Dad jokes are a thing. Can we get #MomLines trending too?
My mom is a superhero. I could gush about her till kingdom come. I’m embarrassed to admit I didn’t always appreciate her, but as an adult, I do now. She sends me good morning texts every day. She’s the first to read my articles. She’s my greatest coach, ally, and friend. And she makes the best damn biscotti on planet earth.
While she’s genuinely sweet, she’s also really... weird. Weird in an endearing sort of way. She’s said some pretty bizarre things to me growing up. Perhaps the full list will becomes it’s own book someday. Until then, I’ve compiled a best-of-the-best. Her top five oddest phrases that life has proven to be 100% accurate.
#1 If you’re smart, people will leave you alone.
My mom immigrated to the United States in her teens. The kids at school teased her on account of her broken English and not-very-American clothes. While she was so-so in reading, she was a whiz at math. One day in class, the teacher made a math error on board. My mom noticed it, raised her hand, and politely let the teacher know. The teacher applauded her in front of the class, and made the necessary correction on the board. From that day forward, the other kids stopped teasing her.
My mom would tell me that story over and over again. Not because she has dementia. Not because it makes her look like a badass (it does). She would tell that story to remind me that stepping up my game is the only way to deal with naysayers. If you prove yourself, the less-thans will avoid you. Your excelling accentuates the gap between you and them, which is painful for their ego. When you’re out of their league, they’ll leave you alone. Then you can go after your dreams.
#2 Nothing good happens after midnight.
This line actually predates my mom one generation: my soft-spoken, yet tough-as-nails grandpa would say it while enforcing a midnight curfew for my mom and her siblings. I technically didn’t have a curfew because I was a self-imposed recluse. My sister, on the other hand, was a wild child and always pushed the curfew envelope, to which my mother would say: nothing good happens after midnight. She’s absolutely right. I challenge you to name one edifying out-of-the-house activity that occurs after midnight. I’ll wait. If it’s going on after midnight, there’s a strong likelihood it offers so no real benefit to your life.
#3 If you clean as you go, you’ll never have to “clean”.
Most of my life I’ve lived alone. Very rarely have I had roommates, but when I have, the veracity of this statement would stick out like a man in a woman’s shoe store. One particular roommate left dirty plates stacked in the sink, large chip particles on the floor from her midnight eatwalking rendezvous, dirty clothes in random piles in the living room — all to ‘clean’ on Sunday. This is a foreign concept to me.
My mom had a rule — clean as you go. For example, when cooking dinner, you wash the dirty dishes while the food is preparing: wash the cutting board after putting the ingredients in the bowl; wash the bowl after putting the ingredients in the pot; wash the pot after putting the food on the plate. Then, when it’s time to eat, there are no dishes left to wash! Other offshoots: if you notice crumbs on the floor, vacuum them right away; if you notice the trash is full, take it out; if you notice the bathtub requires attention, scrub it straightaway. The underlying premise is this — attend to things as they happen. If you do, you’ll never need a ‘cleaning day.’
#4 Tidy space, tidy mind.
I’m not sure she actually said this one quite as succinctly, but the basic tenet was communicated in many more words and gestures (she’s Italian, so of course there were gestures). If your room is cluttered, your mind will be cluttered. In order to think clearly your space has to be clear of distractions. I’m equally appalled and incredulous when I walk into people’s homes or offices to see an utter mess. How do they get anything done? I cannot be productive if my surroundings are messy. Tidy space, tidy mind.
#5 Success requires no explanation.
My senior year of high school I took all AP classes. By choice. I knew this would get me into my university of choice. It came, of course, with hours of homework each night and a 5 hour sleep schedule. What my mom *didn’t* do was tell me to take easier classes or choose a different school. She would have been proud of me regardless, but she knew this was my dream and that this is what it would take to get there. So instead, every night, she would brew me a pot of strong, stove-top espresso and bring it to my bedroom where I studied.
Work your a** off. Do whatever it takes to get over the finish line. All nighters, espresso shots, consistent grind. Once you succeed, no one is going to ask you to explain yourself. You’ll get a congratulations. You’ll get adulation. You’ll get respect. What you won’t get is someone demanding you explain yourself. That only happens when you fail. ‘Showing your work’ only matters when you get the math problem wrong. If you get the thing right, the scrutiny isn’t there — you have already arrived. So put in the work and get across the finish line, because success requires no explanation.
I wonder at what point lines become mom lines. Is it the ‘mom’ title that makes the pithy one-liners more disarming? Is the daily, captive audience with which to practice part of the success? Does the act of raising children activate a special wisdom genome? I’d like to think I say plenty of insightful things throughout the course of my day. But right now I’m just the quirky girl armed with quips and killer red lipstick. Some day I hope to have mom lines. More than anything though, I hope to be at least half the woman my mom is.
That would be success. ❤
I have always been a contrarian at heart.
I recall watching home videos (remember those?) of childhood birthday parties, usually my sister’s. I was shocked at how infrequently I was actually in the videos due to my penchant to abandon whatever the prescribed activity was and play by myself. Seriously, it’s 30 minutes of the kids oooing and ahhhing around my gregarious sister as she unwraps her giant barbie house, and just 30 seconds of me, across the basement, at the Play Kitchen Set happily cooking an imaginary omelette. I was quiet & well-behaved so adults tended to let me do what I wanted. This is probably where my independent — some might say stubborn — spirit was born. Independent child, party of one.
To this day, I’m still intrepidly independent. I’d rather speak up in a large meeting than sit silently confused. I’d rather be happily alone than miserably coupled. I’d rather do my own thing that makes me insanely happy, than genuflect to the crowd. I find crowds uncomfortable and stifling. I’d rather have a quiet night to myself, a few friends, or a date. The air is crisper. I can hear and honor my own thoughts. There’s more space to be me.
Something happens when we meet an independent person that is really hard to explain. We become incredibly attracted to them — either platonically or romantically, sometimes both. We want to be around them. We want to hear their thoughts and see what they see. We want to inhabit their space.
Here’s what I’ve noticed about independence. It has two parts.
Independence is owning the responsibility for taking care of yourself, while desiring and making space for others.
I can do it on my own, yet I still want you. That’s independence.
Most people think independence is ‘I can do it on my own and I don’t want anyone else.’ That’s not independence, that’s unavailability. For goodness sake, when it comes to love, leave such a person alone! They clearly don’t have space for you in their life. When someone says they don’t want anyone else — either through their words or actions — we need to believe them. We need to stop trying to launch relationship reformations in other peoples lives. How arrogant are we to think we know people better than they know themselves. It’s foolishness. We have no idea what has happened in someone’s life to make them the way they are. If a person is unavailable, their journey to healing is one they need to be make on their own, without our intervention.
Independence is ‘I can do it on my own but if you gave me the choice, I’d rather have someone with me.’ Someone to build with, to share with, to help carry the load. An independent woman is someone who has her sh*t together — financially, emotionally, mentally — but when you offer to help her she gladly and cheerfully accepts. An independent man is someone who can take care of things on his own, but is completely comfortable with a nurturing presence, with being looked after by his partner.
Independence means being comfortable in your own skin and admitting that that skin wants some companionship. Needing something or someone doesn’t make you needy. Most people think independence means I don’t need you. Again, that’s unavailability. Independence is I don’t have to need you, but god, I want to need you. Independence is vulnerable, it’s self-aware, and most-importantly, it seeks the higher thing — fulfilling relationships. An independent person realizes that they can do it on their own, but life is more fun and rewarding with others.
I still go off on my own.
I’m a grown woman, but sometimes, still feel like that little girl who walks away from the festivities to go make an imaginary omelette. Many of my friends are married and happily so. From where I stand — I love my job, I love my family, I love my friends, I love my apartment, I love the coffee shop down the block with the friendly barista. In sum: I love my life and I love my world.
At the same time, I’m dating. I’m vulnerable and open to building a life with someone, provided I meet the right person. I know this is something that I want and something that I’m actively pursuing. I’m also completely willing to walk away when things are not working. I’m going to go over here and make an omelette, mkay bye. That’s where the independent spirit comes in.
I think a lot of people are in this boat. And it’s more than okay. It’s beautiful. Most people would call this ‘not settling’ but to me, it looks a lot more like ‘not willing to be unhappy.’ Life is too short to be unhappy. If you have a life you love, why would you add something to it that will make you miserable? Doesn’t make much sense.
My happily ever after is now. And if I find someone worthy to share it with me, even better. Till then, I’m going to go make an omelette.
The relationship we have with ourselves is the most important relationship we’ll ever have. Period. At the risk of sounding grandiose, let me state it more concretely: our thoughts and feelings about ourselves determine our life trajectory. Without realizing it, we download ‘scripts’ from society and our circles of influence that tell us how to view ourselves and others. These scripts serve as our success blueprint and teach us how to live our lives. The past year I’ve been re-evaluating the scripts. All of them. I’m asking myself: Are these true? Are these kind? Do these still serve me?
It’s a humbling exercise. We don’t realize how much culture and ‘others’ permeate our psyche until we actually have to distinguish their impact. It becomes an effort in mental gymnastics; in suspending beliefs, radical detachment, and being open to ‘ah-ha’ moments that literally change the way we see everything.
I about fell off my metaphorical chair when I started examining the self-esteem script handed down to me from the demanding warden we call culture.
The self-esteem movement arose in the 1980s and has dominated childrearing, schooling, and the workplace ever since. If you grew up in the 80s or 90s, chances are this mindset is embedded deep in your operating system. It’s core tenet is this: if you improve a person’s self-concept, and tell them repeatedly that they are worthy, wonderful, and full of potential, this individual will become a productive and fulfilled member of society. In essence — self-esteem leads to success.
The self-esteem culture brought us may things: participation trophies, schools focused on children's inherent specialness, positive reinforcement in the workplace. It also brought an implied guilt (albeit subconscious) that if you weren’t successful, it was because you didn’t believe in yourself. If you could just love yourself more, your life would be better, dammit.
Here’s the problem.
While the self-esteem culture has good intentions, it misses the mark. Gloriously. It addresses the *what* but not the *how* — it tells people to “be” a certain way without giving them the tools to get there. It’s a destination with no map. A fireplace with no fuel. All hype and no substance. It’s time we talk about what it actually takes for people to love themselves.
Here’s problem #2.
Deep down we know the answer already. We just don’t admit it because it’s so… unsexy. It requires us to acknowledge the link between love and hard work. The answer is self-control.
The building blocks of a healthy self-concept start with individuals who can manage and adhere to their own expectations, boundaries, limits, and goals. A person who makes a promise to themselves and actually keeps it. A person who can control their limiting & self-destructive impulses. A person with a ripped self-control muscle.
When we say we’re going to go to the gym 3 times a week, and instead, do thumb exercises…with the remote…on the couch…flipping through Netflix specials, we erode our self-control, and as a result, our self-esteem. When we say we’re going on a diet and then proceed to eat unhealthily, we erode our self-control, and subsequently, our self-esteem. When we say we’re going to get serious about our love life, and then don’t approach attractive people in public, we subconsciously respect ourselves less because our actions don’t align with what we said was important to us. Think about a time in your life when you felt really good about yourself. I mean, really good. Chances are you decided to focus on yourself and actually did it. You made a promise to yourself and actually fulfilled it. You had to do something really challenging and you showed the f*ck up to life.
Most people erroneously think that you have to be a giant of self-confidence to accomplish stunning feats. Incorrect. You do the hard thing, then you get the confidence. That’s how it works. Not the other way around.
Take the story of David and Goliath: a young man who slayed a giant with nothing but a slingshot. What most people don’t know is what led up to that mountaintop moment. David was born the eighth and youngest son. Literally the runt of the litter. Not exactly the prototype of strapping, self-confidence. At a young age he tended his father’s sheep, a job usually reserved for servants. Day in and day out he did dirty and rather demeaning work. He could have succumbed to the whims of pleasure and ego, but instead he was faithful to his post. He exercised self-control. This regular routine of doing the hard thing, the unglamorous, is what created his confidence and prepared him for his WWE match with Goliath. He developed his self-control, then had the mountaintop moment. That’s how it happens. Every time.
How Self-Control Gives Birth To Self-Respect
It’s also critically important to realize that self-control leads to self-respect. When we stay true to our word it engenders self-respect. We look on ourselves in a positive light because we did the thing we set out to do. Another pernicious lie associated with the self-esteem movement is that focusing on *liking* ourselves will get us where we need to go in life.
Brutal truth: If we just focus on *liking* ourselves, we never will. If we focus on respecting ourselves, liking ourselves is a natural bi-product.
What would you think of a person who repeatedly lets you down? You’d probably think very little of them. You’d probably think twice about becoming their friend, dating them, or trusting them with anything important. Now turn the scenario around. It’s you that’s letting you down. You say you’re going to do something and then you don’t do it. It’s no surprise you think very little of yourself; no one respects a person who can’t stay true to their word. We do it to ourselves through our lack of self-control.
Self-control and self-respect set our altitude for living. Not our car, our paycheck, or our partner. None of these determine the quality of our well-being. We will only truly love ourselves when we respect ourselves, and we can only get self-respect through self-control.
Think about anyone you love. I mean, really love. At the root of your love is respect. This is what separates ‘like’ from ‘love’: respect.
Self-esteem ≠Success. It’s missing part of the equation. Instead, it’s:
Self-Control → Self-Respect → Self-Esteem = Success
How Self-Respect Impacts Our Relationship With Others
Lest you think this is purely an act of gratuitous mirror-gazing, think again. Our degree of self-control and self-respect have a direct correlation on the health of our relationships. Said with less gravitas: We put up with sh*t in our relationships because we put up with it first in ourselves.
I often look at couples who treat each other like garbage and wonder why they are still together. Why doesn’t one of them leave? The answer: they don’t respect themselves enough to do so. They’ve made so many compromises in the self-control department that their self-respect is eroded, and they truly believe they deserve no better.
We cannot think for a moment that we will enjoy the fulfilling, life-giving relationships we desire without doing the hard work of self-control. It’s not because we don’t deserve incredible relationships. It’s because the process of developing our self-control and self-respect make us emotionally fit to receive such relationships. They are the training ground for the beautiful. The foundation for the house. The callouses that allow us to walk on the flames of glory without getting burnt.
Friends, let’s steer the ship in the right direction. Let’s calibrate our compass to self-control and pursue that as our destination. We’ll be pleased to discover that our journey hones our self-respect and self-esteem along the way. When we do arrive, the destination looks a lot more like *success* than self-control. And guess what? There are incredible people there who have also made the grueling journey. We’ll swap sea stories and develop an instant bond — not because we’ve experienced the same things but because we share the same spirit, the same tenacity for doing the hard work of getting there.
And here, my friends, we cast our anchor. ❤
Archives by Month