By Not Working, My Mother Taught Me to Love Work

Compilation by Sarah Browne
My mother was the original Betty Draper. Devoted to cocktail parties, country clubs and the eternal search for a pliable babysitter, she carefully filed the subject of "work" in a box and never opened it. Our living room was the neutral zone where she and my father sipped martinis at precisely 7:00 every night, never ever discussing "his day." She claimed that this work ban was his choice; that he deserved a respite from the office.

Given that "career" was a dirty word in my mother's universe, by the time I was in grade school, I was already a disappointment. Early on, I exhibited a random "ambition" gene entirely unrelated to what was supposed to be my central job in life: finding a husband, preferably a rich one. At age 6, instead of learning to flirt on the playground, I was writing plays and printing a neighborhood newspaper. By the time I was 8, I was dreaming up Barbie stories and sending them off to Mattel. That's when I first learned that creativity could be rewarded -- the smart folks at Mattel sent me a box of Barbie's newest frocks in return.

With every creative leap I took, the gap between mother and daughter widened.

I won an art contest. She signed me up for dancing school. I wrote an article that got published by the local newspaper. She asked me why I only got one Valentine from a boy. Don't get me wrong; I was as boy crazy as any teenage girl. It's just that I didn't want to put all my eggs in the proverbial Husband basket. The example she was setting -- of a woman unfilled and frustrated by having made that choice -- deepened my determination to do something. In fact, doing was much more important to me than being.

My father was all about being active, performing, doing. My mother was all about being someone's wife. She was a smart, often shrewd, and talented soul who flailed at being harnessed. Yet she not only resisted using those natural gifts to stand on her own two feet but she was snarky about those who did.

I cringed watching a recent episode of Mad Men in which Betty Draper sniped at a friend who was raving about her newly-found success as a travel agent. Betty was one part appalled; one part slyly intrigued. In her tennis-white world, working was considered declasse; a clear sign you hadn't married well. That you might actually want to work was unheard of.

Sarah Browne
Compilation by Sarah Browne

Thankfully, I had a father who encouraged me, guided me, and applauded my career path. His proudest day (beyond walking me down the aisle) was when we both ended up as panelists at the same marketing conference. While he expected my mother to do nothing more than look pretty and be a gracious hostess, his career expectations for his daughter were boundless.

On the surface of it, today's post would stand awkwardly alone in a field of glowing "thank you, Mom" articles. But as many of us know, sometimes it's the absence of empathy and support that produces the deepest lessons. What I learned from my Mother was the importance of accepting who your child truly is, even if the chosen path is beyond your own understanding or goals.

By watching my mother's overzealous attention to what other people think, I learned to shrug off much of the judgment and quite frankly, the silly stuff based on someone else's concept of value. I learned to take care of myself, to own my failures and even celebrate my quirks. My life's passion blossomed into empowering others' creativity as a mentor, entrepreneur, teacher, and friend.

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