Well, this is going to be an awfully bittersweet blog to write and this one in particular is going to come from a very special place in my heart.
On Nov. 2, 2017, I lost my mom unexpectedly due to a heart attack. And although that was, and still is, the hardest thing I have ever been through, I am excited to share the lessons and legacy she taught me. Especially because she is the center of why I got into business and coaching, and because the business world brought us even closer.
Although I could go on for hours about all the things about life, family, friends, and business that she taught me, I’ve narrowed it down to 5 just for you.
1. Leave Everything Better than You Found It
This all started in Girl Scouts, so pretty much when I was a toddler because I was too attached to my sister’s troop that I was considered a “tag-a-long”. Even from an early age, my mom would always preach that we need to leave the room we were in better than we found it. This meant picking up trash, pushing in chairs, and making sure we didn’t leave anything behind.
As I was in my senior year of college interviewing at a few places, I was always asked the same question by the interviewer: “What makes you different from your peers?” And I would sit and think… and overthink… and think some more. I finally brought it up to my mom and said “Mom, I went through the same classes as everyone else, had a job like everyone else, and participated in student groups like everyone else.” Everything I said was in comparison to “everyone else”. But when she pointed this out, she reminded me there is no competition because everyone’s experience of life is completely unique.
Instead of focusing on what I did, she helped me focus on who I was. And this led us back to the idea of “leaving things better than you found it”. And now this applied to my student organizations, my job, the department I graduated from, and every relationship in between. She really reset my mind to focus on being someone who would come into a company and help improve it.
No matter what it is, never miss the opportunity to help someone or something. Life is hard enough as is, but we can come together to help each other improve the overall quality. And when doing so, don’t waste your time comparing who you are, what you have done, or where you’re going to anyone else.
2. Be a Mom to Everyone
My mom never let us miss an opportunity, whether it was at school, theater, dance, music, volleyball, gymnastics, soccer, or Girl Scouts, she encouraged us to try anything and she would go above and beyond to make it happen. What this meant for her was coordinating with a lot of other parents to make a carpool happen. And this is where the memory of this lesson began. As we would drop off friends from dance carpool, she would also ask them to flick the porch lights on and off when they got inside so we knew they were safe before pulling away.
As I became more observant, I became more aware of how she was a mom to everyone around her. She was the mom that would volunteer at after school activities, stay to help clean up, and before leaving, make sure that not only everyone had a ride home, but that they were with their pick-up person before she left. I continued to see little “mom” moments – whether it was waiting until someone started their car before pulling away because she wanted to make sure their car started and they were on the road, making sure everyone had a meal to eat in between performances, or simply just making sure each person knew how loved they were by giving them an extra “mom” hug and telling them “I’m proud of you”, she always would take that extra minute to care for everyone.
Take care of your people. Learn the different ways to say “I care about you” and “You’re doing a great job”. What someone may see or feel as affection may not be the next person’s language. Be sure to focus on your team and your loved ones in a way that they will hear you.
3. You Either Win or You Learn
This lesson was a unique one because of the lasting impact it had. My mom was really big on not giving up or quitting until you had given everything your all, and as an ignorant and goofy kid, I rarely gave everything my all because I didn’t realize how much I truly had to give. But as I grew up, I saw this lesson come into play more and more. The more I try, the more I succeed. But when I don’t succeed, I still learn a way not to accomplish the task at hand. It’s the principle of Thomas Edison finding 999 ways to not make a lightbulb before he found the one way.
And something that really made this lesson hit home was that after she passed away, as we went through her library of business books, I came across The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. As I thumbed through the pages, the book creased open to reveal a faded yellow sticky note. On this note, in her handwriting, she had written the quote “You haven’t failed until you stop trying.” You better believe I framed that note and still think of it day to day.
I think this one goes without saying, but you have to put yourself out there and continue to get up and try every time. Celebrate the fact that if you don’t win, at least you learned something new, and then look for ways to apply that new information.
4. Everyone Has a Chocolate Cake Day
When I was in high school and heard of a friend having a bad day, I would head out early for school the next day and would stop at the local grocery store to pick up a piece of chocolate cake from the bakery. It was always $1.99, so I would bring two dollars cash and leave the penny I received back heads up on the floor as I walked out. The whole thing behind this was that now two people could have a good day – the friend who was receiving the care and the one who would “find a penny, pick it up, and all the day would have good luck”.
It was a silly little thing, but my mom and I would talk about it often. And she knew every bad day that I had in high school. But she wouldn’t get me a chocolate cake. She would make my favorite dinner that following weekend, “steak and a baked” potato, and we would sit out on the back porch and eat dinner together on a Friday night. It was the special way she would cure my tough week.
It didn’t take long for her to point out that “everyone has a chocolate cake day” and needs an extra dose of love in a way that clicks for them; whether it was the gift of chocolate cake, the act of service when making a steak dinner, a long walk with quality time, physical touch through a long hug, or the words of affirmation they needed to hear. So, although chocolate cake was the way we described it, it made it simpler to love someone through the bad days in a way that clicked with them. Check out The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman to dig more into this.
Learn the love languages of the people around you – your friends, your family, your team and teach your loved ones your own language. Remember that “everyone has a chocolate cake day” so help them through the tough time and be sure to care for yourself when you need to. Maybe even coordinate with a special loved one who is dedicated to helping you get through your chocolate cake days too!
5. Your Family Shouldn’t Get Used to Living Without You
This is the hardest lesson for me to write about because it’s the exact reason I became a coach: to help business leaders navigate operating a business, being a human, being present for friends and family, and accomplishing the goals they have for their life.
My mom was the reason I got so interested in business. She had worked for plenty of disastrous people who were outright toxic for her life. It would get so bad that when I asked “How’s work going?” she wouldn’t want to talk about it with me. That’s what started the conversation of being my own boss and leaning into the entrepreneurial talents she saw in me. We would talk for hours on our back porch over coffee in the morning or a glass of wine at night about all things business. And although these are some of my favorite memories, we didn’t have them often. She was darn near a superhero in my eyes – she worked two jobs, volunteered for at least two organizations at all times, would take care of my two sisters and I, and would still make time to spend time with her friends. She was always everywhere and on the go. And she never really slowed down.
It took about four years after she passed away for me to realize that because I was used to not seeing her or talking with her every day, or sometimes even every week, it wasn’t so hard to transition to the life of not having a choice to see her. And although it stings to the most to confess that I didn’t make the effort to spend time with her like I wish I had, I find a lot of peace and joy knowing that she’s in an eternal paradise with the best seat in the house, able to watch everyone she loves from a front row seat.
It’s cliche, but life really is so short, and you never know when your last day could be. So, as a business leader, be sure to make your priorities a true priority. Spend time with your loved ones, travel like you want to, do something you’re afraid to try, build the business of your dreams, and enjoy each day you have before it’s too late and your loved ones are forced to get used to living without you.
Author: Kyleigh Mazer, Business Coach in New Albany, IN