Some of us are lucky winners of the parent lottery. I know I was. I say “lucky” because we really have no control over the families into which we’re born. My mom and dad not only raised my sisters and me in a loving household, but they also modeled an incredible work ethic. That’s why when I interviewed my friend and colleague Steve White for my Off the Rak series, I was looking forward to learning about his mother.
In his new book, Uncompromising, Steve talks about the incredible influence his mother had on him as a child and, still to this day, as a community and corporate leader. But this isn’t a post about perfect parents, or even having them; it’s about sharing the learning moments so everyone’s in on the luck.
Steve’s mom was 29 years old when she moved her four boys (including Steve as the eldest) across the country because their father wasn’t providing the influence she had hoped for her boys. They arrived in Indianapolis with a few pieces of luggage and a few dollars saved. Steve’s mom started out cleaning motel rooms (with the boys’ help) and later found a position as a high school janitor, where she worked for the next thirty-five years.
A janitor’s salary meant that they started out in the housing projects, and when I asked Steve to tell me about what his mother taught him, he shared four values that stick with him to this day.
No victims allowed
“We were set up to be the perfect victims, but my mother wouldn’t allow that mentality. Yes, our environment might not have been perfect; we may not have had all the resources, but we were not going to feel sorry for ourselves,” Steve said. His mother liked to say, “You’ve been given great health, you’ve been given a brain, and you have a home where you’re loved. No victims are allowed.” Think about how that no-victims mindset applies to everything in work and life. When you look at adversity with that approach, you’re less likely to be overcome by it and more likely to experience resilience in the face of challenges. Steve is living proof.
No one can do it alone
Steve’s mom would often call them a team. “She talked about ‘us against the world,’ but her point really was that ‘we can’t do this alone.’” As the oldest, Steve helped his mom get his younger brothers ready for school and helped them with dinner and homework at night. “She certainly made a difference in my career and how I thought about leadership,” he said. Steve explained in a recent blog, “Success is a journey that’s never traveled alone. Even if you think you got there by yourself, you and I know it’s never that simple. You need road dogs surrounding you. Road dogs are your family members, friends, or colleagues who would go to bat for you—no questions asked.”
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You have control over two things
“Walt, there are only two things you can control in your life. That’s your attitude and effort. Don’t give away that control. Put everything you have into working hard with a positive attitude,” said Steve. He explained that even though cleaning motel rooms meant that his mom would be picking up some awful messes, she always had a smile on her face and put forth a level of excellence because she knew Steve and his brothers were watching. Putting energy behind your effort and your attitude not only gives you a sense of control when there’s little to be had, but it also positively influences your own mindset and those around you. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Compete against the only person who matters
Steve said, “Don’t let anyone else be your standard. Every day when you look in the mirror, ask yourself if you gave your absolute best. And if you did, you have no apologies to give. You’re always competing against yourself. Don’t ever compare yourself to somebody who might have a few more dollars, a bigger home, a better car, or a better-looking partner. Focus on you. And if you do your absolute best with the right work ethic, a great attitude, a no-victim mentality…then you’re going to be okay.”
While Steve didn’t grow up having his dad around, his mother made sure to put Steve in a position where he was around positive people and role models, such as coaches, teachers, his uncle, and eventually his stepdad. He didn’t need a winning ticket because she created a world of good fortune for him and his brothers.
Steve’s story translates to the rest of us because we’ve all felt moments, seasons—or maybe lifetimes—when good fortune wasn’t in the cards. But the reality is that you can manufacture that winning ticket by learning from and watching others. Learning from leaders like Steve who remind us that with the right attitude, effort, and road dogs, anything’s possible.
Want to hear my full interview with Steve White? Check out this Off the Rak episode here.