Someone once said to me that people have different operating systems. God that’s true. Just because I run the metaphorical equivalent of IOS does not mean you do. You might be an Android, and no matter what I say, all the well intended advice in the world will not equal success for you because I am not speaking your language.
I realize I am an outlier in many senses of the word. I also write ad nauseam about my parents but I do this because I believe operating systems are mostly gleaned from your childhood environment. We default to that which feels like home.
My home base is highly systematized. If I had to choose one word to encapsulate my father it would be “QUALITY.” My second choice would be “PRECISION.” For my beloved mother “HEART” followed by “GRACE.” I have neither of them with me now to counsel me with their pure excellence in these areas. But I was always a studious child. I observed, I implemented, and I held myself accountable. These actions are second nature to me, and I know that is not the case for many people.
I think if one could throw all four of these terms into a blender you might come out with something pretty incredible. Strive for quality at all times, but always have heart. Be precise in your designs and actions, but show grace when you fall short.
I am neither my mother nor my father. I am a droplet in the ocean that each of them was on earth. But I had the great fortune to be in that ocean, and to not share their teachings would be criminal.
My father was born into near poverty in 1926. His Italian immigrants parents, my grandparents, were of a fabric no longer available. It was discontinued after the Great Depression I think. Their mettle and ambition was legendary. When my father spoke of my grandfather (whom I never met) he spoke of him as one of the truely great men that ever lived. He was an ‘ice man,” delivering blocks of ice to homes and then movie theaters once they became a thing. He then became the night manager of a movie theater, never using his lack of sleep to back out of his fatherly duties. He was a ‘one man band’ and played one of those accordions with a harmonica and symbols attached to everyone’s amusement. He taught my father to do everything, as they couldn’t afford to pay for help. I believe this is where my father’s infallible attitude was forged. My grandfather died at 57, before seeing the incredible success my father would become.
My dad never had his own bed until joining the Navy at 17. He slept on a cot in the kitchen without complaint. He and his older sisters all attended and graduated college, a feat unheard of for an immigrant family in their standing during that time. My father joined the Navy to apply to school on the GI Bill. He went to Dartmouth, and transferred to Brown, where he graduated in mechanical engineering and naval science. He went on to Harvard Business School where he graduated with distinction, and ultimately started his own micro engineering manufacturing business, which my brother Michael runs today. Micro Technologies is an international force in engineering solutions for the automotive, HVAC, white goods and medical industries. My father wrote more patents than I can count. And yet when he spoke of his own father it was as if he were speaking of a titan whom he could never measure up to. He would often say he wished he was half the man his dad was. It made me so sad to think I never knew him. I am deeply grateful that my children will always remember my dad. There will never be another like him.
My mom. Tears still well up in my eyes just typing her name. My dad I can describe with his vast, tangible accomplishments, which anyone in the world can quantify and respect. My mother, while she held a math degree from one of the finest universities in Sweden and spoke 5 languages fluently, was not this same breed of excellence. Hers was a feeling, an aura. She was love personified. Her smile made everyone smile, her laugh was that of a 3 year old, infectious and irresistible. She had a way of making every single thing more beautiful. She raised me, her only daughter, to take great pride in certain traditionally feminine pursuits. She knew that I would always be well educated and driven, as my father’s daughter. But she had her own skill set, and she taught me those fine arts. There was no ‘women’s work’ in preparing a meal (she was a chef after all), no subjugation in knitting and setting a table and knowing how to properly trim roses. She grew up in a small fishing village in southern Sweden, so she too learned to do things by hand. She could gut a fish, swim 50 laps, then throw on a gown, some lipstick and head to a white tie affair. She taught me there was power in my feminine energy, that we were the lucky ones, who got to be both strong and soft. To this day, my very favorite people are just that. There was nothing deferential about caring for your family, and it was with pride that she taught me these skills. She also always wanted me to NOT to be like her. She advised me to pursue my career and become a master of the universe, not marry a man like my father so enmeshed in his professional pursuits that she by necessity had to run things in all other realms.
I am some semblance of each of them, and I use their teachings equally I believe. As it relates to my physical optimization, that’s all quality and precision. Don’t fault me for it, or think that you can run the same operating system if it’s not second nature to you. There is plenty of room for other versions of getting to your own goals. This is just mine.
I think about my mother’s signature perfume, Angel. I never, ever wear it for fear of diluting the sense memory of her. I do however, wear its sister fragrance, Alien. It’s fitting for me. I am a bit of an alien version of her, a bit of an alien to the mainstream, and thankfully an alien to the idea of conforming to anyone else’s operating system. That was their greatest lesson of all. “You are an island Amy, only compete with yourself. Hold yourself to the highest of standards, aim for quality, precision, grace and heart. Make the best, most thoughtful decisions you can with the information known to you and then move on.”
Today, I give you these ideas to mull over for yourselves. Don’t let yourself off the proverbial hook. Be your own judge and jury. Because ultimately, if you are not in integrity with yourself it doesn’t matter if anyone else knows. You know.