How To Do Life

Fresh ideas about career and personal issues

When Both Your Parents Are Gone

What’s your parents’ greatest legacy?

My mom died recently, my dad much earlier.

When our second parent dies, it reminds us that we’re getting toward the end of life’s conveyer belt. It also calls for me to look at their legacy not just for me, but perhaps for you, my dear readers.

My parents were alike in that they both were remarkably resilient. Both were in Nazi concentration camps (My dad in Ponary, my mom in Auschwitz), and after the war, dumped on a cargo boat and dropped in the Bronx without a penny to their names — no English, no education, no money, no family, only the scars of the Holocaust tortures. Yet they both went right to work (factory workers) and to night school to learn English. My dad was resourceful enough to save up to own his own store and my mom soon defaulted back to her pre-war personality: preternaturally upbeat. Indeed that bubbly attitude remained until the end. The day before she died,  as I sang to her, which I did every day, she tried to sing along.

Thinking about how resilient my parents were makes me feel guilty when I complain about problems infinitely less harrowing than the Holocaust. Of course, I’m not the only complainer. These days, it seems everyone takes offense more easily, blames others for their own failings, and/or feels they’re justified to retain, for years, anger at their punitive parents, cruel spouse, or unfair firing.

If there’s a legacy I hope my parents have left for me and perhaps for you it’s that sentence my father said that I’ve quoted previously: “Martin, never look back. Always take the next step forward.” In short, force yourself to be resilient.

Each of us has had crap happen to us but having been career coach to 4,500 clients, I’ve found that, apart from intelligence and drive, the most important differentiator between successful and unsuccessful people is that the successful ones don’t wallow in their past miseries. They immediately take that next step forward.

I love you mom and dad. You made a difference and I believe you continue to.

How about your parents? Whether they’re alive or not, what do you believe is their greatest contribution to you and to humankind?

Marty Nemko's bio is in Wikipedia.

Marty Nemko is a career and personal coach based in Oakland, Ca. and the author of 7 books. 
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