Who has most influenced you and your career?

It was an interesting “out-of-body moment” – the mentoring group was discussing my question, “Who are the three people who have most influenced you and your career?  What characteristics did they display that make them a “top three”?  I was keeping myself busy and started to think about who would make it onto my top three list and why.  As a facilitator I am used to ASKING the questions, and occasionally need to be reminded that I should be able to ANSWER them too!  It was one of those ‘seemed-like-a-good-idea-at-the-time’ thoughts.

Anyway, my mum immediately sprang to mind as one of my top three people.  In that moment I felt my throat constrict and a knot in my stomach, I breathed through it and started the debrief with the group, listening to their stories and anecdotes. Powerful stories and anecdotes that set the tone for the remainder of the program.  I thought I had my amygdala under control and my ‘professional’ mask on, when the out-of-body experience returned, and I watched myself start to cry and to share my story about my mum, one of my top three people.  [An aside, I have, until the last 10 years or so compartmentalized my life, work and home rarely crossed – so this was, for me at least, a big deal].

My mum’s story

It was 1970 and my mum was destined to be a professional violinist.  She was a talented musician who had recently graduated from university, married my dad and had two children (me and my brother, Andrew).  All seemed set for the future.  Until my mum was diagnosed with a brain tumor.  Andrew and I (we were 1 and 2 yrs old at the time) were sent to live with my grandparents (my mum’s parents) while my dad continued to work and then travel into London each evening to visit my mum in hospital.  She was there for months and the outlook was uncertain.  Even with surgery and radiation treatment the prognosis was that she would never walk again, that she may not be able to talk, and would certainly never play the violin again.

My mum proved the doctors wrong.  She did walk, though unsteadily as the tumor had impacted her balance.  She did talk, though her voice did become slurred when she was tired.  She did play the violin (and viola, and piano), becoming a music teacher and playing for a local community orchestra.  She successfully raised Andrew and I.  She was (with hindsight) an amazing woman.

In a wry turn of fate my mum was diagnosed with another brain tumor in November 1999, it was deemed inoperable and she was unable to have any radiation or chemotherapy because of the treatments for the first tumor.  She died on April 1st, 2000.

What characteristics do I admire in my mum?

  • Optimism – seeing the positive in people, situations and events.  As I reflect on my mum’s life she NEVER complained about her lot.  I do not recall her feeling sorry for herself.
  • Courage – It is only now that I realize now just how brave she was.  She faced life with courage and dignity and was determined that she would overcome her physical challenges and that it would not affect Andrew or myself. I remember the day she decided to stop wearing a wig (her hair was very thin and hadn’t grown back properly) and the comments and stares that she received when meeting people in the months that followed.
  • Sense of humor – my mum had a wry sense of humor and dry wit, she would laugh and giggle, especially when we were playing cards with her sisters or family…those are fun memories!

What legacy has this created in me?

  • Independence – This is both a plus and a negative.  I am strongly independent, give me a task, a project, a challenge and I will do everything I can do successfully deliver, with minimum fuss and without the need to be closely managed.  I believe this comes from the fact that we never mentioned my mum’s story outside of the family.  To be honest, we never mentioned it within the family either. We managed it, unspoken for the most part, between the four of us, it was the way things were, it was the way we were. This is the counterpoint to independence as it means I still don’t ask for help as much as I should – my internal dialog is that I don’t want to be a burden – I have come to realize that people WANT to help, and I am getting better at letting them in, and in sharing my story (hence this blog).
  • A sense of humor – I have always operated in the belief that life is too short, you must have moments of fun everyday, to enjoy what you do – my husband tells me I am in the enviable position of LOVING what I do for a living, it always surprises me that others don’t.  Life isn’t a dress rehearsal, we don’t get do-overs, make every day count and see the funny side when things don’t go to plan.
  • Believe in yourself – my first career was in Banking, a male dominated industry at that time with ‘time served’ being one criteria for promotion.  I was a successful graduate of the bank’s management development program and therefore ‘ready’ to be an Assistant Manager and then a Bank Manager at a relatively young age.  I heard plenty of reasons why things couldn’t happen: “you haven’t worked in a large branch; haven’t managed a team; haven’t managed a big enough team; haven’t worked in head office; you are too young; been in head office too long.”  In each case I believed in myself, that eventually I would achieve my goals, and like my mum, I have.  There are plenty of others who will tell us “why we can’t because…” and put up barriers to our dreams, we need to make sure that we are the one person who says “Yes I can” and seizes those opportunities.

To my mum, my inspiration, I miss you – now excuse me while I go for a good cry (that’s the wry humor coming out – and the truth)