I have a 4-word philosophy for success. I lean on it every time I want to do something new. It applies to fitness goals, to business and career success. It applies to creative endeavors, and charitable giving.
It applies to all manner of self-improvement and behavior change.
It is not secretive or complex. And because it is only 4 words long it’s useful even if you have a really, really short attention span.
Start Small. Think Big.
The key to success is action. You have to get going to get results. Too often people make the mistake of starting big. When you focus on the fully formed, fully finished version, the vision itself becomes intimidating. Which prevents people from taking the first step.
By starting small you create an easy on-ramp. By giving yourself permission to start small you create an invitation to action. And that action, as small as it may be, changes everything. Think about how small COVID-19 started. #amIright
Once you’ve begun, go all in. Think about what is possible if you keep going and growing. Think about momentum. Think about compounding actions. Once you have begun the results are only limited by your thinking. So go as big as you can.
Mom’s Know This
Every Mom knows that this is exactly how you raise a successful child. You start small. You teach the most basic skills, rules, and manners. Then you think big. You think of the successful person you want your child to become. And you do all you can to empower your child to grow into the best version of themself.
Thank you Moms. Thank you for giving us a great start when we were small. And for thinking about all we would need to be successful when we became big. It has made all the difference. Sorry we can’t take you to brunch today to show our appreciation.
As I prepared for Mother’s Day this year I wrote not 1, but 2 different blog posts about my Mom. On Mother’s Day I decided to publish The most important gift my mother gave me. Which meant I had to figure out what to do with my bonus post.
This week is also special for my Mama. Somehow she managed to birth all 4 of her kids in the 4 days between May 22nd and May 25th. You can read about that little bit of Motherly Wizardry in the post: What makes these siblings freakishly unique. So to kick off my Mom’s Giving Birth Week, here is the Non-Mother’s Day Mother’s Day post.
Happy Mother’s Day! A great Mom is like a subscription to the Jelly Of The Month Club, because it is the gift that keeps on giving. I have an amazing Mom. Which is total luck. Because I simply inherited her. But my Mom, Jill Albrecht, has given me an unfair advantage in life.
Mom-ing Runs In The Family
My Mom started off life with an unfair advantage too, because she had a great Mom. My Grammy, Lillian (Anderson) Sprau was a saintly Norwegian American woman. She had 9 children and lived to be 100 years old. When you have 9 kids to practice on, you get to really hone your mothering skills. My Grammy taught my Mom those skills. My mom then taught her children, including me and my sisters Heather, Alison and Donielle.
My Mama taught us all the big stuff. The importance of a good education. How to advocate for ourselves and for others. To value time with family. And the value of humor.
My Mom taught us countless little lessons too. In fact, one of the lessons she taught me probably seemed so small to her that it wasn’t much of a lesson at all. But I still use it every day.
Make Your Own Lunch.
My my mom wisely delegated lunch making responsibilities to me and my sisters at an early age. After all, we had a vested interest in eating. By the time I was 12 years old I was packing my own lunch every day before school. It quickly became a habit.
I packed my own lunch every day in junior high and high school. After I moved out of the dorms in college I made my own lunch every day. When I started my first real job after college I made my own lunch too.
Fast forward 2 decades. I have had a successful career in advertising. I have had fancy pants sounding titles, including Executive Vice President, Chief Creative Officer and CEO. Today, I own my own business, an advertising and idea agency called The Weaponry. Yet every day before I leave for the office I still make my own lunch.
It saves me a lot of money.
I have portion control.
I can eat wherever I am.
I can eat whenever I get hungry.
Nobody can spit in my lunch.
It creates a predictable routine.
I don’t have to think about where to go for lunch.
It teaches my children a good habit.
Our mothers create good habits and values that last a lifetime. In fact, you may be surprised how many of your daily habits, your brand preferences and your techniques were created by your Mom. After all, before you met your Mom you were pretty clueless.
Thanks Mom for all the big things you gave me. But today, I am also thankful for the little things. The things I do automatically because you taught me to. They benefit me at home, at work, with friends and amongst strangers. You did a wonderful job teaching me to do things your way. I don’t know what happened with my sisters. They must be Dad’s fault.
There are conversations that stay with you forever. Today I am reflecting on a conversation that I had two decades ago. I was at the house of my high school track coach, Jude Dutille, in New Hampshire. Jude’s wife, Val made a comment that I will never forget. It was about my Mom.
Val observed that there was something unique about the kids in my family. It wasn’t that she thought me and my sisters Heather, Alison and Donielle were smart, funny, or kind. It wasn’t that we were hard working, well mannered or good looking. It wasn’t even the crazy thing I wrote about it the post, What makes these siblings freakishly unique. (Which is worth the read.) There was one noteworthy trait that Val recognized in me and my sisters. And she gave my Mom all the credit for it. It was our confidence.
Val wondered what my Mom, Jill Albrecht had done to create such confidence in her children. I am not sure I had the answer in that moment 20 years ago. But today I do.
We felt confident because we knew were loved unconditionally. We felt confident because we trusted our Mom and our Dad. We always felt supported. Our Mom always made sure we were prepared. Because preparation is a major ingredient in the confidence recipe.
My Mom designed her home to feel safe. I had lived in 5 states by the time I started 7th grade. And despite the changes, or perhaps because of them, I always felt the stability of home, no matter what state, city or time zone we were in.
My Personal Success
Today I recognize the confidence my Mom developed in me as a key factor in my personal success. I have always believed in myself. Even when the odds were long and the path was uncertain. My confidence has played a major role in my career success. And it was my confidence that things would turn out well that allowed me to launch my own business 3 years ago, when there was really no proof that I could pull it off.
Today, my wife Dawn provides our 3 children with the same type of support, security and preparation that I enjoyed as a child. While you can’t give someone else confidence, you can create the perfect environment for confidence to flourish. That’s exactly what Dawn is doing.
Dawn continues to bolster my confidence too. When I told her I wanted to leave my job and start my own advertising agency, she was 100% behind it. Her unwavering belief in me made me believe in myself. Launching a startup can be extremely scary. But the truth is I wasn’t scared at all. A major reason was that Dawn, who had the most to lose, never doubted that the business would be successful. And she was right.
The Power Of Self Worth
Lately, I have been studying the lessons of vulnerability expert Brene Brown. Brown, a famed vulnerability and shame researcher at the University of Houston, says there is one key indicator that helps people stick their neck out and feel comfortable with vulnerability. That key factor is worthiness. That’s exactly what my Mom always made me feel. I felt worthy of good things. I felt worthy of love, friendship, of career success, and high achievement. And that self worth has fueled my confidence, motivation and posture my entire adult life.
The greatest gift we can give each other are the building blocks of confidence and the self worth that comes as a result. My mother made confidence development a priority. My wife is building it into our children. Confidence is the fuel and the foundation for success. There is no greater source of confidence than our mothers.
Happy Mother’s Day to my Mom, Dawn, my mother in law, Cynthia Zabel, and to Val Dutille. Happy Mother’s Day to all the Mom’s who have worked hard to build confidence and self worth in their children. Your job is the most important of all jobs on the planet. The results of your work will not only last a lifetime, it will be passed along for generations to come.
*If you know a mother who deserves to hear this message, please share it with her.
To celebrate Mother’s Day my family and I went out to brunch. Actually, it was late enough that it could have been brupper. Or maybe brinner. As we sat down at our table the waitress brought each of my three kids a card to fill out that had 10 open-ended questions about My Mom. My Mom is ______ years old. What I like best about My Mom is __________. My Mom shows me she loves me by _______________. The best thing My Mom cooks is _____________.
The cards gave us something fun and engaging to do while waiting for our food. They stimulated conversation and made us all laugh. These cute questionnaires highlighted the typical way we think about our Moms: As maternal figures who support us, love us, cook for us and clean up after us. My Mom certainly was that figure throughout my childhood. Today, my wife is that figure for our children. But there is another, far more important role that Moms play that goes mostly unnoticed by children.
As a creative professional, I recognize that our Moms don’t just raise us, care for us and love us. They Design us. From the Moment we are born, until we leave home, our Moms are designing us as the humans they want us to be. They implement rules and instill values which shape us. They expose us to people and places that stretch and expand us.
From the day you went home from the hospital your Mom chose your clothing to create an image. Your hairstyle was chosen by your Mom to reflect the person she wanted the world to see. The birthday parties she threw, the gifts she gave, and the punishments she leveled were all part of the design. The people she steered you towards and the ones she steered you away from were intential, always with the end result in mind.
Ever thought about why you lived where you lived as a child? Or why you went to the schools you went to? That was your Mom, and Dad, designing you. Those classes your Mom signed you up for each had a purpose. The musical instrument, community activities, volunteering, clubs and sports were all part of the design too.
The complicated choices she made to have pets, or not reflected her preferences for your life that may take a long time to understand. How she taught you to address adults was part of the design. Her lessons about driving, chores and how to answer the phone were part of the master plan. So were the talks about recycling and turning off the water while you brush your teeth. When she gave you money to put in the offering plate at church, that was shaping you. The decision she may have made not to attend church would have been a design decision too.
More thought went into the choices your Mom made in order to form who your are today than you will ever know. Thank you Mom for all the decisions you made to help create me according to your vision. To my wife, Dawn, thank you for sweating all of the details that help shape Ava, Johann and Magnus. They are the greatest design concepts, responsibilities and successes we will ever know.