I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot this past week, so today I’m re-running an updated version of this post that first ran in 2015. Happy reading!
Last week my mailbox was stuffed with invoices, and my thoughts immediately turned to … my mom. Our schedule was packed with meetings and deadlines and kids’ ballgames, and it wouldn’t have been a huge deal to put them off for a week. But I made myself sit down and pay those bills—because that’s how my mom taught me to do it. (I’ll explain.)
My parents are celebrating their 40-somethingth anniversary this week, and I’ve been reflecting on the influence they’ve had on me, in ways big and small. Today I’m focusing on what I’ve learned from my mom: from the big picture stuff to the practical minutiae, her influence is everywhere:
PAY THE SELF-EMPLOYED PROMPTLY
My mom gets consistently excellent service from every person she hires to service, repair, or maintain anything. (There must have been an exception sometime, but I can’t think of one.) She’s kind, which helps, but she also pays them immediately. It doesn’t matter if her bill says due in 7 or 30 or 45 days: if the invoice is ready, she’ll pay on the spot; if not, she’ll pay it the day (make that the minute) it arrives.
(Incidentally, when the air conditioning goes out in the middle of a summer heat wave, whose house gets serviced first? That’s right. My mom’s.)
Not just nice (although she is) but kind. Say hello to people, ask how they’re doing. It’s not that hard. (At least once a week someone stops me on the street and says Are you Martha’s daughter? I just LOVE her.)
BE THE FIRST ONE TO SPEAK
My mom is an extrovert’s extrovert (as you know if you’ve read my book Reading People): she is genuinely glad to see people she knows (or might know, or suspects she knew in another life), anytime, anywhere. She never waits for them to notice her: she says hi first. And because she does, she has a lot of great conversations with everyone from long-lost childhood friends to long-unseen grade school teachers, all over town.
IF YOU’RE GOING TO SELL YOUR SOUL, SELL IT FOR MORE THAN 52¢
Most people are happy to see an error in their favor on their receipt. Not my mom. She points out missed items, incorrect pricing, and bad math whenever she spies them on her tallies. We were at Kinko’s together once; the cashier undercharged her, and she told him so. He was stunned: customers never pass up errors in their favor. Her reply: “If I’m going to sell my soul, I’ll sell it for more than 52¢.”
DRESS FOR THE DREARY DAYS
If it’s grey and rainy out, don’t wear black, wear something cheerful. Everyone’s happiness (including yours) needs a boost on a gloomy day.
PEOPLE DON’T CHANGE
This was more a warning to my adolescent self than an intractable statement about human nature. She warned me that if you cheat off your friend’s math test in 7th grade, people are going to remember when you’re 30. And do you want a cheater doing your taxes? She didn’t think so.
IT’S A SMALL WORLD
My mom knows everyone, or so it seems: she runs into people she knows on the streets of Chicago, at the top of the Empire State Building, in the park surrounding the Eiffel Tower. The world is smaller than you think, she’d say—and now technology has shrunk it more. (My mother, the prophet.) And she always said our city (Louisville: metro population 1.3 million) is “a big small town”: you think it’s too big for everyone to possibly know your business, but they do. Behave accordingly.
Do you have a mother, or mother figure, whose influence is all over your life? What does that look like?