When I was a kid, my dad started his own company. I remember him sitting us down for a family meeting when I was 10 and saying he wanted to leave his day job and start his own business. At the time, I didn’t really understand the magnitude of starting your own company (especially while supporting a family), but I saw him pour everything he had into his idea and build a global company.
Ten years later, when I got the idea for my own business, I felt confident in going all-in because I’d seen my dad do the same thing.
It’s been easy to see Dad as a heavy influencer in my entrepreneurial journey because of his experience, but my mom, too, has figured in: She’s been a huge influencer on my entrepreneurial spirit. So, in honor of Mother’s Day on Sunday, here are six things my mom taught me about running a company (even if she doesn’t know she did):
1. It’s okay to do it for the story.
When Mom was in college, she biked from New York to California. Yes, you read that correctly. I remember thinking, as a kid, that that was the coolest thing ever and telling all the kids on the playground.
As I got older, I wanted to have cool stories just like my mom’s. Whenever I found an opportunity to do something big or scary (like starting a business!), Mom would ask me if I had any good reason not to go for it. If I didn’t forsee any glaring hurdles, I’d go for it. I learned from my mother that even if you do something for “the story,” it usually ends up being a pretty cool experience.
2. Send thank-you cards.
I remember how, when I was a little girl, my mom gave me personalized stationery. My initial reaction: Why would I want stationery when I could have Barbies? But my mom made me write thank-you cards for literally everything, from birthday gifts to the opportunity to pet someone’s dog (okay, that one was a little extreme, but you get the point).
At first, I found the task annoying: “These people obviously know I’m grateful; why do I have to send a card saying so?” But when I received thank-you cards myself, I always felt excited and warm and fuzzy inside. To this day, I still get excited getting snail mail (except for bills), so I continue to send thank-you cards as a regular practice.
3. If you don’t like something, change it.
When we were kids, our family moved into a new house on a lake. Across the cove were beautiful woods and a beach that we would kayak over to, to play. Then, one day, builders started tearing down the woods to construct more houses over there, even though our sellers had said that wouldn’t happen.
My mom started a petition and was at every city hall meeting, fighting for the development to stop. She didn’t win, but she went down swinging. Now, if I feel something needs to be changed, I do everything I can to fix it instead of sitting and complaining and hoping someone else steps in.
Even if any particular change I want doesn’t happen, I always remember what Mom taught me: It’s better to feel that you did everything you could than wonder if you could have changed the outcome.
4. Be nice.
I know this sounds cliched and simple, but it’s actually a super-challenging task at times. I remember that my mom was in line at Panera Bread and an elderly man was in front of her trying to place his order. He was asking the cashier questions about items on the menu, and the cashier kept rolling her eyes and trying to hurry the man along.
My mom got so frustrated at the cashier’s behavior, she walked up to the counter, and her giant heroic response was, “You . . . just be nice!” Then she stormed out of Panera in all of her glory. Even though I think this story is hilarious and continue to make fun of her for it, she was so honest that day, and also totally accurate.
Just be nice. It’s so easy to grow impatient or look for the worst in people. And, when you run a business, sometimes you feel like everything is a transaction, so you always ask yourself, “What return will I be getting?” But what if your return for being nice is just making someone’s day just a little more pleasant? Try it.
5. Start the conversation.
I distinctly remember the day my sister and I were pushing each other in shopping carts while our mom talked to a complete stranger about, well, peanut butter. I was, like, “Mom, just get the crunchy kind and call it a day.” Why did she need to talk to a complete stranger about it?
But that was Mom: Wherever we were, she’d strike up a conversation with the closest person in sight, regardless of gender, age or physical appearance. As I got older, I realized that this habit of hers had nothing to do with the peanut butter, she just liked getting to know people. It had nothing to do with what they could do for her, it was just about making friends.
One of my biggest pet peeves is entrepreneurs who only “network” with other entrepreneurs they believe can offer them something. My mom taught me to just “talk to people” and share stories, regardless of any benefit.
6. Show up.
When I was little, my sister and I participated in every single camp the state of North Carolina had to offer: sports camp, science camp, theater camp, veterinarian camp (no kidding!), spy camp, water sports camp, etc. You name it, we did it.
I can think of two possible reasons Mom did this: to get us out of the house over the summer, or to put us in new environments. Let’s go with the second one. Even though I didn’t become a veterinarian or a spy (professionally), I became more comfortable just showing up to places without knowing anyone or having any preconceived intentions.
It’s really amazing what can happen if you just “show up.” One time, I was asked to speak for free last-minute at a local conference in Raleigh. I showed up and ended up meeting Jeff Hoffman, the co-founder of Priceline.com, who is now on my board of advisors and a dear friend. My mom was the person who taught me that opportunity cannot happen if you’re not there for it.
True, she didn’t run or start a business to show me how to run mine. But she didn’t have to. All she had to do was bike across the country, sign me up for every camp, flip out at Panera Bread, talk about peanut butter and buy me stationery. Thanks, Mom.
Originally posted on Entrepreneur by Jess Ekstrom