23 years ago today, my life changed irrevocably when my mom died. She was the light of my life. She was the embodiment of grace, elegance, serenity, wit, and quiet courage. Her wisdom and fortitude taught me everything I ever needed to know about life, leadership, and living. I worshipped her. So powerful and significant was her influence on me that I carry those lessons with me, even today. And today, as I offered prayers, I heard myself saying:
My life is dedicated to you, mom.
I lost one precious year of my life with her when I lived in Australia as a Global Exchange Student. But I was privileged to have her by my side for two decades. A single, blog post can only scratch the surface of her powerful influence on me. But it’s a small effort and tribute to her leadership that helped shape and build my character.
The Art of Balance
She transformed the act of balance into fine art. This wasn’t about letting go of one in order to make room for another (as balance usually implies). She was the zen master of balance and agility. In thought and action. If there was a conflict and she saw that tempers were rising, she had the masterful ability to find a middle path, without ever letting go of her own view. Sadly, I was too young then and didn’t have the maturity or the life experiences to truly assimilate the learning.
This was long before I became aware of Fred Kofman’s Difficult Conversations and how to navigate them. When we push with our words and push the other person out by saying “I am right!” and “You are wrong!”, it leads to energy spent going nowhere. Instead, if we were to turn around and say: “Show me what you see that I don’t”, it could well turn into the dance of insight.
My mom knew how to do this in regular, everyday conversations. In a world that is becoming increasingly divisive and worsened even more by bickering and hostility on social media, her wisdom would’ve been invaluable. It would’ve paved the way for me to understand and appreciate conflict, in a new way.
In moments of grave danger, hopelessness, and near despair, what shone like a candle in the wind was her quiet courage. Nothing was insurmountable.
Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes, courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying, ‘I’ll try again tomorrow. – Mary Anne Radmacher
As she fought for her life relentlessly for 12-long months, I never once heard her complain or whine. Cynicism wasn’t in her dictionary. When I asked her why she wasn’t upset or angry, her only response was: How will it serve me?
In her infinite wisdom and grit, she knew how to keep things that served her and let go of things that didn’t, anymore.
The Art of Imitation
My mom had the incredible ability to imitate anyone and anything. This usually led to peals of laughter at the dinner table. From accents to voices and mannerisms, you name it and she could stand and deliver. Her ability to absorb and mirror was so powerful that it helped create relatability and connectedness. People were instantly at ease with her.
Today, I find that I have a small sliver of her gift and often use that to entertain and connect to people. Even now, I find old friends saying: Oh please do the British accent! or Speak like John Cleese in Fawlty Towers or Can you try the Singaporean accent! When you take the art of imitation to a space of safety, respectability, and harmless fun, it infuses connectedness in ways you never imagined before. And to this lesson, I’m forever grateful to my mom.
To Love Unconditionally
Sure, most moms (if not all) love unconditionally. And my mom was no different. As a leader who led the family along with my amazing dad, she truly loved unconditionally. I find that when you lead with love, you honor the very essence of what leadership is designed to do. She was fair and just. She lived and died by her principles. Her sole motto in life was to Live and Let Live. Even at the moment of breathing her last breath, her last words were for me. I share that sacred story with you all because it’s a reminder of selfless love and servant leadership.
As Sandy Banks once said: there are some things that Amazon just can’t deliver: The gift of sitting with my mom again to chat with her, to cook and play, to sing and rejoice. And to embrace the sweet silence that filled the air, as we sipped on her incredible filter coffee at 6 a.m. before I left for my workout.
I never knew that when she left, I would be left with a mourning that would never end. But as the flag bearer of her spirit, her quiet courage, incredible resilience, sense of justice, and a willingness to smile and laugh, I promise myself everyday to be the Daughter of Fire, I always was for her.
*Thanks to Hope Edelman for giving me the courage to write this!
Anitha Aswath is an HR Consultant and Strengths Coach of Leader Success in the Leadership and Team Intelligence Practice Area at Cisco. She has the unique privilege of meeting Cisco clients from all over the world to serve, teach, and enable the success of their teams.
THIS IS A PERSONAL BLOG AND VIEWS DON’T REPRESENT CISCO’S STRATEGIES OR OPINIONS.