I’ve always been a mama’s girl. Even though I had a big brother, it was always Mom and me. She was a nurse by trade and hustler by nature; she used both skill sets as an immigrant from the beautiful island of Antigua to make a home for my brother and me on the mean streets of New York City as first-generation Americans.
I credit my success as a professional and businesswoman to the career advice and guidance she gave me over the last two decades.
Here are three of the most memorable gems of wisdom I received from my mom.
I graduated from Oberlin College in May 2011 with a degree in political science and economics, and was still looking for full-time work a year later. When it became clear steady work in my field wasn’t going to be a straightforward process, my mother encouraged me to take what I could find and learn as much as I could from the odd jobs along the way. Within that transition year, I held a number of small jobs, including afterschool teacher, community outreach activist, campaign canvasser and assistant for a flea market vendor. Each of these jobs strengthened my entrepreneurial spirit and showed me the power of interpersonal skills, active listening and in-the-moment problem-solving. Without those jobs, I wouldn’t have had the confidence to build The Frugal Feminista.
Women are generally socialized to nurture, play small and coy, and wait to be chosen. But my mother, who left Antigua for England when she was 18 to avoid becoming a surrogate mother to her nine younger siblings, taught me the opposite. She would always say, “A closed mouth doesn’t get fed.” As a woman of color in the workforce, I used this principle to advocate for myself, establish my worth and be unapologetic about asking for compensation for the positive impact I made to an organization’s bottom line.
When she first shared this piece of advice, I thought she wanted me to feel insecure and paranoid about the caliber of my work. But the essence of her advice pushed for the exact opposite. When you work as if someone’s always looking over your shoulder, you create systems, processes, structures and innovations that can withstand external audit and review. In the most optimal of cases, the structures can work without you, freeing up your time to attend to other projects.
Even though I’m now a mother with a business, career and family of my own, I still view my mom as my trusted career coach whose advice has prepared me to design a life that allows me to not only earn well, but also live well.