1) To Thine Own Self Be True - I remember one day in high school, I was trying out for a leadership position on my dance team. As part of the try-out, I was going to be asked how I would deal with team members smoking and drinking. Now, we all know that every generation of teenagers pushes their boundaries, and I was no different. Back then, in order to maintain "popular" cred, you partied on the weekends which, in my experience, meant throwing back a few wine coolers and smoking my Mom's Virginia Slims (she was no dummy - she knew). Anyway, when asking my mother how to answer this "trick question," I explained that it was my understanding that real leadership meant not copping out to difficult questions. However, I further expressed my fear that I would lose the coveted "Colonel" position if I answered honestly; that smoking and drinking in high school was pretty much par for the course and perhaps more of an issue that should be handled at home rather than at school. Later that day, after we both had time to ponder it, she taped a piece of paper to the refrigerator and walked away. I knew it had to be something of enormous magnitude since she used tape (permanent) and not a magnet (a place holder). Curious, I walked over to see what the paper said...."To Thine Own Self Be True." I stared at that paper for what seemed like an hour trying to understand what this meant. It landed! When the dreaded question was posed to me, "Martha, how would you prevent team members from smoking and drinking," I replied, "I don't think I can. As Colonel of this dance team, I would focus on anything and everything related to the team. However, I believe issues like smoking and drinking aren't my place to deal with." With that, I felt true and honest to my convictions. I was certain that they would see my honesty as leadership. I was wrong. While I did win the lower rank of "Captain," I did not achieve my goal of being head honcho #1. After getting over the initial sting, I eventually found gratitude and self-respect in that position because I earned it by staying true and not compromising my beliefs. Right or wrong, I didn't lie, I didn't "fake it," and overall I did gain the respect of my team anyway. Without saying a word, my mother taught me what I believe to be the most important lesson in life.
2) You ARE your word! - My mother was a big fan of the word NO. "Mom, can you take me to the mall on Saturday night?" No! "Mom, will you buy me that new stereo?" No! "Mom, can I get a tattoo?" Hell No! I seriously felt like I could never get a yes from this woman. Yet, in the rare instance she said yes to something, then come hell or high water, it was a sure thing! Through the years, I remember several times seeing my mom disappointed or let down by others and the empty promises they made to her. Perhaps sadly, she was never surprised by this though. My mom has always been a "one strike and your out" kind of gal. If you didn't keep your word, that was all she needed to know about you. To this day, this lesson is gospel to me. It is OK to say to no to anything and everything I can't or don't want to do. I'm comfortable with that. But if I say yes, it's a YES. I will be there! I will do that! You can count on that!
3) Family loyalty is your core - We all have disagreements with members of our family. Sometimes these differences are fundamentally significant. Sometimes, these differences would be considered "deal breakers" with anyone outside of our family. What's the old adage? "You can't choose your family?" No matter what...no matter how much you may disagree, disapprove or disallow, FAMILY IS BLOOD! We are all products of the same ancestry; a lineage of talents, beliefs and lifestyles. We are one. There is no outside force that will ever penetrate the deep bond and cosmic ligature of family. ...and if you want to join our family, do so with conviction! Once you're in, you're IN.
4) Focus on the work! (Not the outcome) - This is a lesson that has resurfaced in great magnitude for me lately. As a creative person, an artist, an entrepreneur, I am in a constant pattern of conceiving and actualizing ideas. In a place like Hollywood, it's especially easy to get carried away with "what if's..". What if I sell my idea to a network and become an executive producer? What if I write a pilot and it becomes the next big thing on HBO? What if I book this acting gig, and I win an Emmy? We all struggle to compartmentalize these thoughts of grandeur so our ego's don't self combust. I have found, and learned from my mom, that the best way to do that is to focus solely and completely on the work. If every ounce of energy is focused on the product alone, the rest has a real chance of coming to fruition. In the same vein, my mother taught me that while I should always set high goals for myself, I should never feel entitled to success JUST because I worked hard. There is a linear causation between hard work and success, yes. But it's still not a guarantee that you'll get the payoff you want. **She was always fond of reminding me that "only stupid people wait for things to fall in their laps."
5) Life is short/You can't take it with you - My mother has been ill for as long as I can remember. She was diagnosed with MS in 1982, and then with Frontal Temporal Dementia in 2008 (which she is in the final stages of). She has never ever let it get in the way of anything she wanted to do though. In fact, quite the opposite. While her disease(s) have been a huge part of her experience in life, I believe it really motivated her to take every bull she encountered by the horns, so to speak. She has always been the kind of woman that acted in the immediate. She didn't really ever put things off. When she wanted something material, she bought it. When she wanted to spend time with her friends, she did. When she wanted to go somewhere, she went. She was good with money but sometimes would splurge on things for us. I remember her devious smile when she would knowingly spend too much money on unnecessary goodies. If anyone questioned her spending, she would follow it up with a defiant shrug and say, "you can't take it with you!"
Happy Mother's Day.