BY G. A. FINCH
My mother, Louise Antoinette Finch, passed away last month just two and half months shy of her 100th birthday. She is survived by all six of her sons and one daughter. As an older brother gave a eulogy and the priest gave a homily about my mother and what she represented spiritually, I ruminated about her legacy and the impact of her teachings. Although we are far from perfect as individuals and have had our own share of ups and downs, and some of the siblings may be viewed as more materially successful than other siblings, she obtained the same result from each of her children: all finished college and graduate or professional school. How did she do that? She had a few maxims to live by that she drilled into us. These aphorisms would benefit anyone (executive, professional, and others) seeking to get a leg up in life. I share five of the most salient ones below:
1. When you start something, whether it is a project, a task, a job, an extracurricular activity, or a degree program, you must complete it. My mother abhorred quitters and lack of follow through. She correctly knew that the lack of follow through was a serious impediment to success. So despite unfair teachers, mean camp counselors, arbitrary coaches or a tedious activity, we had to finish whatever program we started. To this day, my siblings and I talk about the little voice in our heads, when times got tough in medical, graduate or law school or in a demanding job, that repeated the mantra: “When you start something, you must finish it.”
2. When we complained of being sick, whether severely or lightly, real or imagined, my mother would say, “Get up, wash your face, brush your teeth, put on your clothes, eat some breakfast, go to school, and, if you are still feeling lousy, then call me.” By the time we did all those things, our ailments seem to disappear or become sufficiently mitigated that we forgot that we were physically or psychologically under the weather. This was her ways of saying a) have a strong work ethic, b) “show up” to where you are supposed to be, and c) adjust your attitude. This anti-slacker and anti-lazy approach again carried me and my siblings through many a school and work day.
3. Surround yourself with quality people and people of integrity. Your friends and peers will make or break you and you will be judged by the company you keep. I think of the hyper academic high school that I was fortunate enough to be able to attend; the super intellectual students forced me to up my game and pull myself up from the mud of mediocrity. Counterintuitively, I did not find the competitive atmosphere intimidating because it actually inspired and stimulated me. My siblings and I have never gotten into serious trouble or arrested because our friends are sensible and have a lot of impulse control.Many a prison inmate laments associating with the “wrong crowd” or corrupting friend that landed him in jail. In short, choose your friends, associates and peers very carefully.
4. Don’t lie or cheat. Being an honest person meant a lot to my mother. A person of character was the benchmark by which my mother evaluated people. She had an expression, “Pretty is, is as pretty does.” A variant was “Pretty on the inside is more important than being pretty on the outside.”
5. Lastly, my mother was a big one in standing up for yourself when another is perpetrating a wrong upon you or a family member or trying to diminish you or a family member. Mom taught us not to look for fights but not to allow ourselves to be victims. She led by example and did not wait around for my father to get home to go address an injustice at any level or push us out the door to face a bully.She made it clear that this attitude and posture must be based on our position being legitimate and righteous as well as our being without fault.
Often times you do not have to travel far to learn self-evident truths; they can be found within the four walls of your own upbringing without ever stepping outside your own front door. I hear my mother’s voice as I counsel my young daughter and young son about how to stand up to bullies and admonish them to finish their activities.