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What Mom Taught Me About Work

My mom and me

Before I share what mom taught me about work, let me say it upfront: I am not a mom.

At least, not to children of my own, although I have plenty of mothering instincts for people,  animals, plus a few needy plants.

Yes, I’ve been a proud midwife to several people’s careers . I’ve given birth to major projects, including a business, books, and of course, the daily work to coach high-performing professionals through change through private coaching and on-demand classes at

But technically, I am not a mom.

So I won’t be receiving any flowers or cards this Mother’s Day.

But my mom will, and in writing her card, I thought about what mom taught me.

And the lessons that might feel most surprising to her are tied to the world of work.

Because in today’s parlance, my mom was not a “working mom.”

But her work—the work leading that business called “a family,” operating a household and managing budgets and schedules, and motivating another adult and two offspring to thrive in the world—continues to be a bigger job than any I’ve ever taken on.

When I think about the work lessons learned from my mom, I realize they’ve been vital to creating the perspective and passion I have. They’ve inspired me to teach ways to work that create clarity for yourself, build confidence, and inspire you to take control rather than wait for others’ permission.

So as we celebrate Mother’s Day and say thanks to our moms (both by birth and by choice), I offer these thoughts.

Lesson 1: Talk to Strangers

Yes, my mom taught me to talk to strangers.

hello says my mom

Oh, not the creepy “want some candy, little girl?” kind of strangers, but the strangers we interact with each day. That means the receptionist, the woman in line at the store, the nurse drawing blood, and the workman on the elevator.

And while Mom’s life experiences have made her equally comfortable talking to the CEO or the political leader, I’ve discovered that the art of talking to strangers is a powerful tool in her working arsenal. Now, it’s part of mine, too.

For years, I didn’t understand the value of it.

Talking to strangers seemed rude, unnecessary, unsafe, or maybe if I’m honest, uncool.

But watching my mom talk to strangers, I discovered she always had a broad circle of colorful people and connections. She developed resources she genuinely could call on for almost anything, and more importantly, would do their best to do anything for her.

They knew her at the doctor’s office; she wasn’t just a name on a file.

They arrived on time for the repair job because they didn’t want to let her down.

They hunted in the back for the better cut of meat, because they knew she cared and was ready to appreciate the effort.

This won’t work if you use it as a manipulation strategy, though. It has to come from a place of genuine caring about another human being, a genuine interest, and even grace and kindness—elements that are key today as we’re wearing our red cape and bringing our superpowers to work.

As author Keith Ferrazzi says, “business is human.”

Thanks, Mom for teaching me this long ago.

Lesson 2: Just Keep Moving

My mom doesn’t get stuck very often. She keeps moving.

No matter how difficult the problem, she has a unique way of always seeing the next chunk of work that lies ahead.

She doesn’t get trapped in an issue for long–there is always an action to take, a phone call to make, or something totally different to do to take your mind off it.

She is a self-certified PMP—project Mom professional.

I confess—I’m slower moving and have a higher procrastination tendency than my mom. But when I get stuck, I tell myself to think like Mom and just get moving.

And the movement can be about anything—even things not related to the problem at hand.

So I get moving.

I do something.

And once I’ve done something, I jump the hurdle that’s been blocking me, and finally write the damn email, make the blasted appointment, wash the freakin’ dishes, whatever.

No matter what the action, moving gets me out of whatever mental ditch I’m in and gets me on track again.

Thanks, Mom, for showing me how.

Lesson 3: Be Where You Need to Be

When my grandmother was dying in another part of the country, her caregivers said, “Don’t come–she won’t recognize you, and you won’t want to remember her like she is now.”

My logical brain heard them, even though it felt like not saying goodbye would be a lousy thing to do for a woman who’d been one of my best friends. They convinced me not to go.

Thank goodness my mom talked me back into my right brain.

She said, “Do what you need to do for yourself; be where you need to be.”

I instantly knew I needed to be at my grandmother’s, no matter what her condition.

When I arrived, I found the caregivers were mistaken—although unable to speak, my grandmother knew me. Her agitated condition immediately relaxed.

My dad and I sat at her bedside talking and reading to her all afternoon, with the windows open to a lovely summer breeze.

She calmly passed away that night. I knew that was where I needed to be—for her, and for me.

Applying the Lesson

As my leadership responsibilities grew, I’d return to that advice when faced with tough choices about where to be . . .

  • An associate with no local family is in a car accident? The meeting can wait–show up or get on the phone with the hospital and the associate’s family.
  • A colleague having a hard time and wants to talk? Change plans and prioritize the call.
  • There’s a lot going on at work but you’re feeling sick. Take care of yourself and keep others well. Be where you need to be, even if that’s on the couch.

(I used the same lesson when my Dad was dying. I  moved my business and life to be closer to him–and my Mom. Never regretted a minute of it.)

Thanks, Mom for this lesson. It gave me confidence in my choices about where I show up–physically, verbally, and emotionally—and where I don’t.

I’m grateful for what mom taught me. Let’s use the great lessons your mom or mom-like person in your life taught. Thanks, Mom, for it all.

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If I Was Your Mom: Advice for a Red Cape Career