Leadership Insight | Lessons learned from my 94-year-old mom

We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.

Winston Churchill



Yes, I know Mom doesn’t look 94. (Full Disclosure: This picture was taken when she was 92. 😛 ) Why do you think I don’t like to stand next to her among strangers? She looks so young they may think we’re the same age. That’s not possible, of course, but do they know that?

Patience, Perspective & Preparation

In our infancy, mom and dad made sure that our clothes were clean, that we were fed, that we got our vaccinations and regular checkups. They made sure our clothes were mended, our beds were made and we were as safe as possible.

Some 40 … maybe 50 years later, it’s our turn. We make sure our parents have clean clothes and linens, that they get to their doctors’ appointments and take their medications according to schedule. We make sure they’re safe and nourished and we visit regularly.

When this cycle makes its turn, we are reminded of life’s fragility as well as our own mortality, aren’t we? Doesn’t it also cause us to revisit issues like the cost of long-term care, or our inability to perform simple functions that we’ve taken for granted … and even our right to die?

Mom has a lot to teach us … if we’re paying attention

My recent return to Michigan to visit my 94-year-old mother, now confined to nursing care, was a powerful reminder of the circle of life.

As I strolled through the hallways of this first-class facility, I often found myself looking through different prisms.

Through one, I was enlightened and enraptured by the affectionate community that these noble seniors created among themselves. Through a more personal prism, I was saddened by the loneliness and feelings of abandonment that are frequent companions for so many.

What will it be like when it’s our turn?

When we begin to reflect on these circumstances, our thoughts eventually turn inward.

What will it be like when it’s our turn? How will we function? How limited will be our mobility?

Will we go lightly into the night or go kicking and screaming during that last mile?

And, in our darkest moments … “Why would I want to live like this? Put me out of my misery. If it comes to that, I don’t want to wear diapers, be fed like a baby, etc.”

Our spouses also have a lot to teach us … if we’re paying attention

As always, my wonderful wife offered the simple answer to this conundrum:

“It’s not about us but about them … your mother, our mothers, our parents. We need to let them give us this gift … of both love as well as a deeper understanding of the nature of service. It is their parting gift to us, and it gives us a chance to personify those same lessons for our children.”

That’s a powerful lesson … and integral to a number of other lessons we can apply to successfully build our businesses.

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As we traversed the halls of the retirement community, it felt as if everyone was walking over spaghetti.

Slippery, slow, unsteady.

Step carefully, don’t rush because falling is how most elderly citizens are injured.

It’s a poignant way to learn, maybe re-learn, that patience truly is a virtue.

Everyone doesn’t move at our pace … and they may not be as quick to grasp new concepts or bleed the company’s blood … yet, in so many other ways, they contribute mightily to our lives and to the success of our businesses.


Life is a marathon and not a sprint.

There’s no reason to rush to the finish line unless we appreciate the journey.

We can’t have it all today, so there’s little value in steamrolling the present at the risk of sacrificing our principles and the values we cherish.

Successful businesses have learned this lesson, and as Jim Collins might put it, they grow steadily and consistently … like the hedgehog … to pursue their 10X Goals.

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I doubt that any of us are thoroughly prepared for the winter of our lives.

We may realize we are not immortal but we really don’t understand mortality.

For most of us, the light gradually diminishes, more like a dimmer dial than a light switch.

We can’t see or read as well, our gait is less sure, our interactions are more infrequent. Our hunger abates, our curiosity wanes, our input is reduced to a trickle.

Our businesses, too, can weaken over time if we aren’t thoroughly prepared for the unexpected challenges to their vitality and strength.


These are universal issues and it’s OK to take them personally and apply them to your business.

The circle of life is turning on its inexorable axis … but it’s not too late for us to absorb these lessons.

Be more patient with others.

Live today but not just for today.

Prepare thoughtfully for tomorrow and its unknowable challenges.

Cherish these gifts when they’re presented. They are simple lessons that will enrich your life and reinforce the values, culture and success of your business.

What’s special about your Mom that you’d like to share?

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