In honor of Mother’s Day, I will be doing a series of posts this week about the two wonderful woman in my life that I have had the privilege to call. “Mom”, and the wisdom they have passed on to me. ~
My Mom, (Grandmother Whitmore), was a very caring and strong person who was focused on raising the five of us to be good, kind and successful people. She worked hard to ensure that we had every opportunity open to us and she believed a key part of that was the friends we had surrounded ourselves with.
Mom’s mantras was, “You are who you hang out with.”
As a kid, it would drive me crazy how much attention she paid to who were in my circle of friends and the constant questions she had for them. “Are you going to college?”, “What are you going to study?”, “Do you have a backup plan?”, “How is school going?” and on, and on, and on. In addition, if she felt someone was going to pull me the wrong direction she would find ways to intervene. As a teenager, this was maddening! I thought she was being unfair, and I fought her on every turn.
And then I grew up……. and I began to understand why she was so focused on who surrounded me. The people around you are so very key to who you develop into as a person. In many ways, more than your parents, teachers and family. They can lift you up or pull you down.
Your friends are the ones you look to in defining your worth and value, as well as being your models for who you should be. Your friends are the ones who will tell you when you hair cut looks stupid, that a boy is wrong for you, push you to live your dreams and pick you up when you fall. They accept you at your worst and celebrate you at your best.
Living Aunt Harriet’s Life rule #1 –“ Do it because it is who you want to be.” is so much easier when you are surrounded by friends who not only support your vision for yourself, but push you to fulfill it. The only reason I have accomplished what I have is because of the friends and family that surround me.
Mom was right. You are who you hang out with.
Thank you for being a pain. I am a better person because of you.
By the way, Grandmother is not alone in this opinion. Some great quotes on Friends –
“You can be the best artist or the best business person, but if you have bad friends you are not going to do anything. You have to have good friends so they give you a different perspective. Perspective is why we are successful.” – WILL.I.AM
“Set your world on fire. Seek those who fan your flames.” – RUMI
“Surround yourself with people who make you hungry for life, touch your heart, and nourish your soul.” – Unknown
“I really do appreciate people who stimulate my creativity and make me think on a deeper level.” – Unknown
“Associate yourself with people of good quality, for it is better to be alone than in bad company.” – Booker T. Washington
“Be with those who help your being.” – RUMI
“Surround yourself with the dreamers and the doers, the believers and thinkers, but most of all, surround yourself with those who see greatness within you, even when you don’t see it yourself.” – Edmund Lee
The summer after high school graduation, I landed a job working as a slusher operator at the local paper mill. This job was a very big deal, not only because it was a high paying job for a college student, but because I was selected as one of the first five women allowed to work on the mill production floor. Until then women were only allowed to work in the offices and as lab support. A few years before, your Aunt Jacie worked in the lab making minimum wage, ($3.25 per hour), where I started at $8.50 an hour as a student laborer.
I arrived an hour early on the first day and waited for the shift supervisor to arrive on some steps, lunch bucket and steel toe boots in hand. When he arrived, he introduced himself, gave me a tour of the plant, showed me how to clock in and took me to the small space that had been converted into the women’s locker room and bathroom. After putting my stuff away in my locker, my supervisor showed me where I would be working. In hindsight, I should have known something was up because he was smiling way too much during my induction.
As we walked up to the slusher I was assigned to, I could see Playboy centerfolds hung up over all of the equipment and the guys on the crew looking at me with big grins on their faces. I am sure they were expecting me to get upset, have a hissy fit, or perhaps cry. But all I said was, “Nice pictures” and moved the centerfold that was hanging over the controls of my slusher to another location. They all looked a bit dumbfounded.
The supervisor assigned one of the crew to train me on operating the slusher and the rest of the evening went off without a hitch. Everyone kept watching me, but they were polite and helped me learn my job. The pinups remained up at the end of the shift.
After work that night, I picked up my girlfriend and we proceeded to purchase every Playgirl magazine we could find within a 20 mile radius. For your parents who were around in 1981, this was the infamous Playgirl edition with the very naked Burt Reynolds as the centerfold. We pulled out all of the centerfolds and I put them in my lunch bucket with a roll of tape for the next day. Two could play at this game!
The next shift, I walked to my assigned equipment and proceeded to hang a copy of Burt next to every Playboy centerfold as the guys on the crew watched me. They were smiling and so was I. The shift went smoothly and some of the guys actually started conversations with me.
On my third shift, I came in to find someone one had taken a black marker and drawn a swim suit on all of my “Burts”, and the crew was standing there laughing so hard I think they were crying. Clever boys. With a smile on my face, I picked up a black marker and drew bikinis on all of the centerfolds. During my lunch break that night the guys bought me a soda and started calling me, “Kid”.
By my fourth shift, all of the pictures were removed and we were all good.
I have worked and played in male dominated fields all of my life, and while much of the blatant harassment is now generally understood to be unacceptable, inequality still exists for all minorities. Know who you are and what you are worth, accept nothing less. By applying persistent pressure with a pinch of humor, you will see change occur in a manner that builds new more equal relationships.
One day, I was driving to work and listening to an NPR interview of Mac Bledsoe, author, educator and father of football player Drew Bledsoe. Mac was discussing his book, Parenting with Dignity, and a key life event in developing his parenting philosophy.
While in the military, Lt. Mac Bledsoe was stationed in the south and worked with an African American woman who was known for always treating people with respect and dignity regardless of their position or race. One night the KKK burned a cross in Shirley’s front yard. The next day, Shirley came into the office and continued to treat everyone, including a Sergeant who was a reputed KKK member, with her usual respect and dignity. Mac watched her throughout the day and could not understand how, after the hateful and frightening events of the night before, Shirley could still work with the same level of professionalism. So he asked her. Her response was, “Oh, Lieutenant Bledsoe, that’s easy. In our family we are respectful and dignified, not because the people around us are acting respectful and dignified but because we are.”
This story has stayed with me over time, and in fact helped define a key part of who I am and want to be as a person. It has also provided a wonderful example of the legacy I would like to leave with our next generation. (Yep! That’s you; Guy, Carl, Jesse, Sean, Taylor, Jacie, Kyler, Jameson, Flannery, Honora, Xavier, Phoenix, and Alaya.)
As each of you move through life you will undoubtedly meet people who act with hatred, bigotry or just plain old “Assholeness”. You will get angry. You will want to yell, get in their face, get personal, or even get physical. In that moment, it will be very easy to forget who you are and to respond with equal emotion. Some of my biggest regrets have come from moments where, under the cover of “righteousness”, I chose to respond with anger, losing myself and my point at the same time.
In that nanosecond between the event and your response, you have a choice. Take a deep breath, THINK, and ask yourself, “Who do I want to be?” Then act accordingly.