Drinking coffee early before work, I hear text notifications on my phone.
Who the hell is sending me text messages this early?
I check my phone.
“What happens in Vegas . . . “
“Partying with the girls!”
“Have you ever been to this club?”
Oh, it’s just my mom. I calculate the time difference. It’s 2 AM in Las Vegas.
Hell yeah, mom.
Chris Mathews was an educator for 40 years. She taught every grade in elementary.
She would scramble to get my sister and me to school, teach all day, rush home to take me to hockey practice, cook dinner and get us to bed.
After everyone else was taken care of, she worked late into the night taking additional college courses. I can remember her sitting at the computer in the dark, typing papers after long days.
She was offered a principal position and attacked that school like a hurricane. She measured a good day by the steps she put on her pedometer. Anything under 15,000 steps meant she was in her office too much. She believed that her job was in the classrooms with teachers and children, not in an office with paperwork.
That lesson stuck with me as a new manager. If mom hated being in her office, why was I in mine so often? I took her lead and spent all of my time on the front line, with the people I was leading. It is a style I never veered from, and I owe that to her.
She was frustrated by teachers who went through the motions and didn’t put the needs of students first. We talked every day about leading people, and she peppered me with questions.
“What leadership book are your reading? How do you handle someone with a bad attitude? I sent you an article from Forbes, what do you think? How do you motivate someone whose performance took a bad turn? What questions do you ask in interviews?”
She upgraded her staff with great new hires, changing the culture by putting kids at the forefront of every action her team took.
She turned that school around, and in her fifth year as principal, mom was recognized as principal of the year. We were all so proud of her.
After a few more years, she retired after 40 years in the public education sector. We toasted an incredible year, and for most normal people, that would be the end of the story. Mom isn’t normal.
Figuring Out What’s Next
Like many people who go through a significant transition, she fiddled around to keep busy. She taught exercise classes at her gym. She volunteered at the hospital. She started sewing more and thought about creating a small clothing line.
A little bit of this, a little bit of that.
I could tell she was chomping at the bit for something more substantive.
She found Stella and Dot, a women’s jewelry line sold by local stylists who are paid exclusively on sales.
Mom never sold anything in her life, but she had one thing going for her. She was fashionable. From the time I was a kid, women stopped us and asked where she bought an outfit, a pair of shoes or some piece of jewelry. We never had much money, but mom always left the house looking sharp.
I remember thinking that this was a great match.
Building a New Skill Set
Like anyone starting over from scratch, she began the slow grind of starting a business. At the youthful age of 66, she took inventory.
- No business experience
- No marketing budget
- No email list
- No social media accounts
- No formal selling skills
No problem, let’s go.
She found a young mentor who had been at it for several years. She soaked up everything she was doing and forced herself to learn marketing.
She posted every day on social media, even though it was confusing and hard to navigate at first. Month after month, not much happened as a result of all of her posting. She kept at it anyway, trusting her mentor.
She wore her products everywhere. We couldn’t go out for pancakes with my kids without someone asking her where she got a necklace or bracelet.
“Here’s my card, send me an email. I will show you how you can buy this.”
More than anything else, she made her sales calls. She called everyone she knew to grow awareness of what she was doing now. She was known as an educator, and she needed to tell people repeatedly that her game had changed.
Most people fail in business because they don’t make the calls. They try to do all of their selling online, attempting to Facebook post their way to success. Mom worked the phones, asking for business, setting up jewelry parties.
Nothing made her happier than helping someone feel pretty. She came home shining after helping someone feel more confident about themselves. She knew she was helping and believed in the product. Most great salespeople believe in the value their customers receive from their services and products.
Sales started coming in, and her confidence grew. She went to all of the Stella and Dot events and took notes. The average woman at those events was half her age. Mom didn’t care. She was there to learn from those who had figured it out.
Then came the late night string of text messages.
“Out partying with the girls in Vegas!”
In the stretch of a few short years, she completely reinvented herself professionally.
She doesn’t need the money. Mom is having fun and selling provides an outlet to focus her competitive spirit.
She turned heads in the organization. On multiple occasions, the CEO has mentioned her as an inspiration. At a recent event in Nashville, she was asked to model their new line of clothing.
At another event, she was asked to teach a sales class. She is applying her teaching background to her new skill, building a business.
I talked to her in late December, and I could tell her mind was on something else.
“What’s going on mom?”
“I need another $2,500 in sales to qualify for this contest trip.”
That’s something I might have said to her 20 years ago as a kid selling equipment for GE. Here is my mom, at 73 years old, battling it out with young kids in a sales contest.
She has always been my biggest inspiration and the hardest working person I know. She still wakes up every morning at 5 AM to work out and is in better shape than most in their 30’s.
When she sets her mind to something, it happens. There is no equivocating. She commits to a goal and gets after it.
I see folks in their 20’s worrying that they missed their chance. They think it is too late to change directions. They fret that they haven’t hit it big yet.
I never hear any of that crap from my mom. She is all about looking ahead, not back. There is only one direction, forward.
Nothing is stopping you from reinventing yourself except your mindset. Find a mentor, take action, get up early, work late, make the calls. If you want something badly enough, you will find a way.
By the way, mom is taking dad to Hawaii in April for that sales contest trip.
What’s your excuse?