It’s All About Character and a Boy’s Little Red Wagon

As posted on a Leadership Blog on Tributes to the Leadership of your Father, and as promised in my blog The Wisdom of my Mom and Dadwagon

My Dad was a successful, award-winning insurance sales manager for years in the 1960’s-1970’s. The company, due to its President W. Clement Stone, was a leader in positive thinking and affirmations before it became vogue – it was all about positive mental attitude. PMA baby, PMA.

Two of the books that the company gave out to its employees were by Mr. Stone – The Success System that Never Fails and Success Through a Positive Mental Attitude (co-author).

I Dare You by William Danforth
I Dare You by William Danforth

Mr. Stone also gave out William H. Danforth’s book I Dare You, and the first thing that book does is to dare you to read it cover to cover – right now. I have my Dad’s copy and my Grandfather’s copy of that book, and the others.

W. Clement Stone sold his first insurance policy at age 16 and started his own agency and national sales organization by the time he was 20.

Like Mr. Stone, my Dad started working as a pre-teen.

W. Clement Stone's "The Success System That Never Fails"
W. Clement Stone’s “The Success System That Never Fails”

Officially working that is. Dad had all sorts of entrepreneurial efforts as a young child growing up in rural Illinois. This included gathering corn cobs from where they were shelled at the grain elevator and selling them for starting fires in wood stoves. I learned my work ethic from my Dad, and this was a favorite story of mine growing up, still is.

Dad always tried to push harder. Dad’s little red wagon held four bags of corn cobs, but one day he tried to fit five bags into his wagon. He went to the local blacksmith shop where he always had luck selling his corn cobs, pulling his little red wagon, loaded to the brim with his corn cobs. The shop was all the way on the far corner of town.

boy with wagonThe whole way there, Dad struggled as his corn cobs kept falling off. Dad had to keep stopping to pick them up and put them back in his little red wagon. When Dad finally arrived at the blacksmith, utterly exhausted, with his little wagon in tow, the man said that he did not need any corn cobs today.


My Dad asked, No corn cobs? You don’t need any corn cobs?

No, said the blacksmith.

Do you think my Dad said o.k. and left, shoulders slumped, pulling his little red wagon full of corn cobs?

Nope, not my Dad.

My Dad, ever-then the budding salesman, did not take no for an answer. He convinced the man that he indeed did need the corn cobs. You can guess what happened. The man bought all five bags!

Perseverance pays off – never give up.

By the way, back then? The going price was a nickel a bag.

When Dad worked for the insurance company, they also gave out songs to its employees. Every morning my Dad would sing the song “I Feel Healthy, Happy and Terrific,” so much so that I even sing it to myself to this day. I used to sing it with him and still remember the smell of his shaving cream as I played in the hallway singing along with him while he shaved and got ready and motivated for the day.

My Dad was hiring folks who would work on pure commission, like him as a 100% commission sales manager. It was a tough job, with leads and literally driving around and going door to door. It required fortitude, perseverance and a strong work ethic. I was a lucky girl to have this example growing up. You can read in my blog post The Chosen Baby: One Little Girl’s Story of Adoption on how lucky I am to have been adopted by my Mom and Dad.

quoteMy Dad interviewed a lot of potential candidates in his position as sales manager, and he always asked them two questions. If you met your quota by Wednesday or Thursday, what would you do for the rest of the week? He also asked them, what is your definition of character?

The winning candidate was someone who would keep working through the end of the week as hard as they did up until meeting their weekly quota, and would not hit the golf course because they already had met their weekly goal.

I always have asked that same question to applicants who have applied to work in my department in my gigs.

I still remember Dad’s office in the basement. I remember his desk. All the insurance leads binders with the brown leather binders and big rings. I used to play with the binder rings and loved to play with all his trophies. I can see and hear my Dad making calls late into the night and having sales meetings with his sales team on the phone and coming over to meet with him as I quietly sneaked down the basement steps to listen and watch. I remember his green chair that I loved to sit in when he wasn’t already in it working.

I can smell it, taste it and feel the air. There was a lot of energy in the air, created by a lot of self-motivation and hard work.

My Dad led by example. Still does.

It’s all about the definition of character. And character defines my Dad.

My Dad went to work in maintenance at a school district in the 1980’s-1990’s. One day, an immigrant refugee from a war-torn country in Eastern Europe started work. On the man’s first day, my Dad told him “you come to work every day, no matter what.” He sure did listen to my Dad! When his supervisor asked the man why he came to work after having serious dental work done one day, the man told his supervisor that my Dad told him “come to work every day.” He was as hard working as my father.

powersDad took this man under his wing at work and also helped his family generally get their feet off the ground, as he did several others. He also helped others to get jobs at the school district, and it is so humbling to see what great things their families have done since they emigrated here.

To this day, this man’s family invites my Mom and Dad to everything to thank my Dad for his help getting them started. And all of them were at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary – wild horses could not have dragged them away.

My parents taught me to work hard and always give back. It’s all about character and the rest will come. Without character, the rest does not matter.

You can do anything you want to do if you put your mind to it, know yourself and live your life with character. I use these lessons daily in my life. Thanks, Dad!

The Wisdom of Mom and Dad

So many times when we are growing up, we don’t want to listen to our parents. As an adult, I have realized the folly of my ways, and even when I don’t like what they say, I also have learned that they are almost always right. And I learned it again this past year.

Yep…always. Well, or almost always.

My Mom and Dad are two of the smartest people I know. Not book smarts, they have street smarts. Or let’s just call it plain ‘ole common sense.

Ahh, common sense. Such refreshing commodity. They are smart cookies, my parents.

My Dad is also one of the best judges of character, and he is always right. He wasn’t an award-winning 100% commission sales manager for W. Clement Stone for nothing. Positive mental attitude, baby. PMA. I wrote a Father’s Day tribute about my dad some years ago that I will share in a later blog, which talks more about this.

My Dad instilled in me the importance of always keeping your word, always working hard, never giving up, and most importantly, being a person of strong character. Character is everything. Without it, you really don’t have much, and I tend to agree with him.

Character. And as I like to say – Learn It. Live it. Love it.

Another thing my Dad always told me is that “you are beautiful and brilliant, and that will make you intimidating.” I find this is often true in all parts of life. For more, check out this great article on the use of language in national politics related to women – Reclaiming the Words That Smear New York Times.

Have you ever encountered this? I experienced this when I took over as head of a department at the young age of 28 for a large association where I was ultimately managing roughly one million in budgets, just before completing my MBA in 1996.

When you are a woman, if you are successful and driven, you can be intimidating to men, and also to women who are not confident and standing in their own power. It does not matter how good of a person you are, what good you do in the world, how hard you work or the great job that you do – sometimes you get painted with the “words that smear.” A woman is bitchy and aggressive. A man is confident and assertive. See the difference?

Now you may be surprised about what I’m going to say here…

All of that is o.k. Because it’s not personal. Remember that. It has nothing to do with you. It is not your story. It is an old societal tape that hasn’t quite reached its last leg yet.

So let it go … work with the environment you’re in and create your life anyway.

I am driven, motivated, hard-working, passionate and focused. I am successful and do a damn good job, pretty much in all things I do – because I put my all behind all of my work. I make no apologies for that. I am not sorry. I am Sheri. I am a woman in my power. Scratch that. I am a human being in my power.

It’s a matter of understanding how to stand in your own power in this environment, embracing all of life and still getting what you want. Life is tough sometimes. We all have challenges, and that’s o.k. It is a matter of how you respond, what you do next and the choices you make. I created a successful 18 year career at that business and accomplished amazing things. That was my choice.

Let’s flash back a bit.

My parents loathed my Junior Year in high school as I felt my freedom, began to find my own identity. What parent doesn’t? Yet I was a straight A student, on my way to becoming Honored Queen of my bethel in the International Order of Jobs Daughters despite all odds. I had many friends. I didn’t go in for the cliques and talked to everyone. I valued everyone. I welcomed all the new members. I built others up and supported their dreams.

Not counting the time in fourth grade when two school girl bullies painted my little satin jacket in art class, my only store bought clothes that we could afford and that I treasured…and that we could not afford to replace. … Ninth Grade was the first time where I found women who were envious of my accomplishments. Girls who went after me for having what they wanted as I was the youngest ever to be elected by my peers “into line” to eventually become Honored Queen. Oh, the drama that ensued from them!

It was a wake-up call for me – in 9th grade. I was just a little girl really. It was an eye opener on life. But I had done the work…and they had not. I ignored them, persevered and continued to do the work. Did that help them? Nope.

But it is all a matter of what you choose to do with it. How you transform and leverage life’s challenges to build and create something amazing for your life.

As for me, I became Honored Queen. I instituted the first charitable efforts ever for our bethel and raised the most money ever for our bethel in my Senior Year in high school during my term as Honored Queen. My parents and I and our members worked our butts off! I went on to have a record-breaking term as Honored Queen and we accomplished some pretty awesome things together. The Ronald McDonald House was my charity – my parents also taught me to *always* give back.

Work hard, play hard…and always give back. Oh, and make work fun because really, in my personal experience, a successful life is all about play.

I was happy…because I was me. I knew who I was. I walked my talk. Walk your talk, stick to your path, go for it and you can make it happen. Be happy with yourself, who you are and stand in your power. Be happy.

It’s your choice.

But back to my Junior Year…which is where I found the movie Risky Business. My parents did not realize the connections, and they were not too fond of their daughter being so enthusiastic about such a movie at the time, lol. Yet that movie and its message have shaped my life in fabulous ways. I will never forget this scene –check it out!

Make your move, take your chance. “What the {bleep} gives you freedom, freedom brings opportunity, opportunity makes your future…if you can’t say it, you can’t do it.” Well, on this part my parents wholeheartedly agree!

Another thing I learned from my Mom and Dad growing up is that you can do anything you want to do if you set your mind to it.

At the same time, they told me and taught me that you have to work for it. You have to *earn* it. I have seen some over the years shy away from the word work, or give lip service to it. It’s flash and no substance. Wanting things handed to them when it hasn’t been earned, expecting, demanding, and when they don’t get them their reaction is worthy of a two year old’s tantrum. What does this get them? Nothing. It just doesn’t work that way. Life does not work that way. Gigs do not work that way. Or in other words, nothing is worth having if you don’t do the work to get there. Yep, another gem from Mom and Dad.

You can dream your life. You can create your life. And a life coach can help you do that. But what it cannot do? It cannot get you to the end zone without some pulling up of your sleeves and digging in to make it happen in the real, physical world. Even the most fun and fabulous things take effort. The key is your perception and thoughts around the work and if you’re going after your dreams or letting your thoughts hold you back. Or are you going to do it, dig in and make it happen?

It is your choice. Life is your choice. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do what you love and love what you do. It goes hand in hand. When you love what you do, even though you work hard, somehow it feels different. It feels less like work – because you’re living your passion, creating your life.

You are dreaming your life.

Sometimes even when you work at something, you don’t get what you thought you wanted, and that’s o.k. – the old adage, “we don’t get everything we want in life.” My parents taught me that too. And guess what? That is o.k.! Just like my parents taught me. They were right. It is not a bad thing. Just time for a new choice or a do-over.

When life happens, you get back up, you dust yourself off – you go for it!

Old wisdom sayings are wisdom sayings because there is a truth to them. How freaking boring life would be if it was so predictable?! We’d never learn a thing. Just like the Risky Business quote, it frees up space for new opportunities and amazing things to happen.

So let it go, move on and get over it, because a more fabulous opportunity, a new step on your journey is waiting for you, so take the bull by the horns and get on with it, let’s go!

You can do it!

I watched my parents and learned from example. One thing I learned was even when you’re tired and sick, you get up and “do” – do whatever it is, but do it anyway. My parents hardly ever missed a day of work. No matter how you feel. I may be a big believer in rest and healing when you need it, but they have a point. You choose to make your life happen.

Do it. Live. Be happy.

Life can be hard, things happen. Don’t curl up in a ball and stay there, transform it, take charge and get up, just get up and do *something* … anything. Before you know it, things will change for the better. But you have to want it, and you have to work for it! Just like a caterpillar looses everything about itself before it grows in its cocoon to the most beautiful and free butterfly. Be willing to be the caterpillar…embrace it…embrace the change…and then you will become that butterfly.

Last year I had several surgeries, and I’m thankful that it is now behind me, and there were other challenges. It was a tough year in many ways. What did I do? Sure, I rested a lot and I took care of myself. But I also did things anyway. I worked anyway. I transformed it. I signed up for the Martha Beck Life Coach Training. I also started some great public policy advocacy consulting work.

You can transform it too! Just take that one step, take that baby step…and then take another. Baby step it to victory.

Maybe it’s the old Scrubby Dutch work ethic ingrained in me by my family, I don’t know. But it has power. Put your effort where your talk is, walk your talk, stand in your power and make it happen. Don’t stand on the sidelines watching the others on the field, expecting to be on the field and having commentary about it…get out there and work and make it happen, make your life happen.

Create your life. Get yourself in the game.

As a life coach, I am here to empower you to find your own inner wisdom and create that life you want to live.

My parents also taught me Always Do Your Best. Sound familiar? Yes, it is also one of the Four Agreements of don Miguel Ruiz’ writings. Mom and Dad also taught me to always take the high road. They taught me not to apologize for who you are. Stand up for what you believe in and what you think is right. It reminds me of this awesome song that I heard about two weeks ago on the radio and that reminded me of my Dad – You’ve Got to Stand for Something by Aaron Tippon.

And I just have to toss in my personal motto – “work hard, play hard.” There is no substitute.

That’s how I endeavor to live my life. Yep…the wisdom of my Mom and Dad. I listen to them. After all, they’re probably the two smartest people I know.