Reflections on Values and a Life (Issue 571)

In which we are reminded that we influence our clients through both the value of the solutions we offer and our personal values.

My mother in law, Irene, would have been 97 years old this last March. She passed just after Christmas, 2011, falling a few months short of reaching one of the most eagerly anticipated moments of her life, seeing her grandson graduate from college and two years short of a second, seeing her granddaughter graduate. On one of the most beautiful May Saturday mornings I can remember, her family and neighbors and friends gathered to celebrate and reflect on our lives with her.

Irene married in 1940, worked for a short period, and then with her husband took care of their home, raised their daughters, cared for their parents, and hosted holiday meals for her large extended family. She was 59 when her husband died, 61 when she learned to drive. She celebrated the arrival of her first grandchild at the age of 75, the second at 77. She took care of them in her home until she was 82 on the days my wife and I both worked, and then hosted them on weekends from time to time for several years after that.

Had you been present at the memorial service or at a table for lunch afterward, you’d have quickly grasped the major values in Irene’s life, including:

Family – after “hello,” in any conversation with anyone she knew, “How’s the family?” was the next question, and she meant it. She dedicated her life to taking care of family in dozens of ways, many of them involving food (who can forget the Thanksgiving dinner for which she prepared and served seven different styles of potatoes?). Her grandchildren were the sparkle in her eye and she was their steadiest cheerleader. For almost twenty two years, she would rise with a smile to the call for any adventure that involved grandchildren, no matter rain, sleet, snow, cold, heat, or gloom of night.

Home was also important and Irene’s house was s p o t l e s s. The fifty-plus year old stove and oven in her kitchen looked showroom ready and (with the exception of the clock) worked good as new. There were flowers and potted plants everywhere, all looking like they’d just stepped out of a catalog. If you had a stain in a sweater or a pull in some pants, she could fix them. A dying plant? She could rejuvenate it. Every day, until she was 94, she worked in her home. We’d ask, “what did you do today, Gramma?” Her answer would always be, “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.” She was ALWAYS moving, tinkering with her home.

And squirrels.  She hated squirrels in any shape, form, or variety.

Irene didn’t set out to “be somebody” in a big way yet, by her careful attention to daily small tasks, she influenced family, neighbors, and friends and her influence will long survive her passing.

On this day, it’s worth remembering that we sales reps and consultants may or may not have set out to “be somebody” in a big way and that, whether or not clients engage us on particular days, we, like Irene, will  influence them and their organizations long after we pass on by the clarity of our values and by our attention to daily tasks. The basics.

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