Everything I Learned, I Learned from My Mom

May 1, 2017 Janel Ryan


Forget Kindergarten… everything I’ve learned, I learned from my Mom.

At first meeting, my Mom would not strike one as a force to be reckoned with. She was small in stature and quiet in nature. Her dream was to have a big, loving family – which she accomplished. As I was growing up as the youngest of twelve, these are the pivotal things that I learned from my ninety-eight-pound warrior of a mother.

  • Life is not fair. Get over it and move on
  • If you don’t like it, change it
  • Just be you – If you want to run away from home, pack a peanut butter and jelly sandwich

Life is not fair. Get over it and move on. I was instructed on the fairness in life during childhood when my evil brother left me stuck up in a tree. After yelling hours, or so it seemed, for help I managed to get myself down from the tree. Imagine my indignation when my Mom let me know she heard me yelling but decided to let me figure it out on my own. This was one of the more memorable life lessons on fairness and figuring out a way to overcome. I’ve had many incidents throughout my professional career to “refresh” this lesson. As I began a marketing job at a large communications company in the mid-90s I was confronted with another co-worker’s less than stellar work ethic. My manager’s lesson? “Are you going to let someone else be an obstacle to your success?” A lesson I remember more than twenty years later.

If you don’t like it, change it. Women live and work in a world filled with possibilities, but we also have a responsibility to keep “changing it”. In a time where women are more educated and more doors are opened to us, we are still underrepresented in many professions. In 1957, Ruth Bader Ginsberg was one of two women on the Harvard Law Review. In 2017, specifically in the cybersecurity profession, only 11% of women are represented which is much lower than the representation of women in the global workforce. Last year, women in cybersecurity earned less than our male counterparts. The lesson here is that we shouldn’t accept it and we need to be advocates of change.

Change starts with us as individuals and as women. What can YOU do to increase the visibility for women within your organization? How can YOU nuture talent within? How are YOU pushing yourself to take risk, to step out of your comfort zone? The organization I work for, Arbor Networks, has started a grass-roots women’s leadership initiative called Women on their Way (WoW). The initiative is about raising the voice of women and empowering them to share their talent. We had our inaugural kick off meeting with our Sales women and the energy was phenomenal. We are planning a virtual roll out that will be company wide mid-May. We are excited to invoke change in not only our women, but in the community of young women who show interest in embracing STEM. A critical piece of our invoking change will be to help these young women see opportunity exists in STEM across many functional areas – you do not have to be a coder to be successful in cybersecurity. You do have to be unique and we intend to let the world know that the women of Arbor Networks are warriors just like our mothers taught us to be!

Just be you. Like a lot of women, I sometimes fail. And it’s okay. You’d think my less than stellar attempts at athletics during high school would have taught me not to be so competitive, but it taught me a lot about failing and trying anyway. With all due respect to the master, I disagree with the directive, “Do or do not. There is no try.” It should be “Try and do, say I.” How many of us, male or female, have felt like some days we don’t quite make the grade? I try to juggle children, work, marriage, faith, community, home but things fall through the cracks. And most days it’s okay. I do have two advantages that others may not experience: I have a spouse who doesn’t care about traditional gender roles, and with all of the allergies in the world I’m no longer required to provide home-baked goods so I have decided to give up cooking to give time back to myself and my family. If it was good enough for the Notorious RBG, it’s good enough for me. I haven’t given it up completely, but I have decided no one dies if we have take-out or my kids eat cereal for supper. Give yourself and others permission not to be super-human. If you’re having trouble with this concept, take a day off, pack yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich and go see Bad Moms.

Whether life requires hard-work or the foresight to bring along a peanut butter sandwich be prepared.

my mother worked to hard for me not to be greatWe need to evolve and change professionally and personally. These are concepts my Mom and Ms. Ginsberg learned and put into practice throughout their lives, lives that started long before the rights we enjoy today. In a time when traditional women’s roles were the norm. RBGs efforts to empower women and men are well documented. My Mom’s efforts are only documented within family lore. Fortunately, she taught those lessons to her many children. She taught my brothers to respect women, to listen, and to treat “all the people” as equal. She taught my sisters to be fierce and fabulous. She raised our family while my Dad worked away from home as a construction superintendent. In addition to her full-time Mom job, she had a part-time job. Did I mention, she had twelve children and survived breast cancer? Yes, I said twelve and we weren’t mistakes (and no, we didn’t grow up on a farm).

I want to become my Mom. To her and the other amazing people in my life, I say “thanks for the lessons. I promise to keep changing.”

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