It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane! It’s….

…My Mom!

Sorry to all you Superman fans but in my mind true heroes don’t wear red capes.  True heroes to me are the people in our lives that have dealt with and overcome all that life throws at us and still manage to love deeply, care compassionately, act selflessly, and attempt to do good in this world.  They accept their pain and failures and still push forward with the right intent. They, just like Superman, “save the day” in small and big ways…for individuals and for groups of people.

My Mom met my Dad in high school and found a way to make it through college together and eventually get married.  They had two biological kids (Kate and Dan), adopted me, then adopted my sister from Vietnam (Liz), and finally had another biological kid (Jane).  Yep, they raised 5 kids…something you don’t hear too often these days.  My Mom worked full time jobs, cared for us and still found a way to get a Master’s degree.  My father used to say she was the smartest person in the house.  And man, did she love (and still does) my Dad.  I remember exactly how I saw them kiss good bye in the morning and when they greeted each other at night….3 quick kisses. They danced together, valued family time, and experienced life together in a meaningful way.  They were rooted in their faith in each other and in God. They were and still are an example to me of companionship, parenthood and marriage.

My Mom got robbed.  They had gotten all of us kids out of the house and were living in Philadelphia. They talked about traveling the world and taking a cruise on the “Queey II” (I had no idea what that was at the time).  They relished holidays when our entire family would come home.  They had just welcomed their first grandchild into this world.  They were looking forward to the next adventurous  chapter in their lives. Then, she found herself caring for her “high school sweetheart” who was having an awful bout with cancer.  She was tired, scared, and eventually her heart broke as my father’s body lost the battle…they were only 52.  My heart broke for her.  And, did for many years until recently.

Resilience by definition is the capacity to withstand stress and catastrophe.  It’s inevitable, we will all suffer from great loss, extremely challenging times in life and things that will absolutely “bend” us.  But, will you “break”?  Unfortunately, we have plenty of examples of people who have “broken”.  And for awhile there I thought my Mom was broken.  At one point I remember her crying to me and saying she did not know how to be parent to all of us without Dad (Two posts in and here is that self doubt issue again….in what areas of your life or leadership do you have self doubt?).  I gave her the allowance to go through her process of grief and eventually found out that she was not in fact broken.

What choices will you make when faced with these inevitable circumstances I speak of?  Will you allow the pain to serve as road map to a deeper resolve?  Will you live lighter? Love deeper?  Deny the pain or accept it as your truth?  Will you find a way to be a hero?

Today my Mom is married to her husband, Jerry (yes, it took me a while to get out of my own way and not only accept this but be genuinely happy for her), traveling the world, volunteering in the community and at church, taking fitness classes, spending precious time with her 14 grandchildren and still a mother to us 5 kids….a great friend to me.  I actually think her schedule is busier now than when she worked full time.  She loves her Baltimore Orioles, gardening and cooking.  She is still rooted in her faith.  She is my definition and bar of resilience.  In my opening post I spoke of my own pain in losing my Dad but I simply can not imagine hers. However, I look at her life now as an inspiration to do something special with my own life…personally and professionally.

My first exercise for you.  Take out a sheet of paper and draw a line in the middle, making two columns.  In the column on the left list the 5 best things that have ever happened to you.  In the column to the right list the 5 worst things that ever happened to you.  Think about this hard…not as easy as you may think.

Here is what I want you to pay attention to.  Are there parallels?  Remember when I said that “My father’s death was the worst thing that ever happened to me….and the best thing that has ever happened to me”.   That’s the type of parallel I want you to look for.  How have you dealt with your hardships?  Have you been fired from a job that turned out to be the best thing and why?  Have you made a wrong decision as a leader that changed the way you approach things forever or do you still doubt yourself as a leader?  Are your parents divorced and you feel you don’t know how to be in a relationship or did you learn how not to be in a relationship?  Have you lost money or something physical and it changed you in a negative way or do you live a “richer” life?  Have you lost someone dear to you and sulk around the holidays and are not living life to the fullest or are you living in that person’s light?  As you may have figured out, I have heard all of these and many more in my daily work.  We all have them.  I surely do, but I have my list.

If there are no parallels you are missing opportunities to evolve in incredible ways.  If you don’t see any then pick a few of the worst things and begin to map out how you can transform them to benefit you and others.  Not grand life changes but small incremental ones.  It took me years to realize my above parallel.  I am not saying that all should be parallel.  I am saying there are huge opportunities for all of us if we slow down and examine the lessons in the hardships we face and reflect on how we are dealing with them…or not.  Are we learning from them?  Are we treating people the way we would want to be treated? Are we raising our standard of intent and living?  Are we using our hardships as a crutch or an excuse?  Grrr…I hate that last question…I was guilty, guilty, guilty!

If at this point in your life you don’t think you have encountered life altering experiences this is still a good exercise to do.  It will start to prepare you to deal with such experiences in real ways and ensure that as you hit the bottom of the well (I advise experiencing pain and grief in a deep and real way) you have a mental map back to the top.  Again, these times will come to all of us multiple times in our lives.

This ain’t easy stuff.  The work that comes after this reflection is harder but recognizing and accepting your truths is a first step.  I think you will be amazed at what happens when we simply become more self aware.  Thank you for stepping foot on this path of “lessons in life and leadership” with me.  Let’s go!

My Mom may look beautiful in red but I can assure you she does not fly around with a red cape on.  She is however, my hero.  I love you, Mom.

Stay True,



PS. I challenge you to do this exercise.  I also ask that you share your comments on this post so that we can learn from each other and so that selfishly, I can learn from you.  This is a safe platform…trust me and this process.

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  1. I’m so proud of you for stepping fully out of the shadows.

    It’s been years since you did this exercise with a big group of us…and I will never forget the sense of amazement at how intertwined they are – the best and the worst. The worst are painful beyond belief and I think we all have that desire to push the pain away. Yet in retrospect, I am also clear that I would not be the woman I am today without every single one of them. When I am in challenging times now, I recall this exercise and reframe the “pain”. Now I think “what growth and opportunity will occur”.

    Love having you all out here!! Keep it up, my friend!

  2. I feel as though you were speaking to me in this … I have to do/plan to do this exercise.

  3. Love this post and I completely agree. People think I’m crazy that I think there is so much good that has come out of my accident and almost dying. Other “bad” things in my life, too, have paved the way for good. It is nice to be able to see the connections.

  4. This post is so brutally honest. I thoroughly enjoyef reading it. Anyone who’s lost a parent can relate. I feel as if you were speaking from my life. I loay my father whom I was extremely close to but gained a remarkable one with my mom. There are really no words for the grief and it never actually goes away its all how you learn to manage and deal with it. Thank you for this post because it made me think about some things and realize some things about not only myself, but my life in general. So, thank you.

  5. Another great post. I have had several experiences of bigger than I could handle times. It was at those moments where I found out what I was made of.Never seen alot of expressions of love when I was growing up. Such a hard cycle to break. See a lot of conditional love. I have tried my best to be loving and not put conditions on my love. I did not have a close relationship with my mom. I love both of my kids, and have always tried to be a part of their world. My family is my reason for living. I do know you don’t have to live like you were raised. Thank goodness we can learn from what we see. I enjoy your posts and your wisdom. Bring those posts on. What refreshing things to read, in this complicated world we live in.

  6. I have faced many hardships in my life as well as sorrow by losing my dad at a relatively young age of 31, lost my older brother when I was 15, he only 22 and leaving behind 2 small children and a wife, giving birth to my second child and being told he had a deformed skull and would have his first surgery at only 12 weeks, they literally cut his head from ear to ear and took his face off in order to break and re-position his skull and then through his life there would be 6 more surgeries to be had. I handled most things well, probably because I was young and didn’t really know any better, lol…….But, when my mom died this past September and I thought I dealt with it great I was sadly mistaken!! The day after she was buried I was in a dark place and hated that she was gone, hated what she had to live through for 11 years with Alzheimer’s and I lashed out at the smallest things and ended up blowing them up into big things. Now, I don’t necessarily regret the things I said to a few people, it wasn’t anything I actually didn’t mean or feel but I could have said it more gingerly. These people were hurtful toward me and I gave it back to them and then some because at the time I simply didn’t care, I had lost my mom and I was pissed off!!! I don’t have relations with several people anymore and while I was sad about this I have gone past it and live a better life now. I realize that these people were actually toxic in my life and while I hated my mom passing away had it not been for that dark place it took me I would have never spoke my mind and gotten it off my chest in order to move on in life and surround myself with the people that matter.
    I did seek some counseling and it helped greatly. I still have my moments of deep sadness but it’s still early, I’m on the right path and enjoy life now.

  7. I am sure that you are aware of the irony i find in the first paragraph of this story. LOVE IT. Was having a bad day but then I read this :). I have to say that the excercise is not as easy as it appears. I will have to work on that. I am happy to have had the opportunity meet you and work with you. Just signed up today and this is the first blog I am reading of yours. Enjoyed it very much and looking forward to more.

  8. Ted,

    I absolutely LOVE your posts!! I received my first email today and was SO EXCITED to read it. To say you are an inspiration is an understatement. You have helped me challenge myself and the outlook I have on both personal and professional issues in my life in just the first two posts. I thoroughly enjoy reading these and learning about your life. I have been through some very similar traumatic experiences that you and your family have been through and it’s refreshing to breathe new life into those painful memories. Thank you for being YOU. You’re such an amazing person and I admire you very much.

    … Kelly 🙂

  9. Almost 3 years ago, I was abruptly deserted by the person that I thought that I was going to spend my life with. Even though I know on an intellectual today that it wasn’t my fault or that I couldn’t have done anything to prevent it or known it was coming, the emotional pain still wants to entertain those thoughts. It’s still hard and for a while every time something in my life went wrong I’d explode a little more internally at him. Fortunately for me I had crossed some pretty scary bridges by that time, I was older, and knew the importance of being honest with myself, asking for help, and taking direction. I’ve come through it and though I’m not over it – I think I’ll always wonder – I am beginning to finally develop some apathy around it all. I’ll tell you this part of my “story” sometime, but for now I need to get back to work. Congrats on the blog, Ted. I look forward to the journey that reading it will take me on.

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