I love Fridays. I always have.
As an adult, it’s the day I get to whip off my bra the moment I tuck my two girls into bed, enjoy my favorite take-out and snuggle into my latest Netflix obsession.
As a kid, it was the day I got to stay up late and pretend I was an adult.
See, I had a very important job on Fridays. I was in charge of recording my mother’s favorite evening soap operas - Dallas and Falcon Crest. Growing up decades before DVR and on-demand streaming, we could only record live TV.
That meant I got to watch the drama unfold on the screen. In truth, much of it was well beyond comprehension of my single-digit years. But, the shows transported me to a whole new world where women wore power suits and high heels. They commanded attention in any room they waltzed into and they spoke their minds with conviction (always with conviction).
My mother was quiet. Her hands were tainted with hair dye and she smelled of hairspray.
A hairstylist, my mother worked long hours standing at the service of others. So long that on Fridays our time with our mother was fleeting. Usually, we saw her long enough to be served a home cooked dinner before she walked downstairs to work a second shift in our in-home salon until well past our eyelids could stay open.
The disparity between my mother and the women on the screen was confusing. But, I knew that I wanted a life closer to what I saw on the screen. Those women inspired me to dream of a life where I’d wear pantsuits and shoulder pads, with painted fingernails all while leading meetings.
With my sights set, what could my mother offer me?
I just didn’t realize it then.
The truth is that is has been my mother’s example, not the women I idolized on screen, who has shaped and propelled me along my career path.
Here are 7 lessons that have served me and my career well:
1. Financial independence is power
As a hairstylist, my mother’s pockets would jingle and bulge with the coins and dollar bills she gathered in tips. She worked to support our family. But, she made it clear she was saving a little bit for herself. To her, a woman who has her own money never has to ask for permission to use it.
2. Your passions are your compass
My mother is multi-talented. She’s a hairstylist, can design and sew the latest styles, and can bake incredible desserts (her choux pastry rivals that of many Parisian bakeshops). It was a pretty sweet deal for me since I always had the latest hairstyles, my closet was full of trendy outfits and there was always a freshly baked treat waiting for me.
Yet, the biggest lesson wasn’t the product of her efforts. It was her example to take time for your passions and to let them guide your work. Looking back on my career - and my life - it has been my passions that have always navigated my way.
3. Hustle with heart and you’ll go further
My mother knows how to hustle. I’ve yet to meet another human who can match her stamina. There were times my imaginative younger self would think my mother was a machine - she sustained herself on coffee and I rarely caught her sleeping. But, I soon learned that she did it all for us.
Yes, much of her drive - like much of mine - comes from an inner, deeper desire for herself. Yet, her willingness to work endless hours at times was her need to give her children something far greater than she imagined for herself. Working for someone or something I truly loved has always pushed me further and created greater results than chasing arbitrary ideas.
4. There’s always a way to figure it out
I have this embarrassing belief that I can do anything. There was that time that I didn’t purchase an abstract canvas oil painting because I believed I could replicate it on my own. Not so at all - unless I was willing to hang a canvas that looked like it was done by a toddler who was holding a paintbrush for the first time.
This was just one of many memories that elicit a burning in my cheeks.
My belief isn’t a result of unwarranted praise as a child. Intsead, it stems from watching my mother conquer every and any challenge that came her way. The front door needed stripping and restaining? She pondered it for a while before presenting my father with a shopping list for the hardware store. The result: a beautifully stained front door that had many asking her for her contractor’s number. She repaired watches, hair accessories and more just as well as she configured the engineering of a Roman shade curtain or replicate a recipe she tried at a restaurant.
5. Have the courage to do what is right for you
As the only working mom in our family, my mother was an enigma to the rest of our traditional Italian family. She was criticized for it - subtly at times. Other times, her hours spent working was the blame for my brothers’ and my rambunctious natures. My father was pitied for having to care for his kids on Saturdays because his wife was scheduled at the salon.
There were few examples where she fought against the accusations. Much of the time, however, she ignored it. Her willingness to keep going even when forces were pushing her toward a more traditional route gave me the courage to carve my own path in life. It may not be what others may do or may want, but if it feels right for you, you just have to shut out the noise and get to work.
6. A working mother is a good mother
With a working mom at home, I didn’t have the same experience as so many others around me. My mother wasn’t waiting for me as I came off the school bus. But, I updated my mother on my day over the phone once i unlocked the door for my brothers and I. My mother wasn’t available to help me with homework. But, every night she’d check in if I completed the day’s work.
As I got older I realized there were differences in my relationship with my mother than my friends had with theirs. But, never did I feel envious. And, never did I think my mother was in any way less than any other mother.
Her example that you can do things differently and still have the same outcome is the reason I don’t fear that by chasing my professional ambitions will I jeopardize my relationship with my own daughters.
7. A lesson to not want it all
Of all the positive things my mother has taught me. Her example - like her - was not perfect. It has been her imperfections that may have had the biggest impact on me.
As much as my mother bucked traditions by working, she spent the rest of her time dedicated to fulfilling her wifely and motherly duties. It was only she who cooked, cleaned and laundered. The nature of her shift work required my father to step in as the lead parent at times, but for the most part, she took responsibility for everything else.
I saw the toll the responsibilities had on her. She was frequently exhausted (though I never saw her sleep), she was easily annoyed and expressed frustration as she tidied up after us. It was too much and as a child I decided I didn’t want to do it all like my mother.
Even though it hasn't always been easy to achieve, I've spent my life looking for ways to make life simpler for me. A partner who was comfortable doing the dishes and cooking dinner. A small house that required less time to clean. Fewer things to organize and sort. At work, I’ve looked for employers that would allow me to balance life and work more easily. And, on the job, I make it a frequent mission to do things more efficiently.
These are only seven of the countless ways my mother’s example has shaped me and my career. Yet, perhaps the biggest is the fact that as a mother myself now, I’m setting an example for my girls. The things I do, the things I say, how I support and treat other women - all of it matters and all of it will shape what my daughters do, think and say.
Lisa Durante is committed to helping working mothers thrive. She works with working moms and progressive companies, offering strategies and insights as well as resources and programs to help working moms prepare and manage the career shifts that come with parenthood. Get new tips and free resources every week at LisaDurante.com.
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