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Creating Successful Leaders

By Margaret Smith, UXL:

I had the opportunity to spend this past week with my mother. She’s 82 and still has the ability to teach me something if I just watch and listen. Below are just a few of the things I learned.

1) Slow down: She doesn’t walk as fast as I do anymore. Rather than forcing her to try to keep up, I walked beside her. It’s amazing what you see and how much less stressed you look when you just go a little slower. We still got everything done we needed to and got where we had to be on time.

2) Read to children: My mother is a retired second grade teacher, the mother of 5, and grandmother of 14. Therefore, she has a lot of experience with this. Every afternoon two of my neighbors girls, ages 4 and 7 came over for reading time. They sat on my front porch and just read and talked: Curious George, The Cat in the Hat Comes Back, Wing a Ding, The Song and Dance Man (one of my favorites), and Old Henry. The pile grew as the week went by and so did her anticipation of the door bell ringing. I swear she got 10 years younger every time they showed up!

3) Exercise every day: My mother wasn’t a jazzercise freak or a health club junkie as I was growing upl. She chased 5 kids around, gardened, raised chickens, and drove the tractor for my father as he baled hay. They were city kids who moved out to the farm and dove headfirst. My dad was a chemical engineer for Du Pont who took his tie off in the car on his way home and was on the tractor in 15 minutes. My mom walked every day while she was here, even if it was just around the block, and did some sit ups and few good stretches. No one can call her sedentary.

4) Only eat until you’re full: I’ll never forget how she would load our plates with food and then make sure we cleaned them, no leaving anything—even those peas I hate—on the plate! Her secret now is slightly different: Only put a small portion of food on your plate, and don’t go back for seconds you probably don’t really need. She’s now in better shape than she was at 52.

5) Ask for help and appreciate it: It seems easy when you are 82. Everyone will hold a door, pick up a bag, take your suitcase off the carousel—my mother’s a great delegator. Her philosophy is similar to the quote I use with my boys, “You don’t get what you don’t ask for.” Well, maybe I should listen to my own advice. My mother got more help from strangers simply by asking and showing appreciation, smiling and joking with people, than most of us do from our own families.

6) Be “the face” for your children and grandchildren: She would always remind us, “if you don’t know what to do or if what you are about to do is right or wrong, just envision my face coming in front of you, you’ll know what to do.” My boys remember this advice, and have told me numerous times it saved them from making stupid decisions. We see parents every day doing dumb things in front of their children, using language that I’d be embarrassed for my mother to hear, so why are we surprised when kids act the same way? I’m glad my boys have my mother’s face to keep them focused on being and doing good.

7) Give away what you don’t use: Look in your closet and cupboards. Why do we have all that stuff?! Is it holding you back or holding you down? Could you have spent that money on a vacation or helping someone that really needed it? Mom’s reduced her ‘stuff’ dramatically over the past 5 years, giving most of what she doesn’t use to a local mission. Having her with me this week made me want to clean out a few closets, which I plan on doing  tomorrow!

The lessons I learn from my mother span on and on, but the 7 listed above are a great start. These lessons help me to realize the impact she made on all of us, and not just the people that live in my house. Her smile and willingness to get involved and reach out was an inspiration. I can’t wait until I get another week with her.

I hope that this story helps you to make the most of the people in your life, and lessons they have to offer.



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