Special Edition: 5 Life Lessons Learned From My Mother (in Honor of Mother’s Day)

By: Karl R. LaPan, President & CEO, Northeast Indiana Innovation Center

You know, I don’t typically write too many personal posts, but in honor of Mother’s Day next week, I thought I would share 5 life lessons I learned from my mother. As many of you know, my mom passed away in January 2016 after a twenty-five-year courageous fight with Parkinson’s Disease.

Lesson 1: My mom taught me to be an inspired & engaged learner. Several months before she passed away, my mom was working with the nursing home where she resided in Massachusetts to get Wi-Fi and computer stations on her wing of her floor. They had WI-FI on the first floor but not on her floor. She sought out to change the problem that stood in the way of her learning. She wanted to take an online pharmacogenetics course (growing up, she was a nurse and stay at home mom) at the nearby community college. My mom had a ‘deal’ with me growing up that she would buy me any book as long as I read it and discussed it with her. My mom loved and embraced technology. She was a millennial at heart! She spent years doing and assembling a comprehensive genealogy of her family. There is no greater gift to set you up for life than a love for lifelong learning (being an empowered learner) and then doing something with the learning to be relevant and intentional in the world.

Lesson 2: My mom taught me to advocate for what I wanted. When I went to my parents in 7th grade and told them I was bored stiff in public school, and I wanted to go to private boarding school. My father’s initial reaction was no way, and my mom went back to work as a school nurse to help pay for my private education. She convinced my dad, and I was off to the best experiences of my life. My mom invested in me and bought into my arguments that I wanted to be in an environment that would stimulate me. She often reflected that this was the best investment she ever made in me because it prepared me so well for life. She sacrificed so I could be inspired and encouraged! I am who I am today because of her.

Lesson 3: My mom taught me to be generous and caring. Whether it was helping out at church as a young adult, visiting shut-ins at the local nursing home or in their homes or going door to door with her to educate people on smoking and cancer when she volunteered at the local American Cancer Society, she taught me that I had a responsibility to help others and lift them up. She taught me that giving my time was the most precious gift I could give. She loved to educate and share with others. She loved to debate with me politics, sports (she knew a lot more than me on this topic!) and religion. She always asked me more about what I was doing, and how I was giving back and not as interested in any personal success I might have had along the way as she was the significance and difference I was making in the world. She was intellectually curious, and she was always my best PR agent!

Lesson 4: My mom taught me to be confident and courageous about my career, life, and parenting choices. She always focused on my strengths and how to make them better. She never dwelled on my shortcomings. She didn’t inspire me by trying to fix me. She worked hard to make sure I was aware of how to become the best of the version of myself. She loved to challenge my thinking. She set really high expectations of what she felt I could do in my life. She always reminded gently but clearly when I fell short of expectations – not in a negative way but in a motivational way. Sometimes my mom might have been hardheaded and would not take “no” for an answer. This past week, JB Bernstein at our celebration event reminded me that “No is the beginning of a negotiations.” As she was failing in recent years, I often had to negotiate with her because her intellectual mind far outpaced what her worn out body would allow.

Lesson 5: My mom taught me to have a sense of humor. She never defined herself by the enormous limitations (the physical and emotional toll that twenty-five years of Parkinson’s had on her body and her mind) the Parkinson’s Disease placed on her life. She never complained — why me or had self-pity. She used her disease to impact others. While many of her friends when she was diagnosed with the disease didn’t see it as a real chronic illness – like cancer or heart attacks – or it was an old person’s disease (until Michael J. Fox came along) she sought to educate others, motivate others and often knew more about the disease (started a support group, studied and read everything about the disease) than her neurologists or parkinsonologists. She always put others first and loved to share her insights in the nursing home through book club, through programs she ran on Parkinson’s and through her art and music talents (none of which I inherited). She had an awesome gift of touching and connecting with other people. After she died, Many people, whom I did not know, shared how she impacted their lives.

My mom’s life is congruent with an observation made by the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta who said, “We cannot all do great things, but we can do small things with great love.” It is worth acknowledging that Blessed Mother Teresa will be declared a saint in early September 2016. She was right about the difference we can each make in our life if we choose to do so.

So this mother’s day think about the lessons you learned from your mom. What life lessons have impacted you most?


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