When I was growing up, my mother and I would talk all night long over coffee and pastries at the kitchen table. We would have great conversations about life and dreams.
Years later when I started our company, my mother would wake up at 6am every morning and drive me to the office. She was well into her retirement at that point and had no reason to wake up so early. She just wanted to spend some time with her son.
It was like a flashback to my childhood–she’d inspire me with words of wisdom and encouragement on those early morning drives, just like she did when I was a kid.
As our company has gotten bigger and my schedule has become more demanding, those morning drives have become fewer and fewer. It’s one of my biggest regrets.
However, the messages from those early morning drives and those long nights at the kitchen table still resonate louder than ever. They have served as the most meaningful entrepreneurial lessons I’ve learned.
This Mother’s Day weekend, I wanted to take a stroll down memory lane and remember how all of these life lessons have helped me along my journey in business:
Mother’s Day Entrepreneurial Lesson 1: It’s All About Balancing Extremes
My mother showed me at an early age that the biggest obstacle standing in the way of accomplishing your dreams is how comfortable you are operating in the “extreme” zone.
If there’s one thing I’ve learned since our company was founded, it’s been that successful entrepreneurship boils down to one fundamental skill: the ability to manage the constant tug of extreme contrasting emotions.
On one hand, immense fear and loneliness consume you. You know that everything you have built can crumble in the blink of an eye. On the other hand, extreme ambition and optimism energize you and reinforce your conviction that your vision can reach its ultimate destination.
This is the fundamental identity crisis that every successful entrepreneur is faced with. It’s a constant, nonstop tug of feelings that are in diametric contrast to one another, but carry equal importance along the journey to accomplishing your goal.
I think back to a time in my life when my mother showed me the importance of managing extremes.
When we buried my sister on her 24th birthday, it was the first time in my life that I was faced with extreme adversity and tragedy. I was in my early twenties and had never been forced to confront the harsh reality of an event that would change my life forever.
My mother helped me navigate this period in my life with incredible strength and selflessness. Through all of the pain and sorrow that comes with losing a child, my mother never thought about herself. She put me first, and showed me that out of tragedy beautiful moments can emerge.
In the period following this adversity, I met my wife, conceived the idea to start a business, and found renewed spirit and motivation that I wasn’t going to let myself fail.
The “extreme” zone that every entrepreneur inevitably faces in business is something I was prepared for. Thanks, mom, for that.
Mother’s Day Entrepreneurial Lesson 2: Inspiration Comes from Within
My mother wouldn’t know the difference between a P&L and P&G. She probably thinks NASDAQ is a space invention, and a KPI is something that can be found on the dashboard of an automobile.
My mother has never hired an employee or scrutinized an org chart. She never had to worry about a sales quota. My mother has never stepped foot in corporate America. The only boards my mother ever managed had the word chalk in front of them, not advisory.
But she is the reason behind any modicum of success I’ve achieved in business. She didn’t do this through teaching me about P&L’s, or helping me manage a workforce.
She did this through something far more powerful than any of those things.
She did this through the gift of inspiration.
On the first day of our company’s existence, my mother wrote me a greeting card: “Enjoy the journey. If you inspire others you will be a winner no matter what happens.”
I keep that greeting card on my desk to this day. As the years continue to pass and the ink from the card fades, the meaning behind those words becomes more and more evident.
Inspiration is the driving force behind all good qualities that make a business tick: positive energy, innovation, and experimentation. All of these ingredients, which together make the formula for an unstoppable business, are branches that fall from the tree of inspiration. There is nothing that can convince me otherwise.
In some cases, these are acquired traits. In mine, they’ve followed me at every step of my life. From marathon overnight conversations at the kitchen table to early morning drives into the office, my mother always made inspiration the most important part of my everyday life.
She showed me that inspiration comes from within, not from board rooms, org charts or leadership 101 books.
Mother’s Day Entrepreneurial Lesson 3: Never Forget Your Roots
My mother was the daughter of immigrants and made ultimate sacrifices to put future generations like myself in a position to realize our dreams. Her parents never drove a car, never owned a home or spoke our language. My mother fought her way through comas and car accidents, crammed bedrooms shared with her sister, and countless tests of adversity. She never once complained about any of it. My mother bestowed upon me the importance of hard work and the power of fighting.
But most importantly, my mother taught me never to forget my roots.
When I started our company and was deciding on names, it was a no brainer for me to name it after the street that my grandparents immigrated to when they settled in the United States. This has served as a reminder every day that no matter how great the success or how painful the failure, the one constant is that we always remember our roots.
Right next to the greeting card that my mother gave me on the first day of our business, I keep a needle and yarn on my desk as a reminder of my grandfather. He worked tirelessly as a tailor in the Garment District of Manhattan.
Of all of our business accomplishments, perhaps the one that I’m most proud of is that our values, culture and heritage are rooted deeply in the fabric of our every move. At every step of scale we’ve managed to maintain a pride and respect for our roots and our underdog journey. We have a story, we have a tradition, and an appreciation for the grind that has unified us.
This traces its roots back to one simple message my mother delivered to me my whole life. Be proud of who you are and where you come from.
Mother’s Day Entrepreneurial Lesson 4: Compete & Care
Time and time again I heard from my mother that I was going to have to compete fiercely to accomplish my dreams. Rather than hide from this, my mother taught me to face competition head on and with a galvanizing spirit.
When I first started N6A, I struggled with the same scale and growth decisions that every services business principal is inevitably faced with. Should I build this alone or with a team? Do we want to be big or small? Am I willing to pay the price to think big?
Deep down inside I knew that I wanted to challenge myself and test my ability to build something that was about more than just me. But I was petrified of the thought of actually doing it.
During this time, my mother told me that by bringing others into my vision, the taste would be sweeter in the end. She showed me that the impact I could have on others who are willing to compete and sacrifice would be infinitely more gratifying than if I were to do it on my own.
It was at this moment that I made up my mind. It was about more than just me. We were going to build a team that passes the test of time, and one that would be rewarded as we got bigger.
My mother showed me that competing for yourself is a perfectly healthy and fulfilling exercise, but one that should never come at the expense of those who helped you along the journey. In fact, my mother showed me that competition is a heck of a lot more fun when you have co-pilots that are pulling in the same direction and feel equally as invested in the journey as you do.
This “compete and care” mindset that my mother instilled in me has become so embedded in my business philosophy that it serves as our company’s tagline and mantra that defines our internal culture. It’s tattooed on the walls of our office and all over our recruiting channels. Everybody who wants to join our organization learns quickly that they compete for themselves, but are equally as invested in the success of their co-workers.
This wasn’t modeled after something I learned in textbooks or in the classroom. It was modeled after a philosophy that my mother bestowed upon me from an early age.
Mother’s Day Entrepreneurial Lesson 5: The Power Of Belief & Loyalty
My mother believed in me for my entire life. Even in moments when I gave her no reason to believe, she refused to give up on me.
I can remember weeks and even months of cold shoulder treatment over petty arguments, refusing to talk to my mother growing up. I can remember senseless and immature decisions I made as a kid–skipping school to roll dice, playing the role of neighborhood bookie before the days of online betting.
Through all of the pain and frustration that I put my mother through growing up, she stood by me with unwavering loyalty and patience that only a mother could have. Even through my darkest displays of selfishness, there was my mother by my side, knowing that I would come around eventually.
The power of believing in someone and standing by them should never be underestimated, particularly in an entrepreneurial setting where the odds are heavily stacked against you to begin with.
Some entrepreneurs, CEOs and business leaders learn about the power and importance of these lessons after they take the corner office.
For me, I’ve understood them for my entire life.
I guess I’m just lucky. For that I thank my mother.
Happy Mother’s Day, mom.
Matt Rizzetta is the CEO of North 6th Agency, a full service public relations, marketing, and brand communications agency.