Mother’s Day, or: A Celebration of How Your Future Is Decided?
Yesterday was Mother’s Day, the special second Sunday in May when we thank our moms for being our moms and celebrate moms everywhere.
I am lucky to have had the best mom I could have asked for: warm-hearted, bright and cheerful, a friend of my friends, willing to stand up against any foe or obstacle for my younger brother and I, so funny in that silly mom-kind-of-way, graceful, tender, college-educated, an older adult teacher and friend to the elderly and disabled, compassionate and caring for all people and animules (as she would say it), always supportive, always by my side, and always, always loving.
I took a moment on this day to thank God for my mom, who, aside for life itself, I consider my life’s greatest blessing. And while she is no longer with me but in spirit, my good fortune of 23 years and one month with my mom Joan set me on my life’s course.
The apple often doesn’t fall far from the tree. We all know that adage. For better or for worse, our moms (and dads) make a big difference in our college and career success. According to a 2001 report from the National Center for Education Statistics, college enrollment rates vary considerably with parents’ educational attainment, even when other factors are taken into account.
In 1999, 82 percent of students whose parents held a bachelor’s degree or higher enrolled in college immediately after finishing high school. The rates were much lower for those whose parents had completed high school but not college (54 percent) and even lower for those whose parents had less than a high school diploma (36 percent).
In “Getting a Boost Up the Ladder of Success,” the economist/comic/writer Ben Stein cites the influence of his parents and their social coterie of movers and shakers as the preeminent reason for his professional and personal success: “almost everything I have I can trace back to my father and mother. To their efforts, to who they were, to their character.” With refreshing candor, Stein draws a straight arrow from his background to each one of his achievements:
And because I had grown up around economics, I just assumed that I could learn it and assimilate it, and so I had confidence in my abilities in the field. This led to my getting good grades and helped me get into Yale Law School and Yale’s graduate school, where I studied with still more friends of my parents, like Henry Wallich and James Tobin.
How did I get my start as a performer in front of the camera? Well, here we go again. It was from a chain of connections I made starting in 1973 at a Yom Kippur breaking of the fast at the home of William Safire, then a Nixon speech writer and fast friend — and later pallbearer — of my father’s. His wife, Helene, was a close friend of my mother’s.
Stein, as I have also done thus far, flits without mention between the importance of the resume of your parents and the actual parenting quality of your parents. It should be noted in unambiguous terms that whether your parents are well-educated professionals or not does not determine whether they are wonderful, whether they instilled you with the work ethic, confidence, character, etc. you need to achieve any dream. Social connections and the letters P, h, and D after your parents’ names far from guarantee that you grew up in a happy, supportive, or loving home.
Nevertheless, having well-educated, well-connected parents who are high up on the professional ladder clearly helps a lot in many regards. So what to do if you lack this type of brute luck?
What if you don’t have a well-connected father? What if you don’t have a well-connected mother? What if you don’t have a father at all? What if you are an immigrant without any connections, with parents who barely speak English, if at all? What do you do? What if you are a young man or woman who has some talent and ambition but little or no idea of how to get onto the ladder? To tell you the truth, I am not at all sure what you do.
Yet all is not for naught.
But I do know that there is a large class of baby boomers who have done well in their financial lives. They are retiring now and looking for things to do to help the community that gave so much to them.
In other words, Ben Stein knows the importance of mentors, and the opportunity for working or recently-retired professionals to make a tangible difference in the lives of many of us. You need a good mentor. I need a good mentor. Most of us could use a good mentor (or two). Whether or not you won the parent lottery, chances are you aren’t as disposed to follow in your parents’ footsteps as Stein was. Are we to believe that the host of Win Ben Stein’s Money would have skipped economics altogether had his parents been musicians or lawyers? Regardless, there is a value for all of us to have a mentor or two in our near-to-peer group or chosen profession. Fortunately, there are many good men and women – educated, successful in their professions and marked by strong characters – who are willing to help.
So, reach out. Find a mentor. A recently retired baby boomer. A college student or young professional (as we offer through BetterGrads). Introduce yourself. Send an email. Make a call. Be brave, and go for it. For as we know, for better or worse, the apple often doesn’t fall far from the tree. But on this day after Mother’s Day – the day after you counted your blessings, thanked your mom, and celebrated moms everywhere – show your mom your thanks by finding a mentor or being a mentor for someone in need. Do this and I’m sure your mom would be proud.