I am often asked by up and coming coaches about who my mentors were. Which people shaped my philosophies and beliefs? I usually will give them one of a plethora of names – Paul Chek, Eric Serrano, Mauro di Pasquale, Ken Kinakin, the list goes on and on. Truthfully though, the person who had the most profound impact on my success as a coach was my very first mentor and life coach, my mother.
Considering that November is my mother’s birth month, I thought this would be a fitting blog. I lost my mother to cancer three years ago. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about her or give thanks for the lessons she taught me and the type of man that she raised me to be.
Now I know that it is probably not cool to write a blog about your Mom when you are trying to exist in the testosterone riddled world of strength and conditioning. It would probably be better for business if I told you I was raised by wolves (free range of course) or that my parents used to put dumbbells in my crib or lock me inside a weight room overnight. But this was not the case. I do feel that one of the biggest reasons that I have had success as a coach is that I genuinely care about my athletes and I try to be a good and kind person to all the people in my life regardless of who they are or their social status. This I learned from my Mom.
Now I know that I am 100% biased on the subject because she is MY mom, but I am going to share with you a few stories to illustrate just what type of person I am talking about. I will also make the disclaimer that my Mom was a primary school teacher for 35 year and so some of this behaviour comes with the job, however, I am so routinely stopped by people who tell me that my Mom was their favourite teacher EVER that I suspect that she was not just a typical primary teacher and that it had a little more to do with her as a person.
Without question my mother was the kindest person that I have ever met. I have been very fortunate in my job to have travelled the world and have met a lot of different people who have received notoriety for doing individual acts of kindness on one occasion or another but I have yet to meet someone who was as kind to EVERYONE consistently, day in and day out....in my opinion, sometimes to a fault.
Some examples of this:
She would chat with telemarketers on the phone, and apologize for not wanting to purchase any of their products and always wish them a pleasant day or evening. This was a running joke in my family and when we would plead with her to just hang up or tell them rudely not to call back, she would remind us that they were just trying to do their job and that they probably had a family to feed that was dependent on their job. Thus, there was no need to be rude.
When I would lose my patience with people who would cut us off in traffic, she would defend them by suggesting that perhaps they had a personal emergency or a sick child they were rushing home to attend to and that I should pray for them and not curse them. On occasion when others would lose their patience with her and honk their horn or display an inappropriate digit as they drove by, my Mom would always ask us not to get angry because that person is probably just having a bad day and of course recite the old standby about two wrongs not making a right.
I never heard my Mother say a bad thing about anybody... ever, I'm serious, never! My brother and I would try in vain to goad her into speaking ill of someone, it was kind of a pastime of ours, but she never fell for it.
My mother befriended everyone she met. Even in her final days in the hospital she made a point of greeting every other patient who came into contact with her. Every day when I would visit her she would introduce me to some new staff member or patient and often when I arrived I would find her attempting to console the other patients who did not have family or friends who visited as regularly.
The last morning that my mother was able to actually get out of bed was spent shopping in the gift shop at Freeport Hospital for Christmas gifts for all of her friends and family. I held her up as we shuffled slowly through the store. She seemed almost stressed as she felt the pressure to try to remember every person on her Christmas list and then try to find them just the right gift from the limited selection at the hospital gift shop. Her shopping list was not limited to close friends and family members; she was also busy looking for items for the nurses on her floor and some of the other patients she had met. Her eyes would light-up each time she remembered someone she wanted to buy for or when she found an item in the store that each of them might like. My mother knew that her time was near and that she would not be there at Christmas to give them their gifts, but she wanted to make sure she got it done in the little time that she had left. She made me promise that I would make sure each person got their gifts.
My mother was never one to complain. Even in the final weeks of her life, when she would certainly have every right to complain, she still chose not to. She did not complain about the obvious and severe pain she was in, about the ravaging effects of the chemotherapy, about any of the doctors and nurses that in my eyes often fell short or about the awful food that was provided to her in the hospital. But, she did complain about the poor selection of gifts in the hospitals gift shop! She was specifically upset that they did not have a better selection of toys for her only Grandson, William.
After my Mom had passed away, I had the unenviable task of cleaning up her personal effects. It was at this time that I discovered that she had kept a gratitude journal beside her bed and every night she would write down 5 things that she was most thankful for that day. Usually, these were very small and seemingly insignificant things that most of us would take for granted…. a phone call from one of her sons or a friend she hadn’t spoken to in a while, a particularly beautiful rainbow she saw or a motivating sermon she heard at church. How many people do you know who take these things completely for granted or at least don't associate a phone call as a blessing? Not her. She was truly thankful for everyone and everything in her life.
The last lesson that my Mother taught me, that I would like to share with you is the importance of expressing your gratitude and appreciation for others. My Mom was famous for this. I sometimes think she single-handedly kept the greeting card industry afloat. She did not need to wait for an occasion like a birthday or Christmas. A weekly card from my Mom just to tell people how much she appreciated them was a regular occurrence. She did not confine her gratitude to her journal; she spoke it and showed it to all of the people in her life. If there are people in your life that have helped you along the way, people that you appreciate, don’t just assume that they know how you feel. SHOW THEM. TELL THEM.
I find that in my own life, whenever I catch myself falling into the traps of anger or jealousy or self-pity, I think about my Mom and it reminds me that I need to be a better person. I recognize that I am truly blessed to be able to make a living doing something that I love to do and I try to never take that for granted. I do my best to be as gracious as my Mom was and to be more forgiving. I try not to judge others, especially those that I do not know. It’s hard and I am far from perfect, but the memory of Diane Nichol is alive in me, motivating me to keep working on it, to keep striving to be a better person and thereby a better coach.