Lessons from my mom, Part I: Don’t do things for the credit

Recognition has always been important to me. I’m one who wants credit for my work and contributions. If I’m writing, I want the byline. If I’m running, I want the record. If it was my idea, I want the validation.

When putting in the work, I want to hear or see my name attached to it.

I thought long and hard about the greatest lessons my mom ever taught me. I can’t pinpoint a time when she sat me down and said, “This is wrong. And this is right. And that’s just how things are.” [Although every night I left the house in high school, she yelled, “Make good choices!” as I ran out the door.]

My mom is someone who leads by example.

The greatest lessons she gave me are not things she said; they’re things she did. She volunteers her time. She always does her best. I can’t name a single selfish thing she’s done in her whole life.

And above all else, one thing my mom does is this: She never seeks recognition.

Lesson One: Don’t do things for the credit.

When I was in the 3rd grade, my teacher—Mrs. Sutter—retired after decades of teaching. For an elementary teacher retiring in a town of less than 500 people, her retirement party was an epic production. There were songs. There were skits. Children and grandchildren were called. Our art teacher took each student’s handprints to create a quilt. For crying out loud, they made us recite a poem.

At the end of a very, er, comprehensive retirement party, my soon-to-be-former teacher was given a typed-up list of thank-yous to read aloud. It recognized dozens of coworkers, family members, volunteers, and friends; and how each contributed to the event. When every last name was read, my best friend’s mom (Mary Olson, who I wrote about here), raised her hand and said:

“Excuse me, I just wanted to point out that Ardel McCartney was the one who organized and put this day together. And she was the one who typed-up that list thanking everyone, and left her own name off.

That was the first time I remember my mom forgoing any and all credit for something—something that took weeks, if not months to plan.

Put your effort into recognizing others, not seeking it for yourself.

Throughout high school and into college, I never fully recognized how much work my mom put into recognizing others, with complete disregard for receiving recognition herself. When my high school history teacher retired, my mom orchestrated a charade of letters from his favorite students. It went perfectly. Each student was given a dedicated day, so my favorite teacher would receive one letter per day in the months leading to retirement.

She did something similar for my high school track coach. Sixty of his former all-stars and athletes sent him a card or letter for his sixtieth birthday. To my knowledge, he received 59. My card was a solid eight months late, and started with the words, “I suck. Ardel told me months ago to write this.”

My mom has organized more retirement parties, gotten more thirteen-year-olds to write letters instead of emails, and hosted more award ceremonies than anyone. She is someone who sees everyone for who they are and what they contribute to the community. She is a person who recognizes effort. She knows what hard work is, and will recognize individuals often overlooked for the work they’ve done.

And she will never, ever, seek that recognition herself.

Offer yourself and your time simply because you can.

My mom, unlike me, doesn’t do things to see or hear her name. She doesn’t do things for the thank-yous. She offers her ideas, support, time, and best work because the job won’t get done without her.

I’m going to say something, because my mom is too humble a person to say it out loud: Don’t do things for the credit. Don’t offer your ideas for the patent, your athletic ability for the points, your volunteer time for the college application. Offer yourself and your time because you can. Recognize others because there is a very good chance no one else will. Type a list of thank-yous up and leave your own name off it. It will come back to you; I promise.

My mom may turn down recognition, but she has the best reputation of anyone I know.

6 Comments
  1. Kara – If I may, I would like to share some of your entries with my 7th graders as we are focusing on writer’s VOICE. Your voice and what you have to say is inspirational, and as you know – it all seems very common sense.

    In spite of what I would like to think it isn’t common sense to everybody and although most people that grow up in the midwest share and keep your values, sadly some of these important life lessons do not stay with people throughout their travels and as they add years to their life experiences.

    Keep sharing – you are being heard:)

    1. Shirleen!!! This absolutely made my day. Yes, 100%—feel free to share. I take that as a huge compliment.

      Once, someone asked me if I ever worried if I would run out of things to say on my blog. My response was, “Well, my blog is about life mistakes and how I learn from them…So unless I’ve learned everything there is to learn at 27, I’m sure I’ll have plenty to say.” I’ve moved around a lot, but it’s amazing the things you learn from coworkers, family, and friends on a daily basis.

  2. Kara,

    If Shirleen is asking for permission, I need to apologize because I all ready shared it with my 8th graders (as I will your post about Marla too!). We are looking how everything is organized from beginning to end, and the fact that it’s about your mom just makes it that much more interesting for my students!

    It makes me smile, getting a view of both you and your mom through your writing. She’s an amazing woman, and there are so many students (and teachers) she’s influenced here at Valley/NFV, myself included.

    Thank you for sharing with us! My students and I look forward to your next blog!

  3. Hi Kara,

    If Shirleen’s asking for permission, I’ll ask for forgiveness because I all ready shared this with my 8th graders! We are looking at how to organize our writing better, and I can think of no better example than your blog!

    My students enjoyed this piece, both for the fact it’s different than most (a good thing) and because it’s about someone they know! I’ll admit, I’ve enjoyed these blogs about the mother because it gives us all a window into both of your souls. Your mom has done so much here to positively influence the students and teachers here at Valley/NFV, myself included. You can also see how much your mom means to you in the words you choose and the experiences you describe!

    Thank you for giving us that view! It means a lot to all who’ve read this blog!

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