8307 days

Today is Mother’s day 2012, and I always take this time each year to more explicitly celebrate ways my mom has influenced my life. But that usually happens in the confines of a card. This day in this year is also special in that it begins the week that I graduated college last year, and thus also the week that I started this blog.

I was planning to write a one year retrospective on blogging for my official blogiversary in a few days. But I got a little excited and started reviewing my posts early. As I did, I realized how much my Mom has directly impacted the topics I chose to write about, and the thoughts I expressed.

Which is odd, because I haven’t gotten around to showing her this blog yet. But today I’ll change that. So sending her this post will mark the first time she’s actually seen my writing in a while. Henceforth I write to her.

Hi Mom!

It’s been 8,307 days since I was born, and the density of lessons in those days can’t possibly be summarized by one post or the 22 Mother’s Days I’ve celebrated with you so far. But I thought I’d write some of them down for posterity. Here I can also fit more text than I can fit in a card (and you can actually read it, as opposed to my handwriting).

In the past I’ve often written to you on two subjects: things you’ve done that I respect you for, and times you’ve helped me find the right direction. The hard facts of your life — raising me on your own while keeping up with a fast paced career — are eclipsed only by the subjective nuances. You start with being uncommonly at peace with yourself, and layer atop that peace a deep compassion and empathy that makes others feel at ease being around you. You’re at once both strong-willed and gentle, accepting and inquisitive. Simultaneously my ideal role model and my north star.

But none of those concepts are new. What’s more surprising is the subtle way you’ve influenced every decision, action, and thought I’ve had. I’m very much my own person, and you and I passionately disagree with each other on many topics… yet at the deepest level my guiding principles and ideals have all converged on lessons from you.

So here are ten of my favorites. Each underlined link is a blog post, and they can all be traced back to you. Something you’ve said or done in the last 8,307 days that I’ve held onto.

1) Beyrouteys never give up. You repeated this to me a thousand million times when I was a kid, and it stuck. Never giving up implicitly means allowing yourself to fail by trying lots of possible solutions. To “fall forward” as Denzel put it at my commencement last year. When I’m in danger of throwing in the towel, somewhere in the back of my mind you always remind me that Beyrouteys never give up.

This has led me to keep trying at things I previously failed to accomplish. Last year I learned to ride a bike because I had given up on it previously. In doing so, I came to understand the importance of having a safe environment where you wouldn’t be judged or berated for failing, but rather encouraged to push the limits of nature, tools, and yourself a little further. You gave me just that environment. And that’s why I learned to love technology — you can fail over and over and just hit the back button if something goes wrong. Tech culture celebrates failure, and so do I.

2) Disconnect. As much as I love tech, you also helped me realize that it’s a two-edged sword. While it can bring people together, it can also make us even more distant from each other. When you reminisce about your childhood, it reminds me to think twice about how I’m spending my time and what I’m prioritizing. (Amusingly, I once asked you if the whole world was actually in black and white when you grew up).

Even though it seems to you like I’m always on the computer, I take your questions about technology to heart. When a lot my peers let distractions from the internet and social media rule their lives and build up an addiction, I keep my phone on silent and prioritize being in the moment. When I’m thinking of someone, I give them a call and avoid empty online interactions. And even in the hustle and bustle of city life, I often disconnect completely and take a walk. Some of my best memories are when I’ve gone radio silent and unplugged for several days at a time, as when I refinished a table last summer.

3) Take risks. You spent a great deal of your life thinking about risk and protecting against it. At times I know you’d love to insure against everything, but your stories (e.g. missing out on Fender) had a huge impact on my own risk reward curve. You’ve always encouraged taking calculated risks, and adding some random variation to my daily life. For example, you pushed me to “get out there” and meet people when I used to be shy and reserved.

In the past year alone, several of the most life-changing moments happened because I opened myself up to the influence of randomness. When people invited me out to events, I strived to always say yes. I met some of my closest friends that way, found jobs that way, and learned about myself in the process. Sometimes it doesn’t work out, but I keep trying until it does. Today I trust my instincts more than ever before.

4) Defer no time, delays have dangerous ends. I may have learned that Shakespeare quote as a freshman in Mask & Wig, but the point that “anything worth doing is worth doing now” was fundamental to my upbringing. Sure, every parent tells their kids not to procrastinate. But your actions spoke volumes: you dealt with problems immediately instead of letting them pile up. Simple habits, like doing the dishes as soon as you’re done eating, or putting things back after you’re done using them, have stuck with me. Those habits are core to accomplishing long-term goals.

I’m admittedly imperfect at this one, and I’ve realized the perils of fake productivity — when you’re doing the easiest thing rather than the most important. Every time it snowed, you’d head straight down to the bottom of the driveway and chip away at the heaviest, iciest section first. I remind myself of your example when I’ve been wasting time, and attack the most difficult thing on my list first.

5) No makeup. I’ve always loved and respected you for your willingness to show your true skin. Literally, in the sense that you don’t use makeup to tweak your image. But also because you’re never afraid of showing who you are. You don’t cover yourself up to fit what everyone wants of you, and you’re comfortable with acting differently from the rest of the world.

I may only be in my twenties and have a lot to learn, but I am unabashedly myself. All of my friends and coworkers would surely agree that I value things differently than most people, and act on those values. I don’t watch TV because I don’t care about it, and I don’t pretend otherwise. I don’t believe in sending meaningless token gifts. Though many favor brevity over the art of communication, I send long emails when I’m passionate about a topic. And I don’t like coffee, so when people think they need an excuse to meet up, I take walks with my friends instead. ‘Be yourself’ is trite advice, but you’ve lived it in a way that I strive to emulate.

6) Don’t take yourself too seriously. I can go to any group you’ve ever been a part of and find people who love you. They’re not all your ‘peers’. Whether at work or at home, you make people of all walks feel comfortable around you — people more junior to you, younger than you, less intelligent or experienced than you. You’re humble, joke about yourself to light of your actions, and give others credit. You find points of commonality.

This makes you more approachable than anyone else I know, and is an example I follow. It’s easy for people to tell you their secrets and feel connected to you. And, perhaps most importantly, they aren’t afraid to give you feedback and be honest with you immediately after meeting. Since I strive to constantly improve myself, I care deeply about being easy to talk to and open in my conversations. I’ll protect those instincts religiously no matter how ‘high up’ I ever get.

7) Find greatness in everyone and everything.¬†Any place you’ve ever taken me has been an exploration, from the first time I joined you for your commute to work. You asked me tons of questions and let me form my own opinions. (And I now know way too much about airplanes and trucks). You were optimistic, and showed me how to keep searching until I found something worth digging deeper for. You made me try new things constantly, even when I protested, even when they were tomatoes. A tomato was not just a tomato, though. Each of them had slight differences, and we talked at length about the varietals. I may not have agreed with you at the time, but I was listening, and developed an insatiable curiosity for everything.

That curiosity has taken me to the corners of knowledge. Early on, I discovered Wikipedia and was absolutely fascinated by even seemingly dull topics. I learned about the minutiae of everything from law and politics to science and psychology. Behind every piece of knowledge, there’s a story of how it got there. And people have similar stories. Just as curious as I was for information, you taught me to be curious about people. Everyone has something beautiful about their history, decisions, and preferences. So I grew to take conversational risks in hopes of finding every delicious nuance, and have friends from all walks of life and backgrounds because of it.

8) Fun can be meaningful. When I look at the artifacts of your life, I find elegant simplicity. You didn’t buy everything under the sun, and never valued possessions or ostentatiousness. You treated yourself to great experiences, on occasion, and acknowledged that the people you’re with are far more important to your memory of the experience than the things you did. I couldn’t agree more. As people spend time on the things that don’t matter, and create artificial dramatics in their lives, I know that the simplest things are usually the best.

9) Be other-oriented. Perhaps the most amazing thing about you is that, in spite of all you do, you put other people above you at every turn. Small lessons from your actions have made waves in the rest of my life. When we went out to somewhere new, you took the time to learn and call people by name to help them see how important they are to you. You were great to everyone around you, even people you don’t know, and step up to help them when you see something wrong.

You’re great to everyone, and though I’m not sure how you do it, I strive to emulate your example. WWMD is the first thought in my mind when an opportunity to help someone presents itself. And as I experience life, I keep other people at the top of my mind so I can show, tell, and send them things that will make them happy. I know that in comparison to you, I’ll always come up short on this dimension, but you make me want to be a better person every time I think of you.

10) Focus. It’s common knowledge that I have a pretty terrible memory. I blame that on genetics to some extent — we’re both pretty forgetful. Yet you always remember the things that count, and forget the rest. I’ve taken the same approach to my life. Last year, I started this blog with a post called “The backpack, the binder, and the basket.” I wrote it as I organized my papers from school and took stock of what memories I’d actually take away from my classes. The ones I’d choose to carry with me every day, in my metaphorical backpack, were very few.

So as I take stock of the last 8,307 days, and the memories and lessons that I’ve learned, one thing sticks out. The ones worth carrying in my backpack all came from you. I love you mom.

Love,
Jesse