Working Wisdom from My Mothers

This Mother’s day, I honor my mom and stepmom by sharing the career strategies they’ve taught me:

  1. It’s never too late to try something new. My mom went back to grad school in herMary thirties, reinvented her career at 50 when she started her own business, and then again at 58 when she became a full-time college professor. 

  2. Identify a need, and plant the seed for the work—it just might grow into a career for you. After volunteering with an organization providing support services to migrant workers and meeting small family farmers, my stepmother left behind a career in hospital administration and started Seeds of Hope,Watermelon a program which enables local farmers to sell produce in the community—bringing consumers fresh produce and increasing revenue for the farmers. Along the way, she's received several grants to make it happen.

The lessons learned from my two moms has helped fuel my own career—from navigating workplace dynamics to finding the courage to strike out on my own and start a business. Fortunately, the lessons they have shared with me haven’t just been limited to what they’ve done, but also how they’ve done it. Beyond providing examples of “what can be,” my mothers have raised me with three fundamental principles that have served me well long beyond kindergarten:

  1. Don’t ask anybody to do something you aren’t willing to do yourself. As my mom says, “There will be xeroxing in any job you take,” delegate only when appropriate and share in the work when it saves time and money. (Some of my favorite times with co-workers have been at “stuffing parties” for mass mailings.)
  2. When plans change, seek to understand why—and be ready to adapt. Just as farmers work at the mercy of the weather, able hands, and functioning machinery, employer needs and priorities can change on a dime. It’s easy to get frustrated on the job if you’ve prepared to do one thing, and are asked to do another. Through witnessing my stepmother’s interactions with farmers, I’ve seen one of Stephen Covey’s essential principles for highly effective people in practice: “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
  3. Work is important, but having time for family and friends is essential. Set limits and create a life that enables you to “be there” for others. My mother worked full time from the time I was in elementary school.  We ate dinner later than my friends did, but we always cooked at home and ate together—and sometimes we both did “homework” at the dining room table after dinner!

These are lessons that my mothers have taught me, what are strategies you’ve learned from yours?

Cross-posted on Career Hub.

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