In the summer of 2016, I had a life-changing conversation with a stranger at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
The DMV isn’t exactly known as a place to build lasting friendships. It’s a place you go out of necessity and a place you complain about before, during, and after your visit. But that day, I left the DMV with a renewed license and a renewed outlook on my life.
At the time, I was days away from turning 31 years old, weeks removed from having my second baby in two years, and probably looked like I could have used a shower. Or seven showers.
Kenzie, my new DMV friend, was taller than me by about three inches, which was impressive in itself considering my WNBA-level stature. She was also rocking some very cool tattoos and the confidence of a person who knew who she was and who she wanted to become. Most importantly, Kenzie was very friendly, my baby daughter was sleeping, and there was nowhere to go, so we settled into a comfortable conversation while waiting for our numbers to be called.
As we waited, Kenzie and I covered the weather, Boston traffic, and our feelings about waiting in long lines. Then somehow, the conversation took a sharp left, and we found ourselves in an in-depth discussion about heartbreaks, family dynamics, and broken dreams. Things got real, and if memory serves, I unsuccessfully tried to dry my tears with a baby wipe. We ventured back into lighter conversational territory after a bit, which made sense since we had met 30 minutes ago at the DMV. Or at least Kenzie considered what was next to be lighter conversational territory. I was about to have my world rocked.
I asked Kenzie what she did for a living, and she returned the question. We spoke about our jobs – her work driving delivery trucks for a large furniture distributor and my work at Harvard Business School in career services. Then Kenzie told me about her motorcycle, the old cars she was fixing up, and one very amusing story about underestimating the difficulty involved in hiking a mountain with a backpack full of beer.
I knew what was coming next. Kenzie was going to ask me about my hobbies.
She did, to which I replied, “Keeping my two small children alive.”
Kenzie and I laughed at my standard-issue mom joke, but since we had forged a deep bond, and according to the sign at the DMV, we still had 4,586 numbers to go before we were called, she pushed me on the point.
“But what else? Like before you had kids. What makes you who you are?”
I panicked, then quickly turned into a walking cliché and said, “I like watching sports and spending time with my family and friends.” In my dramatic retelling of this story, Kenzie always yawns. But in reality, she didn’t; she was lovely.
The conversation stuck with me for several reasons. Kenzie was at the DMV changing the sex on her license so her ID would represent the strong, proud woman she was today. I’ll never forget her story and all she had to fight through to be herself. She was also one of the most interesting people I had ever met, filled to the brim with passions, hopes, and dreams. I walked away, feeling like I owed her more. Like I owed myself, my kids, and the world more.
Here I sat, a suburban mom and wife with a couple of university degrees, a couple of kids, a growing career, and a long list of privileges I had been born into yet my list of interesting personal factoids stopped at watching Monday Night Football? Of course, keeping my kids alive (and clothed, clean, educated, etc.) was critical and meaningful work and a role I had pined over for years. I also enjoyed the work I was doing in the higher education industry and had put a ton of effort into building my career. Yet Kenzie stirred up this feeling that I hadn’t explored something else inside me or let myself even consider exploring. Meanwhile, Kenzie had faced discrimination, loss, and financial hardship, and she was out there taking the bull by the horns, not holding anything back. Where was my bull? Sure, I was working hard going about the everyday tasks of my life, but I wasn’t grabbing anyone’s horns.
Six months later, after finally showering and getting some much-needed sleep, I replayed the conversation back in my mind. It was then I realized I wanted to tell Kenzie what I really liked doing was writing funny status updates on Facebook. Quipping and storytelling were a part of my DNA, but I had never considered expanding on that beyond a few hastily scrolled comments about the funny things my kids did that day or my thoughts and feelings about mashed potatoes. Perhaps writing could be my own thing in this crazy world of new motherhood and help me figure out what makes me who I am or who I was becoming. Maybe it could be my small way of helping someone else by making them feel less alone or simply making them laugh.
That’s how my conversation with Kenzie at the DMV inspired the very first post on my blog, With Love, Becca, a funny and heartfelt love letter to moms managing motherhood, managing careers, and managing to laugh through it all. A blog that five years later has completely transformed my life. With Love, Becca is a thriving working mom blog that turned into a business. It has birthed two books, Belinda Baloney Changes Her Mind and When Mommy Grows Up: A Guide to Parenting Yourself to a More Fulfilling Career. It even allowed me to leave my full-time job and work for myself as a career coach and writer helping other moms find what makes them who they are, all while being the parent I want to be.
I will never forget that conversation with Kenzie and I hope to find her again someday. To tell her how much that conversation meant to me then and still means to me now. To talk to her about the moms I work with in career coaching and the amazing things they have gone on to do. To show her that my hair doesn’t always resemble an unkempt bird’s nest like it did that day in July 2016. And most importantly, to tell her how her bravery and passion inspired me to find my own.