From Chicken Soup for the Soul at Work

Mother Knows Best

We have 40 million reasons for failure, but not a single excuse.

Rudyard Kipling

During the early 1980s, I was a sales manager for a large training company. One of my responsibilities was to train people on how to sell. I was good at my job. I taught people that lack of time and opportunity were only tempting excuses for not producing results.

My mother, who lived near me, is a Greek immigrant from a family of 12. She has just a third-grade education. Her biggest hardship in coming to her new country was being separated from friends and relatives, some of whom came too; but they were living great distances away in our large city. The high point of each week was Sunday, when she would take an hour-long bus ride to church. Following the service, over a cup of Greek coffee, she and her friends would catch up and exchange gossip and stories of their families. She did this for 30 years.

The Greek population in our area grew sufficiently to think about building a new church in our neighborhood. The committee members decided to raise the initial capital by selling raffle tickets. My mother jumped at the chance to participate. She had no formal training in the art of selling, but that never entered her mind. Her plan was simple: talk to as many people as possible about buying tickets and make them feel guilty if they didn’t.

That’s where I came into the picture. She said I was a big shot and that I must know a lot of people. She gave me 10 booklets of 10 tickets, each one worth one dollar, adding up to a grand total of $100. A week later, I showed up with only half of the tickets sold. Big mistake! “If only I had more time, I would have been able to sell all these tickets you gave me,” I said to my mother. “I simply didn’t have the time.”

“What a load of baloney.” (At least, it was the Greek equivalent of baloney.) “You either do something or you have all the excuses why not,” my mother shot back. “You made time to go out to dinner, watch TV, jog, go to the movies. What does time have to do with it? Nothing! You think you’re so smart with all your education and your important job, but you can’t even tell the truth.”

After that blast of the truth, she started to cry. I was devastated. I quickly agreed to buy the rest of my tickets myself. She stopped crying instantly and said, “When you want something, then you do whatever it takes to get the job done, even cry.” With a smile she said, “I knew that crying would work with you, and for being so pathetic with your excuses, here are 10 more books. Now, go and sell them all.” As a sales manager, I paled by comparison.

My mother went on to demonstrate that by not making excuses, she could produce outstanding results. She managed to out-sell every other volunteer, 14 to 1. She sold 7,000 tickets. Her closest challenge came from a neighbor who sold 500.

I learned a new level of distinction between time and results. I had always wanted to have my own business but had kept saying that it wasn’t the right time and I didn’t have the money. But I kept hearing my mother’s voice in my mind: “You either do something that you want or you have all the reasons why you can’t.”

Six months later, I quit my job and started my own business, training people in time management. What other field could I possibly have chosen?

Nicholas Economou

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