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On the anniversary of my mother's death - lessons she taught me about work
November 24, 2014
Today is the 4th anniversary of my mother's death. The picture here was taken on the day of my graduation from Middlebury College in 1978. I remember feeling very hot on that unseasonably warm day, and glad to have the ceremony over with. I've always loved this picture, though, because you can see in my mother's smile how proud and happy she was.
I've written before about career advice here (see links below), but I haven't shared the advice that my mother gave me. Mum was a homemaker throughout my childhood and high school years. She'd started college before she married, but left without finishing in order to join my Dad at his Army post in Seattle during the Korean War. When this picture was taken, however, she had finished her degree during my college years and had a BA in Education from Boston University. She worked for a few years in the local public school as a special education teacher.
Although she wasn't a working woman for most of her life, her approach to life taught me a lot about how to be successful in work (and life). Although she mightn't have thought I was always paying attention, I was.
Here are a few of the work and life lessons my mother taught me:
You can learn to do anything you want to do. My mother believed she could do anything she applied herself to. She built furniture, sewed wedding gowns (and repaired them for last minute panicked brides), made seat belts for our cars long before the government mandated them, trained dogs, cooked haute cuisine, wired lamps, made costumes for local theater companies, volunteered, went back to college in her 40's and pursued all of her interests with passionate focus. I never saw my mother hesitate to try something new. I've often thought about that when faced with new opportunities that seem daunting.
Fight your fears - and your own battles. Mum stood up for herself and for us kids. She showed us the power of appearing brave, even when you didn't feel that way. She once saved our home in Newfoundland during a raging forest fire. The firefighters had told her the house needed to be abandoned to the fire, and they moved on to more salvageable properties. My mother stood on the roof and doused the house and yard with water from our well until the fire had passed. I learned that "fake it till you make it" can be a pretty good strategy.
Look out for other people, particularly the underdogs. She was all about treating people with kindness and respect - and that's what people remember her for.
Believe in the possibility that things will get better. Although she had tough times as a child and as an adult, I never saw her give up. She was always convinced that there was a path to a better outcome. She believed that optimism is a mighty shield when things get tough. She was right.
Morals aren't situational. Though not conventionally religious, she was always clear on the dividing line between right and wrong. She taught us to do the right thing, even when it was hard.