Why Mom Was Right About Success

By Sonia Simone

your mom was right about success

Let’s face it, moms know everything. (Of course, now that I have a child, I realize how pitifully incorrect this is. Never mind.) Mom had it right on the big stuff, anyway. And she had it right because she loved you, and love is smarter than anything.

So as a last-minute mother’s day present, here are 6 (ok, 5) mom-approved tips for your own personal and professional success.

1. Just be yourself. If people don’t like it, they aren’t real friends anyway
There’s no worse waste of time, energy and money than trying to do work for clients who aren’t right for you. In the first place, it won’t work–you’ll go broke trying. And in the time you waste, you could have been connecting with dozens or hundreds or thousands of clients who would love and appreciate you.

Assuming you aren’t a sociopath with halitosis, spend as little time as possible dwelling on what you do badly. Focus on being unbelievably great at what you do well.

Consider constructing a 12-foot tall neon sign about anything you’re a little insecure about. Hot pink is a good color. (Mine reads: "World’s Least Competent Cold Caller.") This will, perversely, read as confidence, and the people who already liked you will start to put much more trust in you.

2. If you can’t say something nice . . .
I realize this somewhat contradicts #1, especially if you happen to be a snarky, edgy type of person who can hone an insult sharper than a San Quentin shiv.

Let’s face it. There are few pleasures that compare to trash talking, especially if you’re really good at it. That delectable shiver of superiority as your arrow hits the mark. The boom of approving laughter. Well-honed snark is a mighty, mighty drug.

There’s almost nothing about my life I would change, except for the times I’ve hurt people with something I have said. Even if the person you’re going after is Ted Bundy, you’ll do some collateral damage. Some nice, interesting, quiet person (who might have had something really remarkable to contribute) will be angered and hurt by what you’ve said, and you’ll never even notice.

The tricky part is, for some of us, this really is where our gifts lie. Some of us are Molly Ivins, or Bill Hicks. If that’s you, be sure to choose your targets wisely. Go after Google, or China, or network television. Remember the traditional journalist’s credo: afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted.

3. If you’re that bored, go clean your room
Feeling stuck? Can’t move forward? Spinning your wheels and making no progress?

I’ll lay odds that somewhere, there’s some uncomfortable business that you need to attend to, but you’re putting it off. Maybe it’s getting over your number-phobia and talking with a bookkeeper. Maybe it’s coming to terms with your fear and loathing of marketing. Maybe it’s just a half-day of errands, running around to get your PO Box and business checking set up.

The things you put off not only mutate to ten times their natural size, they also start creating weird unconscious blocks in other parts of your life. Somewhere, where you can’t quite hear it, there’s a tape (I suppose these days, this is now an MP3) running that’s saying, "if I can’t even get it together to set up an email newsletter, there’s no way I can actually succeed at this business/project/fundraiser."

I don’t know what "clean your room" will mean for you, but you do. It popped into your head about four seconds ago. Write it down, right now.

(Waiting for you to write it down.)

OK, now before you can think about it too much, just go get it done. If you can physically get off your ass right this minute and get it finished, do that. If not, scribble on a post-it the next thing you need to do to make this happen, and then figure out exactly when you’re going to do that. Before the end of this week, please.

You’ll be happily surprised by how much energy this frees up. That same MP3 player will start playing a new tune, something more like, "huh, I guess I’m kind of a stud after all. Now that I’ve got that done, I’m going to do this other thing right now."

Sounds hokey, but it works. Like so much of mom’s advice.

4. Look with your eyes, not with your hands
OK, I wracked my brain and can’t figure out a way to translate this one to success. It just cracks me up when I hear myself telling my own kid this. Sorry.

5. If your friends jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge, would you do it?
Never mind that the true answer to this is usually sure I would. Mom was trying to teach you that the right answer is no, and that’s good advice.

What works beautifully for Skellie or Clay or Caroline may not be the right choice for me.

My version of a great Copyblogger post (I thought the naked one was pretty good) looks significantly different from Brian’s great posts, or James’s, or Dean’s or Roberta’s.

Being inquisitive and paying attention and learning by observation are all terrific. God knows I built this blog on the foundation of a pretty transparent role model. (I believe Brian’s term for the early days of remarcom was "a shrine.") I can heartily endorse copying someone really good for a little while. But you do it to learn your own voice, your own obsessions, and your own unique contributions.

If you’ve ever bought something just because the ad or sales letter was irresistible, try to find that ad and copy it out by hand. Do that with any written ad that really pulls you. You’ll learn a surprising amount.

Copy wisely, copy from the best, then set copying aside and do your own thing. You really can conquer the world that way.

6. Look where you’re going
When all else fails, pay attention. The more lost you feel, the more curiosity you need to cultivate about where you are and what’s going on right this instant.

There’s a ton of advice out there about just about anything. Irritatingly, each of us has to build our own version of the map. We construct it with 10,000 jigsaw pieces in front of us, only 4,000 of which fit the puzzle we’re working on. Horribly inefficient, but it’s the only way to make something real.

Keep paying attention. The path will appear. Make sure your shoes are tied and you’ve got clean underwear, a kleenex and enough money to get a taxi home if you need to. You’re going to do just fine.

(P.S. What’s your own favorite bit of advice from mom? Let us know in the comments, please!)

Flickr Creative Commons image by basykes


  1. Jason K. says:

    My mom always said: “You’re not going to be the same person 5 years from now. It’s okay to change.”

    I take that to mean that you want to be true and consistent as a person (or a business), but there’s no way to predict what the world will be like even a few years down the line. So when the time comes to change directions –whether personally or professionally– embrace that change instead of fighting it.

  2. Jean Gogolin says:

    My Mom’s advice was “Remember to say your prayers.” Which at the time I dismissed out of hand, smartass that I was. Yesterday, like every year since 1994, I dearly wished she were still around to talk to.

  3. “Use your manners.”

    Works 99% of the time.

  4. Beryl Moody says:

    My personal favorite is “If you are bored, go clean your room” Glad I made a difference:-)

    Love — Mom

  5. Kelly says:


    I say #4 all the time, too. Strangely, my Mom didn’t say it, so it’s not always inherited. :)

    I’m with your Mom. If you’re bored, go clean your room (and your grownup interpretation) is super advice.

    Happy Mother’s Day to you both.



  6. Sonia Simone says:

    Full disclosure compels me to admit that my office at home is an unmitigated mess. However, my bedroom is quite tidy. :)

    @Janice, ah, that’s a nice one. Excellent, thank you!

  7. Mark says:

    Being myself. Thats the one that gets me. I have struggled with who I am for years. Now as I get older I have to just accept the fact. That what you see is what you get. That will be ok for some. Not so much, for others.

  8. Sonia Simone says:

    Now that I have a kid myself, I realize that moms are very in touch with what completely miraculous beings these small people are (plus we have a little perspective on the dramas that seem so dire when we were young). So we’re telling our kids, “you are a miracle! Don’t be anyone else–who you are is amazing!” But from the kid POV, that’s hard to see when your best friend won’t talk to you because you like the “wrong” musical group, or wear the “wrong” shoes.

    It would be so cool if we lived long enough to really take advantage of what we learn. :) (Or, in Shaw’s great quote, youth is wasted on the young.)

  9. Terrific stuff. My mom always said, “just tell him/her/them.” If I was having a problem with someone, and bitching to her about it, she always retorted with that simple (yet terrifying) solution. When it comes to freelancing and careers, it makes just as much sense and scares just as much of the bejeesus out of me. But when I have a problem with a client, or I’m struggling with a project, the direct approach is always the best. Geez, Mom, you were right. Urgh.

  10. James Hipkin says:

    From my Dad, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do.”

    I find myself using this frequently to remind clients and staff, especially the younger ones, that understanding the objective is important to achieving success.

  11. I send my kids to clean their rooms a lot. The translation of this is -

    “leave me alone for five minutes so I can at least pretend I am an adult with adult concerns and if I get the time I may even try to feel up your mother, and while your out of the room you might as well do something useful”.

    I hope they don’t catch on.

  12. Nicole says:

    My mom always said: “Pff! I can make that!” and taught me how to do things myself, from making earrings to reupholstering furniture.

  13. Leo says:

    A really good post, I enjoyed it made my day a little bit nicer. Thanks.

  14. Sonia Simone says:

    @Tim, the great thing about kids is that they are generally too self-focused to ever pick up on things like this. Hope it keeps working for you!

    @Nicole, my mom too! Which is why I have a small collection of cool hooked rugs and a bunch of really unflattering sweaters. Sometimes it works, sometimes no.

    @Leo, I love hearing that, thanks for taking the time to let me know.

  15. Love this post– what a wise mom you have!

    Mine always said, “People are either going to like you or they won’t, so be yourself.”

  16. arlene says:

    wow! such a brilliant post you got here. now that i am a mom too, i would always smile when my son says that i know everything! (mind you, he’s only 12^-^)