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Career Lessons From My Mom

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In honor of Mother’s Day, I wanted to share just a taste of the wisdom my mom has imparted on me over the years.  Of course, I could fill an entire book (or series of books) on life lessons from mom, but in an effort to stay on topic, I’ve gathered a few of my favorite tidbits for you here and related them to the subject of career development. Enjoy!

Look for what’s right first.

My mother is the Queen of Optimism. She taught me that focusing on the negative doesn’t solve anything. When facing any situation in life, she is always quick to see what’s working, not what’s broken.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Her rose-colored glasses don’t blind her to reality. She knows there’s plenty of negative crap out there. But you choose the level of energy you give it. She believes it’s far more productive to put your energy into what’s right rather than what’s wrong, and when you do, the good stuff grows bigger and brighter.

Her theory is this: If you want to be happy, it doesn’t just happen. It takes work. You have to look for ways to be happy. You have to find opportunities to see the good in life.

I think anyone who is unhappy at work should heed this advice. That doesn’t mean you should stay somewhere that isn’t working for you or pretend that everything’s great when it’s not, but find something that IS working, even if it’s miniscule. Focus on the good that has come from this experience. Aim your energy toward something positive, no matter how small. You’ll feel better and the situation won’t seem so dark and overwhelming.

Take pride in a job well done.

If you want a job done right, give it to my mom. Whether crafting a lamb out of a stick of butter (yes, she really did that) for Easter brunch or proofreading my latest project, she never misses a detail. Meticulous is an understatement. And this goes for everything she invests her time and energy in—from crafting a beautiful piece of stained glass artwork to knitting a cozy sweater for her favorite grandpuppy (my dog, Ms. Mollie).

What’s even more amazing is that she (gasp!) even seems to enjoy herself!

So, why is she such a hard worker? It’s not for the recognition, I’ll tell you. None of us properly appreciated the time and effort that went into that butter lamb, I’m sure. And it’s not for the money either. She edits my work for free!! And she’s never once charged Mollie for a handmade outfit.

What motivates her to put such care and attention into every project? As far as I can tell, it’s for the pure enjoyment she gets out of doing a good job. That’s what’s called “internal motivation” and it’s the most sustainable energy source there is. When you’re compelled to work hard simply because you get satisfaction from doing so, you have unlimited drive that relies solely on YOU and no one else.

If you ever feel a lack of motivation in the workplace (ahem, everyone knows what I mean!), try to tap into your own internal motivation. Don’t look to others to amp you up. Take pride in the work you do. Focus on doing well simply because it feels good.

Make others feel special.

Southern charm is my mother’s specialty. Watch her work a room at a party and you’ll learn a lot about building rapport. My mom can make the most awkward person in the world feel comfortable, the ugliest person feel pretty, the most boring person feel witty. Charm is really about making the people around you feel good. When you delight in elevating others, people are drawn to you. And, in turn, you are lifted to new heights as well. Everyone wins.

It’s not about being fake or boosting people up at your own expense. It’s about easing the interaction. Putting others in a position to be their best. Helping those around you to feel comfortable in your presence. Making them feel special.

I know that personal relationships are very different from professional ones, but think about how this kind of charm could help you create stronger bonds with people at work. What if you spent a little time making your co-workers feel special? Whether or not you want to admit it, professional opportunities come to people who are likable. A little southern charm might be just what your career needs.

Don’t mistake kindness for weakness.

I don’t want to shine you on. My mother is definitely a kind, gentle and charming southern soul. But don’t let that exterior fool you. Underneath, she’s tough as nails. She’s been through a lot in her life, though she’s not one to whine about it. She knows how to fight and she’s not afraid to hit hard when it’s needed (metaphorically speaking of course; I don’t think she’s ever thrown a punch in her life).

My point is this: She’s no wilting lily. My mom is the person you want on your side when things get tough. She’ll hold you as you cry, but at the end of the day, she won’t let you back down.

My mother taught me that kindness is not synonymous with weakness. You don’t have to be a jerk to get your point across. You don’t have to wear your strength or your courage like some kind of monster mask. You can be both nice and tough, kind and strong. These are not mutually exclusive traits. In the workplace, it helps to embrace both.

Women really CAN do everything.

I have a retro 1950’s style wall hanging in my house that shows a young girl in a sailor’s hat. It says, “Gee, I wish I were a man. I’d join the navy!” It makes me laugh because, in my mind, I can’t imagine that world. It’s crazy to me that women were ever restricted from doing the same things as men.

When my mother was growing up, she had three options for her career: She could be a nurse, a teacher, or a secretary. Alternatively, she could be a mom. There’s nothing wrong with any of these options. But, for a long time, those were her only choices.

I’m sure there are many women reading this who felt the same way as children—limited and restricted. The beautiful thing about my mother and all of you is that you didn’t listen. You rejected the idea that you couldn’t do anything you set your mind to. And as a result, women in my generation can not only join the navy, we can serve as officers if we so desire. We can be astronauts, physicists, or brain surgeons. And yes, we can still be nurses, teachers and secretaries too. Our choices are limitless.

Sure, I know there are still a few glass ceilings yet to break (a female president in 2016 may shatter one…). And income inequality is still a problem we’re trying to solve. But let’s take mom’s advice and look for what’s right first. What’s right is that my mother and so many other women of her generation proved that women could do anything and everything just as well as men.

I’ve never felt limited in my career choices. My mother never discouraged me from any dream. At the same time, she never let me believe it would be handed over on a silver platter.

“You can do anything you put your mind and heart into.”

In terms of career advice, there are no sweeter words. Feeling empowered to create your own destiny is the greatest gift.

Thank you, Mom. Happy Mother’s Day!

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2 Responses to “Career Lessons From My Mom”

  1. […] firmly believe that you find what you look for (a lesson I got from my infinitely optimistic mother). If you’re focused on everything bad about work, that’s all you’ll see. Likewise, if […]

  2. Pallavi says:

    Loved every bit of your article. Was feeling so low with my office work .
    Happened to find your article and am feeling motivated to get back to my work :)

    Thanks a lot for the wonderful write up !!!

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