My mother should write a self-help book. With over 30 years logged as a kindergarten teacher, she has lots of great advice. My husband quoted her in our local paper this week and I have received a few calls and emails saying that her words inspired them. She has certainly inspired me over the years, so I am going to share some of her wisdom.
Steady Pressure. This is a central tenet of my mother’s philosophy. When you are feeling overwhelmed, buried under a pile of obligations and work, do not despair! Tomorrow is another day, and if you just apply steady pressure to your goals you will, like the hundreds of students my mother taught over the years, eventually learn to read, or climb Mt. Kilamanjaro, or get your inn open in time for the summer season. Insert your problem here: __________. Now apply steady pressure. (Ping me in a few months and let’s see how this maxim is working for you, it’s a powerful one.)
Life is a series of sorting and collating exercises. This gem has a lot of meaning for me. Remember the simple sorting skills you mastered in kindergarten? Place all the red apples in the bin with others, move the oranges to the basket with their friends, place the bananas in another spot. Put your coat on the coat hook with all the other children’s coats. Keep your boots on the mat by the front door. These exercises bring order to that first collaborative work experience (yes, I mean your kindergarten classroom) and help you start thinking about math. But your adult work flow can be thought of exactly the same way. Match like with like and you simplify, bring order, establish rules and systems. Get in a rhythm, find the patterns and then refer to step one (apply steady pressure:). At the very least, you will always know where your snow boots are.
Share the sandbox. If you are always stealing the shovel from others, you will be isolated, lonely and bored when the other children stop playing with you. If you were lucky and you had my mother in kindergarten, you were gently cajoled away from this, and coaxed into more civilized attitude. Sadly, many people missed this key lesson. The result, in it’s adult form, is hard to watch — angry, greedy and alone, these are the people who we all love to hate. They are the staple of reality television. To them I say, we are still here waiting to share the sandbox with you, so come on in and try again.
A Rising Tide Floats All Boats. The slowest learner in the classroom is helped by the fastest, and buoyed along by the general skills of the group. In my mother’s kindergarten, this meant working in groups, completing ambitious projects where everyone worked together. To mix metaphors, think of it like tennis — you always play better with a better partner. In business, this means you make your business the best it can be and you help your competitors improve as well. The better you are together, the more will keep coming your way. I certainly see this in Woods Hole, and not only out in Great Harbor where the boats all move together with the relentless tides.
Find the Farmyard. My mother grew up on a farm, and as a teacher she developed what she called her “farm curriculum.” She focused on the seasons, taught the kids all about farm life, even brought a baby lamb to school for a few weeks each spring during lambing season. The benefits of this were huge. The kids were enthralled with the information, and left her classroom with a knowledge that never gets covered in the years beyond. Now her instincts are so in vogue! At the Woods Hole Inn and the Quicks Hole restaurant, we are part of the “farm-to-table” movement, and because of my mother I never feel out-of-place when I visit the farms from which we source our incredible pea-green sprouts, our arugula and our fresh hot peppers. It’s not too late for you to learn all about your local farmer; if you visit Cape Cod, the Coonamessett Farm right here in Falmouth is a great place to start.
Don’t Hold a Grudge. You are the sum of your grudges, and they will only bring despair and unhappiness. In kindergarten, the children were brought together, each holding my mother’s hand, crying and shouting at each other until they fully vented their feelings. There may be no real resolution to their real feelings of hurt and betrayal, but waiting until they express, apologize (sometimes:) and it blows over kept the whole classroom open, vibrant and warm. How great would it be if we could still do this as adults? But the conventions of society shackle us in this effort, so take this to heart — work hard on your own feelings to air and move on from petty grievances with employees, customers and your competitors. It leaves so much more open space for happiness, clear thinking and good work. The benefits will be felt by all, but mostly by you.
My debt to my incredible mother inspired this, and I hope she will not mind my posting the lovely photo I took of her this weekend. And now a few shots of Woods Hole, some from the walk we took on Sunday and others on my peregrinations later in the week…
I never thought I would finish this blog post, but I used my mother’s advice, applied steady pressure, and look at me now!