Growing up, our families imprint us with traits, values and habits. Some we strive to emulate. Some we struggle to avoid. Others slip unnoticed into our daily patterns. The DNA continues into adulthood.
In ten years of executive search, it was my opening interview question: Tell me about you as a little person. Who was in your family? What did your parents do? Who were the role models who influenced you into becoming the person you are today?
Dead silence. No one has a standard sound bite for this query. Then the interviewee opens up and tells a stream of heartfelt meaningful-ness. You can look right into the soul. Then, you see the threads of family throughout the discussion of career path. The CPA father, the artsy mother. The parent who survived a concentration camp. The leader-of-the-pack eldest of seven kids.
I’ve already written about my father’s influence — The Toastmaster. Here’s a rundown on my 91-year old mother, Mary Vetakis (photo above, circa 1991):
Networker. My husband still marvels at the multiple circles of friendships evidenced at my mother’s 80th birthday party. She worked the crowd like a politician! Friends — young and old — from the neighborhood, church, choir, widows support group, three card clubs, not to mention family. She became a networker as a young wife in a newly-developing suburb. Every afternoon, she would pop me into the stroller and go door-to-door introducing herself. She drew on this skill for successful on-boarding into a retirement community later in life and passed onto us her gift of connecting.
Communicator. Having built a network, she stayed in touch. The phone in our house was always in use! She chaired the St. Rose Telephone Squad, a brilliant outreach devised by our monsignor for mobilizing parishioners during the building of a new church and school. It was the equivalent of a blast email or Facebook post. The chair would call ten women, who would each call ten women, etc. My mother has always been curious and interested in others. She can draw people out. Skills my sisters and I have used in our careers.
Infrastructure. There was a rhythm and routine in our household, from sunrise to bedtime. Things were smooth-running on a predictable schedule. My mother ran the show, thus we girls could apply our energies to our own pursuits. We emulate this in our own work/life world. Create a good foundation, then focus on the important things that add value and make a difference.
Family First. We grew up seeing our grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins on a weekly basis. When life delivers some nastiness, you can put it in context — bolstered by a cushion of family love.
Sixth Sense. My little Italian grandmother would close her eyes and say “Hon-eeee. I can-a see-a things.” We inherited a strong set of antennae — picking up on details and nuances that go unnoticed by others. Pieced together, it’s a powerful tool, client service-wise, in addition to the usual processes and practices.
Giver, not Taker. Mary V. was always first at the doorstop with a batch of blueberry muffins in times of illness or death. She set an example of community service, undertaking leadership roles for every type of fundraising vehicle imaginable.
Fun and Irreverent. Who wants to be around boring people? Nobody! My mother has a quick wit and a love of “dish.” Always up on news and current events. Quick to award nicknames. Says what she thinks. Joie de vivre!
Talent-picker/Toupee-spotter. Everyone has secret gifts. My mother could always scope future media stars. She was an avid Anderson Cooper fan from the first moment he appeared on CNN. She predicted Ann Curry would not make it as Today Show co-host. She is also a top spotter of fake hair, both in-person and on-screen. (You know who you are, anchormen, politicians and pundits!)
Not a Nervous Eater. No reaching for the chocolates in our family. When we stress out, we can’t eat. #ThankYouMV #NoFoodObsessionDNA
In-Style. My mother grew up in a small town, but my grandfather had a free pass on the Pennsylvania Railroad and she would visit cousins in New York, fascinated by the fashion vibes of the very best stores. She has an eye for proper fit. Not too tight, i.e., “It spans you.”
Customize It. When my mother went gray in her 30s, there weren’t many choices in hair color. She had the salon create a custom shade for her — to avoid the blue-black tinge of the very darkest shade of her era’s Clairol. Weirdly, I do my own blend of nail polish. Always an Essie color mixed with a lighter frosted shade.
Una Bella Figura. It’s an Italian phrase. Make a good impression. She taught us well. Never show up empty handed. Dress well. Compliment others. Be polite. Earn trust. Don’t track dirt into someone’s house. (See below.)
Clean-a-holic. The core element of my mother’s brand. In high school, my friends dubbed her Mrs. Clean. Our home was a fortress against the enemy of dirt, dust or germs. She is a fanatic, fixated on a battle which, to me, has no end. I rebel! Much better to handle housekeeping via outsourcing and project management. I am an advocate of Sheryl Sandberg’s LeanIn anti-perfectionist philosophy: Done is good enough. (But not for you-know-who!)
I could never understand why my mother didn’t apply her talents to a professional career. Maybe my Aunt Rose, age 90, has a point. “We’re living this long so we can show the right way to be.” (I’m not kidding. She actually said this.) All along, our mothers have been running family-focused consulting practices. And we’re the clients!
So…step back and examine your own derivatives. Give gratitude for the traits that underlie your own success. Continue to strike your own path. Love you, MV!
copyright 2014 Nancy Keene All Rights Reserved
January 17, 2014