I loved Roy Rogers when I was a kid. I would fantasize that he would adopt me like he did some of his other children. I would spend hours thinking about what to call my horse and dream what it would be like to live on the ranch. Roy would be the perfect father and Dale–the perfect mom. They wouldn’t be at all–like my real parents.
My parents weren’t like any of those families I watched on TV when I was young. I often wondered what my friend’s families were like. They all seemed happy and normal. I knew instinctively, “what happens in the family, stays in the family.” Secrets were buried—but certainly not forgotten.
Don’t leave home without it. It’s been a life-long journey to discover just how much my early childhood affected my life. Sure, my baggage arrived with me when I got married, but I hadn’t realized all the baggage I was lugging around when I worked.
My mom wanted to raise a child that everyone liked–an expectation that haunted me throughout my life. When I sensed that a manager didn’t like me and nothing I did could change that, I allowed it to destroy my self esteem. After all, I failed my mission.
Additionally, I lived in fear that if I made a mistake, I would no longer be liked–I wouldn’t be perfect. I took everything personally. The larger the company I worked for, the more helpless I felt when I couldn’t make the changes that “should” be made—triggering those buried feelings when I felt helpless about changing my family’s situation.
Crisco in the ‘frig. Not only did I mirror my mother in her values and ways of thinking, but also in other not-so-obvious ways. When I was in college, a bunch of my friends rented a cottage on the Jersey shore. We felt so grown-up by having our own place to ourselves—including doing our own cooking.
As a few of my friends were making dinner, they began looking through all the cupboards–where on earth was the Crisco? When I finally showed up on the scene, I quickly pointed to the refrigerator. Everyone laughed (except me) and I was stunned to realize that no one else put their Crisco in the refrigerator. I quickly read the label to prove I was right, but to no avail. It didn’t need refrigeration.
This was one of my first reminders how many things we do on automatic pilot and don’t even realize where we learn them. BTW, when I asked my mother why she put the Crisco in the refrigerator she said, “So the ants can’t get in.”
The gift that keeps on giving. There were many things I promised myself I would never do to my own kids. Sure, my parents had issues, but it would be some time later when I reflected how their issues shaped who I became. As close to perfection as I am (ha, ha), I am sure that despite my good intentions, I’m sure I have passed down some of my foibles to my own daughters.
I remember a co-worker of mine back in the ’80’s sharing how he and his wife had made a commitment that as they raised their children, they would make sure they had good self-esteem. At the time of this conversation, he was struggling with his daughter’s anorexia.
Huh? Perhaps you’ve had the occasion to be in the same place at the same time with someone and the other person remembers the “scene” totally different. It sometimes makes you scratch your head and think, “Did I miss something here?” Happenings like this demonstrate how we perceive events through our own lens.
And so, it seems impossible to get through life unscathed without any “issues;” without any baggage. But despite the memories we wished we could forget and inheriting less-than-positive behaviors and mind-traps–most of us are survivors.
Mom’s legacy. The older I get the more I seem to channel my mother. I hear her whispering in my ears and cheering me on. When I was afraid I would never learn to drive, she told me, “Look at all the people driving. If they can do it, so can you. You’re as smart as they are.”
My mother was the one who “made me” take piano lessons when I was five which has brought so much joy to my life. My mom quit school in eighth grade to go to work, so it was she who made sure I went to college—the first in my family.
When I first got married and money was always “tight,” it was mom who would put an unexpected check in a letter with a note to spend it on a steak or pizza. I knew no matter what, she would support me, through good or bad and loved me unconditionally.
I remember Mama. The things I used to make fun of my mother about are the very things I miss. I would get so mad at her when she gave away some of my “stuff” when one of my little cousins would visit. Now I find I have inherited her giving spirit.
I hated her Blue Willow dishes but treasure my own little Blue Willow tea set (from when I was a kid) because it reminds me of Mom. My mom always put tissues in her apron or “house dress.” Perhaps that’s another hereditary behavior as well, because I do that myself (not in a house dress)–leaving them between the couch cushions or in kitchen. (It drives my kids nuts too!)
My mother couldn’t carry a tune and I’m sorry to say I used to ask her not to sing in church (if I was next to her). Now, whenever I hear the favorite hymns she loved (i.e. In the Garden), tears quickly come to my eyes. I can still hear her singing “I’m Forever Blowing Bubbles” (usually after a few drinks) and I wished she would sing it one more time.
The good news. Our experiences shape who we are–but we can change who we become. We are not victims. Sure it’s not easy to undo some behaviors or thought patterns, but if we become more conscious, we can create new patterns. We can learn to live with duality—not condoning bad behavior; but loving and forgiving at the same time.
I was 29 when my mother died. I wish I could tell her, “I love you,” one more time — and that I know now she did the best she could. I wonder what she’d say about how I lived my life and who I’ve become–as of today.
I was saddened to hear about yet another company down-sizing. This one hit close to home—it impacts my former colleagues and friends. Most of the people I worked with will be losing their jobs when they close that particular R&D facility.
The news brought back memories when I received my own “departure notice” a few years ago. It was a meeting I’ll never forget. I was told how everyone had nothing but positive things to say about me and how my clients praised my work, (I held my breath as I waited for the other shoe to drop) but the HR role continued to evolve and I was not strategic enough to fit it.
My head knew it was just another business decision, but it felt very very personal. I’ll never forget walking out of that conference room and going back to my office. It was business-as-usual for everyone else—but in a few short minutes, my world had completely changed.
Two months later, as I swiped my employee badge for the last time, I wondered, “now what?” I had worked ever since I was 16—first in the summer months while going to school, and then full time after college. Other than a few leaves of absence due to having my three babies or having a gall bladder out—work was something I always did.
A few days later someone said hello and asked, “And how are you today?” Normally, I wouldn’t hesitate to recite the expected reply, but this time was different–I hesitated. Do I tell her–”fine”–or should I be honest and admit I lost my job and hope I don’t cry? Maybe I should wait until the next time she asks? Eventually she’ll know the truth either from me or someone else. Will she be upset that I hadn’t shared my news with her sooner?
I began dreading meeting people and being asked, “What do you do?” What should I say? “I used to work at – – – but I just got laid off from my human resources job.” Was that TMI? (too much information)? Did that sound like whining or asking for sympathy? I didn’t want people feeling sorry for me—I was already doing that quite nicely for myself.
There are lots of people who don’t work outside the home. I never think twice about it—but not me. If I’m not working, then who am I? I began to understand just how much we identify with our label du jour.
Identity, labels and titles, oh my. In addition to work designations, we can be a student, mom or dad, husband or wife, married or single (you get the picture). When we are stripped of our protective label/cape, we often struggle with the whole concept of, “Well, if I’m not a – – – – , then who am I?”
There are labels and titles we gain or shed easier than others. But then there are some that are loaded with emotional baggage. Soon after my divorce, I can remember that outsider feeling so many times listening to my married friends. I’ve heard from my childless friends that they have had moments like that as well when we chat (and complain?) about our kids. There are empty nesters and the newly retired. It’s not just the label, but the inner changes we need to make—sometimes needing more of an adjustment than initially thought.
An inside-out story. A hundred years ago, I went from being an HR Secretary on Friday to being an HR Director of a non-profit agency on Monday (literally). I remember starting my new role and feeling like a phony. “They are expecting me to know what I’m doing. Little do they know I’m clueless.” Well, I rose to the occasion. I knew more than I gave myself credit for; because I did find the right answers. But I learned first-hand how powerful “fake it ’till you make it” can be.
The reverse situation happened many years later when I first moved to Asheville. I was a part-time agency temp in an HR department doing filing, processing benefit packages, taking photos of new employees etc (you get the picture—excuse the pun). It didn’t pay much, but I appreciated earning a little money while I was building my new coaching business.
When Jennifer was at lunch, I would sit at the reception desk, answer the phone and greet visitors. When I told my daughters I was relieving the receptionist, they laughed, “Mom, do they know you could run the whole department?” The department managers who came by to ask for the HR Director, seemed to look through me–like I was invisible. As I smiled and went to get the Director, I had finally learned I was not my title.
Self inflicted titles. It’s bad enough to have all the titles and labels we have or we get from society, but have you ever listened how we label ourselves? I’ve heard people describe themselves as: lazy, stupid, fat, old, tired, shy to name a few. I confess I’ve even said a few of them to myself. Whether or not we ever utter such words out loud, those labels are there–floating around in our minds.
It’s amazing how powerful our own labels affect our actions and thinking. I’ve recently been observing on how people think about or act their age. While I occasionally think I’m a bit nuts to be starting a business now in my sixties, my passion continues to energize me and I am finally experiencing fun with my work. Who could ask for more?
Another lesson from Adele and Jack. Many of you will remember me talking about my dear friends, Adele and Jack, who were killed in a tragic car accident last September. I was honored to give a eulogy to celebrate their lives and share how much I loved them.
As I listened to everyone else’s eulogies, I was struck that despite the fact that none of us knew what we were going to say, we all seemed to repeat the same things. So much so that Pastor Dan actually made note of it.
Isn’t it interesting that people who hadn’t known them in their younger lives were able to “see” the very same qualities they lived–in their later years. It wasn’t their job or their title (although Adele and Jack’s work had been very noble and notable) that we remembered—it went much deeper than that. We experienced their true legacy.
What’s your legacy? Brad Swift, in his book Life on Purpose,says that “life purpose isn’t ever about what you do, but is instead more about who you are.” I love the reminder that we’re called human beings, not human doings.