Four Valuable Lessons in Entrepreneurship, From My Mom

Growing up, my mom was both my nemesis and my hero. She was (and still is) smart, well-educated, creative, and resourceful.

She led Girl Scouts, worked part-time, made most of my clothes, and sailed with our family nearly every weekend—even though it often made her queasy.

Like many moms, mine had an uncanny ability to sniff out trouble. She knew when I was up to no good (which is more often than I’d like to admit) and she also sensed when I needed a good dose of motherly advice.

Learning the Lessons

When she spouted off her mom-isms, I was prone to roll my eyes thinking, “Here we go again!” (And yes, now those same phrases roll of MY tongue with ease!)

I didn’t realize then, there was a reason for her repetition. Those lessons stayed with me and they still serve me well.

In fact, a lot of what Mom taught me turned out to be timeless business advice. My mom wasn’t in business herself, and I’m sure she didn’t plan to share valuable lessons in entrepreneurship.

But she did!

Mom Knows Best

Here are a few gems of business advice from Mom:

1. If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.

In other words, know when to bite your tongue. Business relationships matter. Being hot-headed and loose-lipped doesn’t engender trust or confidence.

You never know who the people you know know (yes, that’s a lot of “knows!”) Networks run deep and wide and you don’t want to burn bridges or prevent future growth because you fly off the handle and trash people who disappoint you.

It can be tempting to blow up a partner who let you down or to gripe about a supplier’s failings, especially with social media at your fingertips. Before you open your mouth or hit “send,” be sure that what you’re about to say really reflects the image you want.

If not and you just need to vent, write a note and then tear it up. (Putting pen to paper is much more satisfying than an email for purging anger and frustration.)

2. Adversity builds character.

Whenever things didn’t go my way, Mom would tell me to look at it as “a character-building experience.”

One bad day I finally told her I had enough character, thank you very much! We always hope for smooth sailing but the truth is, it’s hard to learn tough lessons when everything is going according to plan.

When things don’t work out, when you’re blindsided by unexpected problems, you simply learn to deal.

Entrepreneurs don’t become successful business owners or exemplary leaders without first fighting a few fires. Like a child touching a hot stove, the lessons of adversity are seared into our memories.

They force us to be strong, to have the difficult conversations, and to confront the uncomfortable. Through the painful process, we discover what really matters and build the character we need to do better next time.

3. Sticktuitiveness is a virtue. 

I remember many times when I wanted to quit, and Mom wouldn’t let me. Take my 2nd grade ballet class. It became apparent almost as soon as I donned my new leotard and tights that I wasn’t born to dance – at least not gracefully.

I wanted to quit but Mom insisted I stick it out through the 8-week series of lessons she paid for. That didn’t turn me into a ballerina, but it did teach me that I can get through most anything if I put my mind to, and sometimes even enjoy it!

Most everything worth doing entails some level of self-doubt and fear, making us want to quit in favor of something easier. That’s a recipe for mediocrity.

You earn your entrepreneurial chops by staying committed when it’s tempting to quit, muddling through your problems and finding ways to make things work.

You may give up in the end (what I call “strategic quitting“) but not without full information and some priceless business lessons in hand.

4. Sometimes you deserve a treat.

My parents were the epitome of frugal. They pinched pennies and “made do” because they had long-term goals like college and retirement in mind.

Research shows that consistently exerting willpower like this can wear us down. Our daily supply of intestinal fortitude is limited and if we say “no” to donuts in the morning, we might end up binging on molten chocolate lava cake in the evening!

The solution to sustaining the good fight for the long haul is to indulge in little rewards here and there.

Occasionally after Mom returned from the grocery store she’d peek her head out of the pantry as she was putting away her purchases and toss me a fun-sized candy bar.

Our tight family budget didn’t include a bottomless candy dish, so those unexpected treats were super sweet to me.

As a business owner, your treats are probably a little different. Maybe it’s an afternoon off just to have fun, or rewarding your staff with a nice dinner out.

Whatever you choose, be sure your indulgences are “no strings attached.” Skip the guilt and savor them. You deserve it!

Was your mom a greater teacher, too?

If so, why not share your favorite business lessons from mom in the comments below? I’d love to hear from you!

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