Ah, 35. It’s been a winding road full of surprises. Different countries, different jobs, different cities, different circles of friends. It has all led me to exactly where I am meant to be. Here with my two amazing daughters, one wonderful husband, and lest we forget the cat. New York City has been kind to us, and I truly wouldn’t change a thing. When I think of my journey to get here, I think of some pretty impactful events and monumental people from my life. Here, I’ve pulled together some life lessons that were passed on to me. These words really stuck with me, and shaped me into the person that I am today. Read below and share some words that have changed you in the comments!
“Learn how to count change.”
I’m not exactly starting this out with words, more an idea of how someone pushed me when she didn’t need to. I worked at a very small general store for my very first job at 14 years old. I worked the cash register and my boss said we weren’t allowed to enter the cash amount we were given and have the register calculate the change. We had to count the change in our heads. The idea of this did not benefit her whatsoever. There was more room for error and more arguments over change with customers. Maybe it helped in the off chance it was very busy and multiple people had to be pulling from the register at the same time, but, really, she did it for me. And, boy, was I fast. You would have change back in your hand before even realizing I took the ten. Fast forward over twenty years. I do not work in front of a register and cash barely exists anymore, but what she taught me has stuck. That sometimes taking the time to learn something makes you fast. Makes you proud. Makes you different. I can still add and subtract faster than most, and I don’t give the credit to my schooling. I give it to her. And taking the time to teach me something that could have been left on autopilot made her unforgettable to me. Don’t always take the easy route. Keep exercising your brain.
“Thank you for waiting.”
I moved on from the general store and got into the restaurant industry. Waitressing was where I was meant to be. I was a salesperson, an actress, a multitasker, a foodie, all in one! I shined! But before I could be a waitress, and was even old enough to serve alcohol, I had to pay my dues as a hostess. My manager was a high-strung man with no chill, who a lot of people were constantly annoyed by, but he had heart. His big lesson to me was to not apologize for a long wait. To the hungry patrons that have been glaring, and hanging by the hostess stand for almost an hour, to not say “Sorry for the wait.” Say “Thank you.” “Thank you for waiting.” It was such a simple shift in words and tone. If you apologize you’re admitting guilt, setting a negative tone to the experience. We didn’t owe anyone an apology that our restaurant was the size it was and was just that darn good. He was right. I stopped apologizing for a lot in my life. But, I started saying thank you a whole lot more.
“I know you’re going to cost me money, I just want to make sure it’s not too much.”
Many years later I found myself in my first “real” full-time job out of college. I was designing fine jewelry which meant my 22-year-old self was all of a sudden dealing with major responsibility. I was holding tens of thousands of dollars in precious metals, diamonds, gemstones, and in charge of measuring, estimating, and pricing such big ticket items. The owner of the company on my first day sat me down and said, “Listen, I know you’re going to cost me money, I just want to make sure it’s not too much.” He basically was telling me that mistakes are normal. Mistakes are ok. That he understood the pressure that went along with such responsibility, and he assumed his own responsibility in making sure he adequately trained me. I’ve taken this philosophy with me, with all people in my life, especially my children. Mistakes will be made, but I want to communicate and give the tools and training so that the damage isn’t too great and the bill is never too high. And to take ownership instead of always placing the blame. That man could be hot-headed, could be a maniac, but he was fair. A family man. And really took interest in every one of his employees. For him I am thankful.
“You don’t need to know the answer to that.”
At that same job, I had a manager that was a straight shooter, and pretty darn cold. He was a brilliant salesperson though. He could turn it on and have anyone in the palm of his hand. Watching him was magic. He disarmed everyone that walked through the door with his relaxed and kind demeanor, but he was a shark. And me? I was an excited go-getter, eager to master every aspect of everything. I would ask him question after question which he clearly found annoying at times. One day, while I was asking something probably pretty random about our field, he said, “You don’t need to know the answer to that.” He was matter-of-fact. Direct. And right. I didn’t need to know the answer to the question. The odds of ever needing to know the answer were so slim. Satisfying every curiosity can sort of be noise sometimes. And annoying. And there’s nothing worse than someone annoying. Sometimes less is just more. And, from a sales perspective, sometimes the people that know the most information are often the ones that can’t help but regurgitate it all to a client. You can always say, “Let me check on that for you…”
“Work smarter not harder.”
So after that job, I found myself in the corporate world, where a lot of awful employees are able to stay in cushy jobs simply by playing the game. A lot of men, with old-school mentalities and good golf games, ruled the rungs of the corporate ladder at that company. One of those guys just so happened to be my boss. He was younger, having an affair with a coworker, always pretending to be hard at work in his office, but probably just in there brushing up on golf stats to talk to the higher-ups about over drinks. Who knows. I clearly didn’t have that much respect for the guy, but even I was surprised when he drew us a colorful chart on the white board during our Monday Morning Meeting. (At 8:00AM. How rude.) Across the board, after talking sales figures, he drew an X and Y axis, labeling the different areas with Smarter and Harder being pointed in different directions. I thought the entire lesson was going to end up with this manager talking about how we needed to be working physically and mentally efficient in order to achieve our goals. We needed to cover ground, keep on pushing, and have value in each sales call and proposal. Nope, he wanted to teach us how to play the game. The corporate game that landed him an office with a closed door and a browser history that had nothing to do with our company. The game of life where hard work doesn’t always pay off. He put a big, red circle around the area between smarter, but not harder, and gave me a pretty great lesson. Being smart is everything. Figuring out the game is EVERYTHING. Sure, hard workers, pounding the pavement, not giving up, WILL succeed, by the simple laws of numbers. But, your life will be so much easier, your work will be something you enjoy when you OWN it. When you’re smart and savvy, and figure it all out, not only will you succeed and enjoy your career so much more, but you’ll have time for a personal life too.
“When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.”
It wasn’t all about the working world for me. Yes, the majority of my life lessons came from managers that had a lot to offer in both good and bad ways, but there were also friends that taught me along the way. One friend, who was too jaded to bother with many friends or relationships, still managed to give amazing advice to everyone else. She brought a famous Maya Angelou quote to my attention, and it is such an important idea to live by. “When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.” I can’t even begin to describe how many times I have been hurt by friends or men after attaching to the hope that he or she can change. They can’t. Believe their actions, believe their words. Walk away. Don’t set yourself up to get hurt over and over and over again. Do not write a narrative that doesn’t exist. Just believe what’s in front of you, and walk towards your goals and love and life you desire!
“You are the five people you surround yourself with.”
One of my sisters is really good for some deep talk. She loves to have a stiff drink and go deep into the human psyche and blow your mind a few hundred times over the course of a night. She can hit hard, and it can sting, but she sees your vulnerabilities and overall makes you a better person by her type of talk therapy. She’s a smart, young thing. Not necessarily smart enough to always follow her own advice, but smart nonetheless. During our last late-night talk, probably about some awful influences in our life that we can’t quite shake, she said “You are the five people you surround yourself with.” And it’s so true. Along the same lines as a personal favorite: “Your friends are your future,” it’s all a good reminder to not surround yourself with bad people. Surround yourself with the people that best represent you and your values. We all have those friends that can be embarrassing, or you find yourself apologizing for. Those should not be the people in your inner circle. If you want to be a good person, surround yourself with good people. Not only so outsiders can give the true you a chance, but so osmosis doesn’t start to turn you into someone you’re just not meant to be. If you’re someone that’s easily influenced, make sure your core is a group that shares similar health, relationship, parenting, and socializing goals. I personally want friends that are kind parents, put a lot of emphasis on education, believe in equality, are considerate of the environment, want a healthy lifestyle but are not afraid to indulge or let loose in a respectful manner, believe in positive relationships, don’t break laws, and are good communicators. Figure out your list, look at who you’re surrounded with, and look at your potential future!
Success leaves clues.
I could do this all day because I’m a sucker for a quote, or a song lyric, or some grand TV show series finale lesson, but I’ll leave it here, with just one more. Another from my sis, reminding me that “Success leaves clues.” Look at the people around you. Look at the people you admire. Look at the people in your field that have been successful. There are clues there. Little breadcrumbs that will lead you down the path of success, as well. Pay attention to those that have made it because they are doing something right and the only way to know how is by watching or asking them how. Asking for advice is smart. Ask for a mentor or for help. But at the very least, pay attention.
Thanks for riding my little birthday nostalgia wave with me! Writing this has been therapeutic in setting the tone for a productive and grounded 35th year! If you have some powerful quotes or life lessons, I’d love to read them! Comment below!