Among the myriad reasons 2020 has been an absolute horrorshow is the passing of both my mother and father. Dad left us back in July and, as my sister and I have been saying would happen for years, Mom was right behind him 90 days later.
As I’m sitting here unpacking the boxes of stuff from their apartment, a lot of thoughts are crossing my mind. I don’t know if it’s a form of therapy or just a desire to share some lessons they taught me that I know are useful to any of us in business but today is about them.
I wrote some words for each funeral. I wasn’t able to attend in person because of the pandemic. In Dad’s eulogy, I wrote that
Those three senses – the importance of family, of taking responsibility, and of being humble – were things I know he tried to convey to the three of us.
In business, I would mean a family in the broadest sense. Your business family – your coworkers, your partners, your suppliers and most of all your customers are what’s important. I did expand on the responsibility part later on:
Any time I went to Dad with a question, the answer was inevitably the same: do what you think is right. It was never “do what’s expedient” nor what’s easy. Do what you think is right based on all the information you have…When we were wrong, Dad never asked why we made a bad decision but reminded us that we’d tried our best and we’d do better next time.
I’ve been in toxic work situations where bad decisions were followed by long periods of blame-placing and recriminations. The lessons learned usually led to paralysis. If you don’t make any decisions, you can’t make any bad ones. People were more focused on finding another job than on advancing the organizational goals.
In Mom’s eulogy, I expanded a bit on that lesson:
So much of what was true about Mom was true about Dad. Certainly the importance of family and of taking responsibility. “Actions have consequences,” she would remind us, both good and bad. Consequences could be pleasurable or, as I found out often enough, not so much…At the height of the Vietnam War protests, like many my age I informed Mom I was going to skip school for Moratorium Day and go march. Skipping school pretty much for any reason was not ok and doing so to participate in a march as a newly-minted high school freshman when I should be learning where the heck my locker was was even worse. Mom’s response was pretty much “do what you think is right.” Maybe she was looking ahead a few short years when her son would be draft-eligible but I prefer to think she was telling me to use my brain, make good choices, and be prepared to live with the consequences. If I recall I was informed those consequences would not involve her posting my bail had I been arrested.
This is perhaps my pet peeve, both in and out of business. Some folks just won’t take responsibility for their actions. It’s always someone else’s fault or bad luck or the weather or ANYTHING but their own doing. The pandemic, for example, wasn’t any of our doing. How we’re managing our businesses and our own health is completely our own doing.
Here’s the last lesson and it’s one my folks probably didn’t know they were conveying. My parents worked very hard their entire lives. Like many of us, they accumulated a lot of stuff. As time went on, there were fewer and fewer things as homes were sold and downsizing occurred. When they couldn’t live on their own anymore, more things were given away or sold. Finally, here at the end, my sister and I and their grandchildren received some boxes with pictures and mementos. Not much “stuff.”
I guess I’m trying to remind us that “stuff” doesn’t last. What matters are the memories in those pictures and the people who keep you and your memory alive. Try to remember that when you’re pushing yourself to make more money to buy more stuff. If there is a silver lining to the horror of this year, it just might be that we all got a little time at home to reflect on what’s important.
I’m thankful for the lessons my Mom and Dad taught me. I hope you find these few of them useful.