of the challenges that leave us gut-wrenched. We build grit. Because Aunt Edie was an exceptional teacher, and a wife who found time to make two homemade pies a day, I will not take those steps for MacKenzie, or for our team. I will sprint down the runway with all those I love until they take off into the sky and soar with bellies full of pie.


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