• May 2012

Oh, What a Difference She Made

By Lisa Earle McLeod
Keynote Speaker and Author
McLeod & More

At some point in our lives, we all have a wake-up moment. It’s that instance in time when we quit going through the motions and actually think about our life and what it really means.

My first big wake-up moment occurred at my mother’s funeral. I was 29 years old and seven months pregnant with my first child. My mother was 53. She died after a yearlong battle with breast cancer.

We hadn’t had one of those “she’s my best friend” relationships that seem to exist only in deodorant ads. We had several falling-outs over the years, but during her illness we were able to put that behind us and become close again.

Cancer does that.

Here I was at her funeral. I had on my expensive maternity suit and looked quite the sophisticate. I was the embodiment of my mother’s dream, a professional woman about to have my first child, proof that women really could have it all. 

After a few of the usual words from the priest, others rose to speak. Former students talked about her lasting impact on their lives, neighbors spoke of her community activism, a letter was read about two foster children she had taken in.

As the list went on and on, I started wondering if I was at the right funeral! Was this the poor housekeeper who lost it on a daily basis, screaming while her children ignored her? The woman who cut up SPAM on top of baked beans and called it a casserole? Surely this was not the woman being so eloquently eulogized.

As I listened to people pay tribute to my mother, I thought long and hard about what a difference she made. She wasn’t perfect, far from it, yet she had obviously played a major role in the lives of everyone there. 

That day was my wake-up moment. My mother had died and I suddenly realized the obvious—one day so would I. My fancy house, impressive job, and even the great Christmas party I gave every year didn’t seem quite so wonderful as I sat there listening to everyone eulogize a mother, teacher, and friend. 

That “what in the hell am I doing with my life” moment was when I started really thinking about life and what really matters when it’s all said and done. 

As I look back on that service, I suspect my mother would have been surprised by it as well. To her, life probably seemed like an endless to-do list and she could never seem to get it all checked off.

But the sum of our lives isn’t how perfectly we can handle every item on our lists, or even what’s on the list to begin with. It’s the impact we have on others.

My mother did some pretty important things with her life. And if she didn’t know it while she was alive, I hope she does now.

It isn’t always easy to remember what matters most. Especially when our hectic pace leaves us little time to even think about it.

But we deserve more than just going through the motions of life. We deserve to live our lives knowing that at our funeral, everyone will be saying, “Oh, what a difference she made to me.”

If you want to be busy, keep trying to be perfect. If you want to be happy, focus on making a difference.

About Lisa Earle McLeod

Business strategist Lisa Earle McLeod is an expert in sales force and leadership development. An author, consultant, syndicated columnist, media commentator, and keynote speaker, she is recognized as a thought-leader whose latest book, The Triangle of Truth, was named a Washington Post Top 5 Business Book for Leaders.

A bottom-line-oriented business advisor whose firm, McLeod & More, Inc. was featured in Fortune magazine, she is also a problem-solving expert whose conflict-resolution handbook was delivered to every member of the House and Senate. And she’s a leadership contributor for Forbes.com, she blogs regularly for The Huffington Post, and she has written more than 500 articles.

This high-energy keynote speaker who has rocked the house everywhere from Apple to Pfizer to The United Way is a repeat guest on “Good Morning America” and has appeared on hundreds of radio and TV shows.

McLeod’s clients range from pharmaceutical to financial services, including Ann Taylor, Capital G, West Pharmaceutical, Black & McDonald, Kimberly-Clark, CMIT, and numerous franchises and entrepreneur organizations. She is also a personal-development expert whose first book “Forget Perfect,” was featured in The New York Times, and continues to sell a full decade after the original printing. Her essay collection, “Finding Grace When You Can’t Even Find Clean Underwear,” was featured on Oprah.com.