Five Unforgettable Lessons My Mother Taught Me About Success
The simple lessons we learn as children are the foundation for a lifetime of success…
A few months ago, opportunity seemed to be shouting from the rooftops. Over a period of two weeks I was bouncing around the country, in a different city, a different keynote each day.
But in the middle of all that, I took a break from the madness to bring mom flowers for Mother’s Day. It’s an infinitely small gesture for someone who has been such an immeasurable force in my life; a never ending source of strength, optimism, and hope.
The simple lessons she taught me as I was growing up gave me the confidence to believe I could do things that I was amazingly unqualified for; and her unwavering love picked me back up when my ambitions exceeded my abilities by an embarrassing margin.
I could write volumes about what she taught me, but here are the five lessons that I remember most:
1. Believe in Yourself
A Mother’s unconditional love teaches us to believe in ourselves–especially when very few others will. I was a very unconventional child; I insisted on testing the perimeters of unconditional love, but I never found them.
Lesson: As an entrepreneur you will encounter an endless stream of naysayers, doubters, and even haters. It’s hard for people to see beyond the present. Accept that and deal with it. Your belief in yourself will not always be warranted based on what is conventional, which is great because conventional never changed the world.
2. Don’t Complicate Things
Just before my first child was born I asked mom to share with me some parenting tips from her experience raising my brother and me; we were not easy kids. “I’d count the number of kids in their beds at the end of the day,” she told me. “If the total was ‘two’ I figured I’d done my job well for that day.”
Lesson: When you lead an organization every problem will end up magnified and over complicated by the time it gets to you. That’s why it got to you; no one else wanted it! Your job is to see through the haze of complexity. Never discount the power of simple clarity and the confidence it can inspire.
“I’d count the number of kids in their beds at the end of the day.” she told me. “If the total was ‘two’ I figured I’d done my job well for that day.”
3. Own Your Actions
Growing up I can’t recall mom telling me what to do as often as she would put the responsibility of choice back on me. And, wow, did I make some really bad choices. But her making me taking ownership of my choices taught me not to blame others for my mistakes or lack of good judgment. The good thing about owning a mistake is that you actually end up learning from it; the ones we don’t own up to, not as much.
Lesson: If you find yourself pointing fingers you may want to first look at who’s attached to the finger. The best way to earn the trust of others is to own the outcome of your actions; that may well be the most critical skill to have as a leader.
4. Be Resourceful
Mom grew up on a small island with few luxuries. She spent her teenage years living under an occupation by the Nazis during World War II, and then a civil war. She emigrated to America with less in her suitcase than I take with me in an overnight carry-on. To say she learned to be resourceful would be like saying the Pope found religion. Long after my parents were able to afford all the nice things that she could only dream of as a child she still hand-made every one of her dresses. In fact, at one point, she started making clothes for me. And, yes, I dutifully wore them with pride; white, black, and powder blue polyester leisure suits that would have made the Brothers Gibb green with envy.
Lesson: Never use the lack of resources as an excuse. If the objective is worthwhile you’ll find a way to make it happen with whatever resources you have available. No matter the capital available you will always place a premium on creativity.
5. Never Lose Hope
When I visit mom this weekend the grounds of the old town cemetery where she’s laid to rest will be alive with color after a long monochromatic winter; very different from the last time I was there when the snow was still packed two feet deep.
We lost mom over three years ago after her 10-year struggle with Lewy body dementia; a horrid disease that robs its victims of their cognitive and physical abilities one neuron at a time, leaving them prisoners inside of their own body and mind.
Those were a hard ten years. But of all the things she taught me the greatest was what I learned during her illness, to hope. Mom never ever stopped hoping. When she was no longer able to talk she’d laugh. When she lost the ability to laugh she’d smile. And she never lost that smile.
I brought flowers for her the last time I came to visit on a snowy Valentine’s day, but as I neared her grave I remember noticing a single pale long-stemmed rose planted upright at the edge of the road some thirty feet in front of her headstone. Mom loved roses. It stood there, a lone sentinel of hope in the deep hard snow. I couldn’t bear to disturb the expanse of pure white between it and her and so I just sat there for a bit. I thought to myself that we should all be lucky enough to be remembered so lovingly some day–how the simplest gestures can sometimes be so meaningful, and how the lessons our mothers teach us, in the scattered moments of our youth, last a lifetime.
There are days when opportunity, hope, and love are shouted from the rooftops; on other days they whisper, ever so quietly amidst the noise and madness of our busy lives–success means listening carefully to hear them speak.
This article was originally published on Inc.
Image credit: Femside.com
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Tom Koulopoulos is the author of 10 books and founder of the Delphi Group, a 25-year-old Boston-based think tank and a past Inc. 500 company that focuses on innovation and the future of business. He tweets from @tkspeaks.
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