Begin at the Beginning

My Great-Full Life blog won’t always take a chronological approach, but for the inaugural post in this series, it simply wouldn’t be right to acknowledge anyone before my parents.  They truly are my foundation for everything.

There are so many things I can thank my Dad and Mom for and future posts are likely to point to specific turning points in my life and career where their guidance was a game changer.  For now, there are two things that spring to mind that underpin everything else.

A Deep Sense of Security

When there’s stability in the home, kids can be kids — exploring the world, learning and growing, and having fun. 

This sounds like such a simple thing, but we all know how complicated – or even unsafe – some home lives and communities can be, so the security my parents’ relationship and their parenting style created was a gift.

They were role models for a healthy and loving relationship and equally in love with the entire family experience.  Being parents was an obvious source of joy for them.  They were completely committed to each other and to creating a home full of laughter, kindness, and unity.

That said, we weren’t molly-coddled.  My Dad and Mom provided sufficient structure and discipline to build accountability.  This wasn’t just about doing chores; it was about comporting yourself with dignity, too.  Of course, as children and young adults we didn’t always hit the nail on the head, but we understood the expectations and could predict the consequences.  In essence, they gave us a compass.

Dinner time was like a master class in learning about life.

My parents openly shared the challenges they themselves faced in a way that taught us important lessons. They spoke on social issues, race, political and religious differences, class distinctions, and financial strife in age-appropriate straight talk.  They imparted a worldview so we could see beyond ourselves.

All of this made for a stable foundation that fostered psychological security. 

Like everyone else, I had insecurities and lost my way more than once.  But I could always go to my parents and speak candidly, share my mistakes and fears, and receive balanced, honest and loving support.

This gave me the confidence that I could be who I wanted to be and, succeed or fail, everything would be OK. 

For this, I am immensely thankful.

The Essentials in Life

I was in my teens when I noticed some of my friends’ parents had what seemed like strained or dysfunctional dynamics.  Peers had begun to date and their choices weren’t always good ones.  They often seemed disappointed or downright miserable. 

My parents’ dynamic seemed rare and I knew that one day I wanted to have what they had.  It made me curious and so I asked them how they had built such a solid relationship. Here’s what they said:

Dad: “Respect.  Everything in life comes down to respect.  In each relationship you have, that person must respect you and you must respect them. Listen to each other – really listen.  Don’t render judgments.  Your mom and I always hold each other in high regard and treat each other with respect.  If someone doesn’t treat you that way, they haven’t earned a place in your life.”

Mom: “Sense of humor. Life isn’t always going to be easy.  You’ll face difficult times and not know how to get through it.  You have to be able to find joy and laughter together in the midst of whatever challenge is there. That’s a key part of what binds you together.  If you’re not having fun, why be there?”

Little did I know then that their principles for a successful marriage would stretch far beyond romantic relationships to serve as a roadmap for my life. 

There are many crossroads we each face at various points in time.  Whenever I’ve been at one, I ask the questions my parents taught me to ask:

Am I respecting myself?  And I finding joy in this?  We sometimes enable the situations we dislike by ignoring our own boundaries and basic desire to be happy.  Asking if I’m operating with self-respect and experiencing satisfaction prompts some important introspection.

Am I respected?  Is my work, presence, or role respected?  Do I respect this stakeholder (boss, colleague, friend, partner)? 

If it’s a professional crossroad, do I respect the mission of the company?  Do I believe that the leaders and the organization act with integrity?

Is this a fun place to be?  Do I enjoy coming to work each day? Is this an environment in which I can thrive, have fun, feel satisfied? 

And when any relationship needs to come to a close, how do I end this with respect – for myself and for them?  How do I handle this so that I can look back in a year and feel confident that I operated with character and dignity, as well as with regard for the other person?

Have I mastered operating this way in every situation I face?  Of course not.

But some of the best relationship and professional decisions I’ve made have resulted from asking – and honestly answering – these questions, no matter how hard it might be to accept the answers.  This process also prepares me to have candid conversations so that my decision or action is an informed one, not based on interpretation or reactions.

While my Dad passed away in 2002, he always feels close by.  My Mom is about to turn a strong and healthy 91 and I continue to benefit from her view and support.  Their lessons, values, and actions remain at my core and continue to serve me well.

I’m so very grateful for my parents’ timeless wisdom and the perspective they provided.  I hope that you, too, might gain value from their insights.

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