Years ago, in a job interview, I was asked to name a personal hero. Without hesitation, I said, “My parents. If someday I can be half the people they are, I’ll be satisfied with myself.” Mom and Dad have lived quiet, relatively ordinary lives, but they are extraordinary people.
In honor of Mother’s Day, I’d like to share with you some of the most important things I’ve learned from one of the greatest people I know.
Be genuinely interested in people.
I’m sure that at some point in her life my mother has met someone who didn’t like her. That’s just the way life works. However, I’ve never seen it in person. She’s one of those people that others gravitate to, want to talk to, respect, and remember. I’ve seen her, more than once, meet people I’ve known for years and have them more engaged and comfortable in a hour than I’ve ever seen them before. My friends have always loved her. My coworkers adore her. When she sits down next to a stranger, she ends up making a new friend.
When I was growing up, social skills didn’t come easy to me, and I spent a lot of time trying to figure out her secret. When I finally asked, she simply shrugged and said, “I don’t have a secret. I just like people.”
Why have my friends always liked her? Because she kept their favorite soft drink flavors in the fridge, asked about school, remembered their interests, and cheered for their accomplishments. My coworkers? Well, for starters, she enjoys visiting my job and is thrilled to meet them for the first time and catch up with them the next time she sees them. She remembers what I’ve told her about them, and what they’ve talked about before. When she meets someone new, she wants to know about them, and is honestly interested in who they are and what they have to say.
Mom taught me to slow down, pay attention to people, and listen. Maybe she doesn’t see it as a “secret”, but I see it as life-changing.
Give help when you’re able.
So I’ve been going through a sort of “memory montage” for the past couple of minutes, and it includes:
- Mom, volunteering at school events for our entire educational career (and even some after we graduated).
- Mom, making cakes and casseroles for people going through difficult times.
- Mom, driving people to doctor’s appointments and running errands for everyone.
- Mom, sitting up with us when we pulled all-nighters in college.
- Mom, just a few weeks ago, strolling into my work event with a box of supplies I had totally forgotten to buy.
I really feel the need to emphasize that last one: when I, a professional adult, realized I had missed an important step for a very important event, I called my mother, who dropped everything to run to the store and then deliver the things I needed. How awesome is that?
Whether it’s family, friends, or even strangers, if Mom has the ability to make someone’s life easier, she does. Period. She makes the world a better place because of this, and doing it makes her happier. It’s a win-win attitude that I strive to emulate.
Ask for help when you need it.
I will never forget the first time my mother asked me for help with something big. She had been asked to present an award to a coworker in front of a large group of people, and she confessed that she was borderline terrified at the thought of writing a speech and then talking in front of a crowd. I was in high school, acting in school plays and competing on my school’s debate team, so in retrospect it makes perfect since that she would ask me. At the time, however, I was floored that my capable, confident, grown-up mother was coming to me with a problem. What she understood, though, was that there was no shame in admitting that she, like everyone, wasn’t good at everything and couldn’t do everything on her own.
Sometimes, when I’m afraid of losing face or appearing weak in some way, I remember that if Mom could look at her teenage daughter and say, “You’re good at this, and I’m not, so can you help me?”, there’s no reason for me to try and pretend to be the ultimate everything.
Focus on how you feel, not how you look.
Mom and I both were effortlessly thin until our early twenties, when it started becoming difficult to avoid weight gain. It isn’t just about diet and exercise for either of us (although that does come into play sometimes); we both have medical factors that make it hard to regulate our weight. Over the years, we’ve both bounced around the range between size 8 and size 14. I know I would have gotten hung up about it, except that she had been through it and gave me some perspective early on. “Here’s what I’ve always done,” she told me. “If I’m unhealthy, I feel bad physically, or I can’t put on stylish clothes in my size and feel good about the way I look, then I make changes to get back to where I need to be. Otherwise, I don’t worry about it.” She got out the photo album and walked me through her various sizes over the years, and that reminded me that Mom has always been beautiful (and that isn’t just me talking-everyone says so), even at her heaviest.
That’s just one of the many ways that she’s helped me avoid a lot of the insecurity that I see in so many people. Another thing she said that I’ll never forget is, “When you look at someone else, don’t think, ‘I wonder if I look as good as she does’. Think, ‘I hope she feels as good as I do’.” Definitely words to live by.
Share meals with others.
In my parents’ house, everyone was at the dinner table at five-thirty, unless there was a special circumstance that warranted permission to be absent. Guests were always welcome. As an adult, I meet my parents for lunch, dinner, or brunch an average of once a week. The entire family gets together at least once a month. There’s something especially significant about sitting down together over a meal that deepens emotional ties between people. Recently, one of my friends joked that I must be obsessed with food because I’m always either cooking for everyone or herding them into a restaurant. I do like food, but what I really love is the sense of connection that develops when a group of people sit around a table and share the experience. Mom has always understood that, and because she did, we’re all blessed by knowing it, too.
What has your mother (or any influential person) helped you learn about life?