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LIFE LESSONS FROM MY MOTHER

Updated on March 20, 2013

“I learned a lot [...] from my mother, who is a very energetic and strong-willed individual. I'm thankful for the life lessons she taught me, without which I would probably not be where I am today” - Richard Branson

A few days ago I discovered a post on LinkedIn by Richard Branson, where he discussed how his mother’s advice helped develop his character and his flair for business. He gave details about how his mother’s constant support encouraged him to take risks and start new business ventures, and although many of them failed, the learning experience was priceless. After reading that post, I realized that Branson in fact is quite right when he says: “If you asked every person in the world who gave them their best advice, it would be a safe bet that most would say it was their mother”.

I am no exception. Ever since I was a child, I’ve had the biggest respect and admiration for my mother. Not only because during her whole life she made huge sacrifices in order to provide my sister and I with better tools for living, but also because of the lessons and values she instilled in us as children. Many of the lessons and advice have helped me become a better person and formed my life philosophy, based on hard work, overcoming struggles, and expressing gratitude. However, there are probably three lessons that have had the greatest impact in my life:

HARDSHIP BUILDS CHARACTER

My mom’s family was in strained circumstances. My grandfather was orphaned at a very young age, and he had to learn the craft of gardening to support his family financially. He devoted his whole life to tending to wealthy people’s gardens, and he earned additional income from two other jobs: he worked on a production line in the afternoons and as a security guard in a factory by night. My grandmother came from a large family where she had to endure scarcity and hunger on a daily basis. She learned to sew at an early age, as well as the art of cooking; and because of the deprivation in which her family was immersed, she was almost forced to develop an instinct for entrepreneurship.

As they were very impoverished, and having a large family of 8 children, my grandparents worked arduously to cover their basic needs. My mother was the second daughter, and along with my oldest aunt, they started to work when they were very young. They had to begin their path as entrepreneurs, not because they wanted to, but because they needed to. My grandmother took them to the central market and they searched in the waste bins for fruits and vegetables that hadn’t perished, so they could cook them. They also looked for eggs that the business owners could not sell because they were too far along in the gestation period. My grandmother took care of these eggs until they hatched, so that she could have her own small farm and her family could eat chicken and eggs more often.

During the week, my mom’s and my aunt’s routine was to go to school, go back home and help cook, eat a meal, help clean the dirty dishes, do their homework, take care of their younger siblings while they played for a while, and then they helped my grandmother sew buttons on the clothes she repaired for hire. They also had to work on weekends; my grandmother got up early to cook empanada pastries and stews so that my mom and aunt could sell them at soccer games; this way they earned some extra money for the family. At Christmas, instead of placing ornaments around the house or writing a letter to Santa Claus to ask for gifts, my mom and aunt used to get up very early in order to help my grandmother make bread, cook dinner for other people, and fix the clothes her clients had commissioned. Only when they had enough financial resources were my grandparents able to buy them some toys, however this was very rare.

In spite of these hardships my mother learned at a young age to see the silver lining, and she grew emotionally until she developed a strong and outgoing personality that helped her overcome this difficult time in her life, without becoming mired in feelings of frustration or insecurity.


DREAM BIG & WORK HARD FOR IT!

At the age of 12 my mother and aunt found a “formal” job at a sewing workshop, where they worked during the day and part of the night in a poorly lit room, sewing and making buttonholes on different pieces of clothing produced in the workshop. However, as the pay was low, they decided to take a chance and look for a new, higher paying job. In the meantime, my grandparents had started to save some money to send one of their older daughters to school, so that they could provide better opportunities for at least one of their children. According to tradition, my aunt, their oldest daughter, was the first one to go to school. There she acquired basic secretarial skills to help her get a job as assistant or secretary at a government office. Shortly after that, my mom got into the same school, but soon she realized that she had no passion for it, and studying was not her strong suit.

One afternoon, when they were going back home from school, my mom stopped in front of a beauty salon, and she was amazed by the team of stylists that worked there, the shinning mirrors, the lights, etc. In that very moment she realized what she wanted to do for life: the best hair stylist!. When she got home, she told my grandmother about her plans. My grandmother decided to support her daughter and the next day she took my mom to the beauty salon to talk to the owner. She asked for an opportunity to start working there as an apprentice. The owner accepted on two conditions: she would not have a salary, and she would have to work from morning until they closed the doors each night.

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The next day my mother showed up at the beauty salon very early, and the stylists who were there drinking coffee before the clients arrived welcomed her with suspicion. They told her that to get started, she had to clean the bathroom, take out the garbage, sweep the room and clean the rods they used for perms right inside the bathroom. My mom, as she was really naive, focused on completing very carefully the tasks the older stylists had given her. Right after she had finished cleaning the bathroom and was getting ready to clean the perm rods, the owner arrived and when she saw my mom, she felt sorry for her. She went ballistic and asked the other stylist why they had put their responsibilities onto my mother. The owner, Miss Sara, came over to my mom and asked her to come with her to run some errands in town. That was a defining moment in my mom’s life, because Miss Sara became her mentor and her protector at the salon. During the next few months, my mother learned to wash hair, style it, cut it, and she had to face the clients’ rejection several times, because they saw her as an untested rookie.

Nevertheless, with time and a lot of effort, my mom started to polish her style and, day after day, clients began to look to her for personal assistance with their appearance. This obviously caused a lot of envy among the other stylists who worked there, and they gradually started to quit until the only ones left were my mom and those who saw her as a good friend as well as a good stylist.

Miss Sara, who was an elderly woman by that time, had the intention to transfer the business to her daughters, but due to their lack of interest in the beauty salon, she thought that my mom would appreciate the opportunity to own it, as she had worked there for many years. She decided to offer the business to my mom, as well as easy payment terms. When my mother got the news she was extremely excited, but she was also overwhelmed because of the huge commitment it represented. However, she had the courage to face the challenge and she devoted herself to work rigorously for 2 years, making weekly payments to the owner of the business until she had full ownership.

Thanks to her dedication and work ethic, not only did she manage to pay in time, but she also expanded her clientele and improved the reputation of the beauty salon, which convinced top brands as L’Oreal, Revlon, etc. to invite her to attend training sessions in Mexico and other countries. That is how my mother had the opportunity to visit New York, England, Spain, France, Italy, Germany, etc. It was all thanks to her decision to pursue her dream and the courage to keep fighting to achieve her objective despite constant criticism and setbacks she found on the way.


YOU HAVE TO TRUST & BELIEVE THINGS WILL WORK OUT FINE

Every time I talk with my mother about the decisive moments in her life, I can’t help but think about the number of ideas, expectations, and fears that might have crossed her mind at that time. But above all I think of how hard it must have been for her to take those steps without the guidance, the support or the necessary experience from somebody who could give her the certainty, the strength, and the assurance that she was making the right decisions.

Once I asked if she was ever frightened when she had to make big decisions, and she said ‘yes’, but she also said something that I will never forget:

“Every time you are faced with a big decision there will be fears, doubts, but you can’t let that stop you. You have to think things through and assess the risks; if your heart and your mind agree, make the decision and give the best of yourself in order to achieve the results you envisioned. There will be times when things will flow easily, and times when they won’t; and it is during those hard times when you have to trust God, trust your own skills, and wish and believe that everything will go just fine. You cannot let the first obstacle you face knock you down; you must get up, shake it off, learn from your mistake, and carry on.”

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I think it was this way of seeing life that helped my mother get ahead: from selling enchiladas in the street, to standing next to renowned stylists in Paris; from starting off cleaning perm rods, to becoming the owner of one of the biggest beauty salons in town.

It was this same life philosophy that she instilled in me and my sister; to fight relentlessly for our goals, to see the good in every situation, to dream, to have faith and to believe that things will be ok. It’s not always easy, but as Hellen Keller said:

“Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, ambition inspired, and success achieved. It is in the most trying times that our real character is shaped and revealed.”

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