Figure it out.

As a little kid, I was freakishly cute (enormous chubby cheeks, curly hair, a beaming smile) and as a result, people loved to dote on me and spoil me.

At a certain point, though, my mom decided that it was time for me to stop heavily relying on other people to clean up my messes or hand over whatever I desired.

Her new parenting mantra became: “Figure it out!”

Me, age 10: “Mommy, I spilled my yogurt. I need help, it’s all over the carpet…”

Mom: “Figure it out!”

Me, age 15: “Mom, Katie’s mom can’t drive carpool tomorrow. I don’t know how to get to my dance class after school.”

Mom: “You know where the phone list is. Call up someone else in the carpool. Figure it out!”

Me, age 17: “Mom, the computer crashed again. When is dad going to be home?”

Mom: “Don’t know. Figure it out yourself!”

“Figure it out!” became my mom’s signature catchphrase — like Emeril’s “Bam!” or Oprah’s “What I know for sure.”

It annoyed me at the time, but looking back, I’m so grateful that she drilled those three words into me, over and over and over.

Thanks to mom’s “Figure It Out Boot Camp,” I learned the value of resourcefulness and self-direction. I also learned that when I figure things out on my own, there’s a feeling of pride, empowerment and self-confidence that comes along with it. Nobody can give that feeling to me. It’s a feeling that must be earned — and every time I figure something out on my own, I get to earn a little more.

As a young adult, I “figured out” how to code a basic website, how to edit videos and podcasts, how to do rudimentary graphic design. I “figured out” how to travel solo across the country on a limited budget. I “figured out” how to open a freelance writing business, get clients, release books and courses, and design my own dream-career.

I Googled. I watched tutorials. I experimented. I studied my personal heroes. I took notes. I asked for help — or hired people to help me — when it was vitally necessary. But largely, I trusted that I could successfully answer my own questions. I know I wouldn’t be wired this way without my mom’s early influence on my life. I owe her an infinite debt of gratitude.

My mom’s upbringing was very different than mine. Unlike me, she lost her father to a heart attack when she was just a teenager. At 15, she was responsible for holding her grieving family together, comforting her mother (who went into a deep state of denial and depression and could barely function), and in the midst of all this, mom’s youngest brother was diagnosed with a severe neurological disorder and required constant care.

Mom had to “figure out” a lot of things very quickly — too quickly — and she didn’t have the luxury of handing her problems and sorrows over to her parents or anybody else. “Figure it out” became her personal philosophy and her mode of survival. To this day she still is, and always will be, a “Figure It Out Woman” to the core.

The other day, I had a moment of laziness where I wanted to email a friend to ask her to email me a link that she’d already emailed me because I’d misplaced it and couldn’t find it. But I stopped myself. I thought about my mom — all that she had to endure, her strength, her unstoppable spirit of figure-it-out-ness. And I realized, “Uh, never mind. I don’t need to pester my friend with this. I can Google it.”

No one is alone in this world — and seeking support can be a beautiful thing. I know this. But it’s equally beautiful to remember that I am inherently creative and resourceful, that Google is FREE and infinitely available, that millions of tutorials exist online for my enjoyment, that there’s a “Search” field in my inbox for a reason, and that nine times out of ten, I know how to solve my own problems.

Yesterday, mom emailed me to ask if I could research some hotel options for an upcoming trip because she wasn’t sure how to use a particular travel website. I laughed to myself (oh, the irony!) and I almost emailed her back to say, “Uh, mom, figure it out!” but I didn’t. Instead of being sassy, I did the research for her without complaint, like a nice daughter. She gets a free pass on that one.

I figure it’s the least I can do for the woman who brought me into this world — the woman who taught me how to handle the world’s many dropped yogurts, computer crashes, uncertain moments, and rough edges with confidence.


This essay was written in honor of my mom and dad’s 32nd anniversary on March 12th, 2016. I love you.