Yesterday was Labo(u)r Day in Canada and the U.S. and possibly in other countries who aren't in my calendar of holidays. Usually, Labour Day is the one last hoorah before the school year finally gets us all back into the swing of things - in Canada, at least. It's definitely different in the U.S. where it was often a nice little break after the first few weeks of school were finished.
This year, I asked myself who I would say was my biggest role model for how I've lived out my professional life. What "labourer" had the most influence on me? And why?
Questions like this aren't my favourite. I always have a hard time trying to name a role model for myself. I don't easily look up to celebrities, not even "celebrities" in industries, though I can't deny that I'm a total fangirl of some people in the communications world - especially some of the women who have achieved great success and acclaim. How can I not respect that when it's genuinely deserved?
However, I don't know the day-to-day work life of any of those people. There is only one person who I could ever choose and I knew her better than any co-worker I've ever had.
A practical role model
The woman I've looked up to most in my entire life is (surely a shocker for long-time readers) my mom. I have rarely met any worker who was more dedicated to quality, determined to get the job done, and didn't mind getting calls at all hours of the night. That list is too short to really do her justice, though. Here's a better one:
Ten things that have always impressed me about my mom
- It was clear when she was very young that she was wicked smart. She played three different instruments (two she taught herself on her own time), was a majorette in the marching band, and graduated the salutatorian of her class.
- She was in the Navy until she got married or pregnant (I can't remember which one was the catalyst for her discharge).
- After becoming a full-time single mother not long after my brother was born, she continued working and going to school. She didn't let go of her dreams of being a teacher.
- She was seven months pregnant with me when she graduated from university with her education degree - ten years after she graduated from high school. My brother was six.
- When my grandfather (my dad's side) was very ill after I was born, mom helped care for him until his death, even though it delayed starting her teaching career. Family came first.
- She taught special education. (This could be reasons 6-10, but there's more.)
- Six or seven years into her teaching career, she was diagnosed with neurosarcoidosis and was forced to leave teaching.
- Mom trained to become a COBOL programmer back when mainframes were still a thing. Then she branched out into other programming languages that weren't as close to becoming obsolete.
- She wasn't afraid to take on difficult and demanding projects. Yanno, like being responsible for the payroll run for most state employees. (Those years were the source of most of the obscene o'clock phone calls.)
- When it was time to leave, she did. Being a conscientious employee, mom didn't like to leave things undone. However, she moved on at every stage at the right time - including when she retired early because of her disability.
Not just a mom
I have the unique perspective of actually being able to call my mother a former co-worker - for three and a half years, in fact. For a couple of those years, we were even under the same supervisor. I knew my mother, the woman who gave birth and raised me, but it's not often that we have the chance to work with a parent (outside of family businesses).
Working with my mom was sometimes a frustrating experience. She often explained things to me as if I knew a lot more background than I did. If the pay hadn't been so good at that stage of my life, I might have quit. Fortunately, I didn't, and we eventually figured out how to communicate effectively as colleagues.
I learned so much from being in that job and watching my mom. I got to get my feet wet in a safe environment with my ten moms (what I called my mom and all the women she was friends with at work). I built confidence in asking for raises, applying for promotions, presenting innovative solutions, taking on big projects, and even minimal supervision of others.
The only reason I left that job working with my mom was because I was moving to Canada. But just like mom, it was also time for me to go even if I had stayed in Tallahassee. I learned everything I could from that experience and it was the right time to move on and learn from the next one.