I have a pretty awesome mom. I spent the first 20 years of life pretending to be wildly independent, forming my own identity. I spent the next 20 years slowly realizing we have a bit in common. I’ve spent the last three years openly admitting I am what I like to call “a toned down version of my mother.” For those that know my mom, you will likely agree: there isn’t a person out there with wilder ideas, a more creative spirit or a bigger heart.
Growing up I had no idea what I wanted to be. I just knew what I did not want to be. My mom was an elementary school principal, and since I was on my own quest of independence, I knew I would be anything but that. At first I was convinced I would be an accountant. I loved math so much that I would spend summers sitting on our cabin dock multiplying big numbers on poster paper (not really the coolest thing to do as a kid… I know). I had visions of being an accountant. In fact, in another very geeky move, I named my pet cat CA. It stood for Cat Accountant. Halfway through university life when I was acing accounting courses I finally came to a sweeping realization. I was good at math. But it didn’t bring me joy. Despite my strange habits like multiplying for fun, I liked being around people and generally preferred human interaction to the number line. I decided to switch my Business Degree from an Accounting Major to a Major in Human Resources and Minor in Psychology. I thought that studying human behaviour in a business context would fulfill my soul. And it did. For a while. A few HR jobs later, I came to my next realization. Adults are boring compared to kids. It was time for another shift. I became a high school Business Education teacher. I loved my job. I had no plans of changing it. Until 3 AM one evening when I woke up to feed my newborn son and saw an ad for a high school counsellor position (that closed in 7 hours). Spontaneously I traded sleep for resume writing and made another career change. Again – I had found my fit. I had NO plan of ever leaving that job. Until one day when my principal let me know we had a VP vacancy and asked if I would fill in temporarily. She had me at temporary. Nothing to lose – I’d give admin a try and then hurry back to my comfy counselling corner. Temporary turned from weeks to months to a year. I was then presented with a choice: to officially apply or to return to counselling. I paused and asked myself “Am I my mother?” Of course not. My mom worked in elementary schools. This was a high school. I jumped in an began my very different than my mom admin career. I switched schools, switched districts and eventually decided I wanted to be a principal. In my interview, they asked me “What do you know about elementary schools?” In a very blunt and honest way I said “I haven’t been in one since I was in grade 7 – I don’t know a thing about them.” Weeks later I got the call and officially became two things: 1) an elementary principal and 2) a tamed down version of my mother.
Fast forward four years and I have stopped trying to be different than my mom. Instead, as I think about the type of leader I want to be, I recognize that I was blessed with a pretty awesome role model. Here are the top ten things I have learned from my somewhat crazy but always awesome mom.
- There is no such thing as a problem. A few years ago my mom ran into the bank for a quick appointment while on the way home from the grocery store. The clerk apologized and let her know there was a 30 minute delay. Instead of re-scheduling like most would do, my mom flew into action and had the clerk open the bank’s staff room fridge and freezer to store her groceries while she waited. This is a great example of how my mom lives. There is NEVER a problem. Only creative solutions.
- Creativity Counts. Always. My mom is an outside the box thinker. She simply has creative ideas for everything. Her classroom modelled this time and time again. I remember when she would teach her unit about dogs. Kids would come in to find the classroom empty. Soon they would hear barking and scratching from the hallway, and a brave student would open the door, only to find my mother dressed in a dog costume and crawling on all fours into her room.
- Take Risks. My mom is brave. She raised my brother and I as a single parent and took risks when she needed to. (and sometimes, she took some she shouldn’t have… like that Christmas Eve when we were running late so she decided we would beat the train and cross the tracks despite the lowered rails and flashing lights. Can you say re-occuring nightmare!) Regardless, my mom taught me that it’s ok to jump in.
- Independence. I can’t think of anyone more independent than my mom. The oldest child of six, and a single mother for many years, she found her footing in life at an early age and has always modelled a great amount of independence and confidence. There are few times I’ve seen my mom lean on others but thousands of times when I have seen her help those around her.
- Grit. Growing up, my mom had little patience for victim mentality. I, on the other hand, have always been a tad more emotional than my mom and can cry easily. Instead of coddling me or feeling sorry for me, my mom named me “waterworks” and told me to get on with it. It makes me laugh now. I’m still sensitive but I think her tactics taught me to stop thinking about myself and find my grit.
- Find Your People. Growing up, I can’t think of many of my mom’s friends who were not educators. Early on in her teaching career, she found her closest friends and formed a ‘girls group’. They are all in their 70’s now and their ‘girls group’ still meets for lunch. My closest friends are also educators. It makes a world of difference to be surrounded by great people who get you.
- Treat Staff Like Family. When my mom became a principal, she re-did the crawl space of our house! All of a sudden she had shelves of boxes labelled the twelve days of Christmas so she could gather gifts all year long to make the last twelve school days memorable for all her staff. (My staff aren’t quite that lucky but I like to think I carry forward the philosophy of treating people well.)
- Work Hard. Growing up, my mom often had at least three jobs. She was a teacher or a principal, owned a catering company, sold Mary K and occasionally wall papered for neighbours (clearly it was the 70’s and early 80’s). My first job was when I was ten years old and my mom would make us row across the lake, collect pop cans from campsite garbage cans, and row back with the empties to earn our allowance.
- Embrace New Experiences. My mom loves trying new things. (Sometimes this gets carried away, like the time she sent us up a mountain in a jeep with a crazy neighbour – only to realize later he was intoxicated… or the time she covered me in make up to hide my chicken pox so we could use a 2 for 1 coupon and see a new movie together). However, my mom has taught me to crave new, meet new people, try new things, and embrace what life has to offer. Life is definitely worth living.
- The Art of Storytelling. My mom uses more adjectives than anyone on the planet. While this can make simple phone calls longer than they need be, it’s also a gift. With my mom, everything is a story. The older I get, the more I realize that storytelling is an art, or as Brene Brown says “maybe stories are just data with a soul”. I love this, and love finding ways to tell stories too.
Thanks mom for being my role model: a great mom, a great principal and a great friend. I just have one question…. why didn’t you teach me how to cook?
(and Nicole Neggers… you can borrow her but you can’t have her!)