Wait! Read Part 1 first, if you haven’t already.
So a big question you might have: What does my mom Do? Virginia Brown is a parent educator and family counselor. She has a Master’s degree in Social Work and is a licensed clinical social worker. She has built a flexible, varied and successful career, composed of a steady full-time job with talks, seminars and individual counseling to round it all out.
She was surprised when I said I wanted to “interview” her as an example of someone who has created a self-styled life. To her, there was never a plan. She took risks and chances based on certain constants—abilities, education, interests. And this ended up leading her somewhere great.
My Mom, The Successful Career Woman
Here’s how she did it:
*She didn’t try to do it all at once*
My mom always knew she wanted to influence and help other people. In the decision to have a family, she realized that rather than helping lots of people, she was going to “concentrate on a few people intensely.”
My mom knew that you don’t have to achieve all of your goals at once. With this in mind, she made very deliberate choices along the way, but didn’t necessarily know exactly where they would lead or how they would link up to larger goals. Looking back, she sees how many of the skills she acquired at that time are ones she uses now. She allowed herself to grow organically, rather than trying to rush into a career or certain role.
*She found and engaged her passions*
In retrospect, the pieces fit together rather cleanly in my mom’s story. She identified her passions early and discovered ways to make them a part of her life. But how we find those things is what I, a wandering 27-year old with a multitude of interests, wanted to know. “You have to be honest with yourself about your competencies and abilities,” she said, and think about those times at which you felt the most in your element, the happiest with what you were doing. For her it was being a mom and helping people.
In today’s very career-focused culture, we tend to draw a straight line between education and career. Study law, become… a lawyer. But there are much wider applications for knowledge and skills, and we should be open to those other possibilities.
*She was always open to finding a greater purpose in things*
Every experience has a purpose or a meaning if we are open to learning from it. My mom learned from her role as a mother. And in finding so much joy in that role, she then decided to continue her formal education once I was in school—a decision that was difficult, but that she was absolutely sure of.
There’s that type of learning—the type we actively seek. There’s also the type that comes to us, whether we want it or not. My mom has especially experienced this with my sister Kirby’s death. There is learning in suffering and grief, even if we’d rather not have gotten that lesson.
*She knew—it’s not what you do, it’s how you do it*
“If you do ordinary things in extraordinary ways, you will feel fulfilled.” My mom told me the story of a time she was on a bus. The driver was exacting in how he maneuvered the vehicle and h greeted every passenger by name. My mom assumed that many of the people were together given the lively, friendly atmosphere. But they mostly departed one by one. They would have been strangers on another bus—cold, avoiding contact, keeping to themselves. Instead, because of what the driver did, that bus ride was an exceptional one.
I struggle sometimes, thinking that I need some Great Big Career in which I will change the world! But really, it’s your attitude about the process of what you’re doing that matters. When you respect the job, respect your effort in it, and respect the people you encounter—that’s how you make a difference. And incidentally, this can sustain you in a crappy job, helping you rise above the negative elements to make the most of the situation.
*She started with what she knew she loved*
My mom was valedictorian of her undergraduate class and had a Fulbright Scholarship lined up. She instead opted to get married and start a family because that, she says, was the one thing she was absolutely SURE she wanted.
This is the most important lesson I’ve learned from my mom: start with what you know, and have faith that the rest will fall into place. By always trying to stay true to her passions and interests, my mom’s path, however winding, was the “right one” because it was always hers.
Happy Mother’s Day!