Great Life Storytellers: My Parents
Last week, I wrote about my new blog/social media series called "Great Life Storytellers." This series will share people who have really inspired me to live a better story, ones who push me to do meaningful work, and those who I think have lived incredible stories of their own.
I can think of no better place to start this week, Thanksgiving week, then by introducing you to my parents.
This is really about how I've been shaped forever by watching them celebrate who they are - their greatest stories.
This is Barbara and Michael. They are my parents and the first and loudest cheerleaders I've ever had. My story begins with them in countless ways.
Have you ever started to feel like you're becoming your parents?! Well, that's me, especially in the past few years. It's okay really. It's actually kind of great, aside from the fact that I keep finding myself making some of the same dumbo jokes my dad makes.
So the thing is - the work I do now: creative based on your story - is actually a wonderfully weird combination and re-invention of what my parents did career-wise. Did I plan to have a career that was a mash-up of these two? Of course not. But as they say, life has a funny way of figuring these things out.
Let me explain.
This is my favorite picture of my mom. She passed away in 2003 and though she's been gone 11 years now, I think of her everyday.
Mom was many things to many people. She was a justice seeker: a fully passionate person that believed in right and wrong and doing something about how you feel. Moreover, she believed in thoughtfulness.
Mom was born in Pennsylvania and went to Drexel University. She worked in retail and enjoyed performing in musical theater. She met my dad when they were both living in New Jersey and they were married in Pennyslvania in April 1984. Years later, when we lived in NC, my mom worked at my school for a number of years as a substitute and assistant. She fully hit her stride a few years before died when she started a business selling stationery and doing wedding calligraphy.
Her creativity was expressed in her famous italic calligraphy and the details she poured into this business known as "You're Invited." Mom didn't design custom invitations like I do, rather she sold lines like William Arthur. Nevertheless, I grew up watching her tie ribbons, carefully packing boxes, and being thoughtful with her wedding paper clients. I never appreciated this experience or its effect on me until the past few years, as it's become my job to pack up special boxes and write meaningful notes to clients.
Mom was also a generous and spontaneously thoughtful person. Even now I'm hearing stories of how she helped others with their gardens, or sent an encouraging hand-written note.
When Mom was here, she had known that my dream was to work in the film industry and write and help tell stories. Though I did follow that dream after she passed away, I no longer am a part of that world or that dream.
That dream changed, and in more ways than one, brought me back home, using the storytelling of what I learned and combining it with mom's thoughtfulness and passion. I am so moved by how life works and part of me hopes that she would think my business would be an even better dream for me.
The story of mom's life continues to inspire me even now. I have some of her justice-seeking in me and certainly her passion. Even with every envelope I address or save the dates I pack up, I think of her - proud to be continuing her story when I never expected to. It all makes me think that things, bad and good, do happen for a reason.
Now there's my dad. This is one of my favorite pictures of us together. His nose doesn't actually look like that - it's a toy and it's awesome. This pictures reminds me of our special bond and dad's seemingly unending willingness to be silly with me.
I wrote a lot about my dad's story this year when he turned 60 when I created a surprise birthday book filled with messages from people throughout his life. He grew up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, went to Duke, then Tulane for grad school. He had a career in advertising and brand management that led him to becoming a VP at one of NYC's top ad firms.
When I was 5, we left the north and moved back to Fayetteville so Dad could help run the family business, a children's department store my grandparents founded in 1951 known as Tiny Town. He's been running the store and developing a local community concert organization since 1990.
Though my mom's connection to the work I do seems a bit more obvious (stationery, calligraphy, thoughtfulness), I think my dad's story so far has inspired me just as much.
As a kid, like I mentioned, dad taught me about silliness. I think this is a critical component of the work I do. I believe having a sense of fun- what I call "a sincere love of silliness" I think is really valuable to celebrating others' stories. Some projects call for more whimsy than others, but in this crazy ride of life, I think you need a little cleverness and unabashed love of who you are when you share that with people.
There's also the straightforward lessons I've learned about advertising, brand management, art direction, and more. Throughout my corporate career with Disney and the time I've since spent running Greatest Story, Dad has always been and continues to be a source of inspiration and good judgment. He's my go-to guy when I'm trying to solve marketing issues or just a sense of whether something "works" or not. You wouldn't think advertising or brand management would inform wedding invitations, but the way I do it, it absolutely does and having an ad guy you trust available at all times is pretty great.
All these things considered, when I really think about it, the biggest part of dad's story that inspires me is the countless chapters in which he has challenged me and shown great faith in me.
I'm an only child and my dad and I have one of those ridiculously close daddy/daughter relationships (in case that wasn't already obvious). It's only gotten closer since we lost my mom and he came the resource for everything I needed from a parent. When I am at a crossroads, like I was when I was debating whether to go full-time with Greatest Story and face every risk I was afraid of, Dad had what felt like was a million conversations with me about it. There wasn't a limit on how many times I could call him or go over the same things, asking for his perspective and analyzing the situation with both head and heart. The same thing happened when I was weighing whether to leave Disney and move back to NC when my job at Disney was going so well.
Looking back on these moments in particular, what I appreciate about his faith in me is that it's not blind, it's intentional. He asks me questions, he challenges me for answers, and he ultimately lets me make the decision and supports me. I get to draw on all parts of his story when I make scary business or personal decisions in my life and when I do decide, I get the full force of that faith and support.
So, though I never would have thought it during the days I was dreaming of being a Disney princess, or a broadway actress, or a screenwriter, or even a film producer, every piece of what I do professionally and who I am as a person is deeply informed by the stories and the lives of these two amazing people.
They're both very different and contributed unique things to others and to me, I am forever grateful to have their stories to be inspired and changed by.
I wish everyone a wonderful Thanksgiving this week and a chance to thank someone whose story has meant something major to you!
If you missed the first post in this series, explaining the core mission of my business, you may find it here.