Thursday, February 24, 2022

My Mom, and a Life She Touched

 "Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones.
A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you."
~ Shannon L. Alder

A few years ago, I received the following e-mail via my website:

Dear Ms. Schiano:
I am writing you with the hopes that you are Rita Schiano, the daughter of my beloved piano teacher, mentor, and second mother Jane Marie Notarthomas Schiano of Syracuse, NY. I was on Route 20, heading to the Brimfield Fair when I saw your name on a sign. If it is indeed you, I would love to say hello. I moved to Boston 27 years ago and am a church organist, thanks to the inspiration and teaching of Jane.
                                        Sincerely, Bobby DeRegis

It took a few months to coordinate our schedules (and I must be honest and admit I let this fall through the cracks of time at one point). However, we found a few dates and decided that Westborough would be the logical, halfway meeting point.

Bobby suggested Friday, January 18, as he had an appointment in Westborough that day. Unfortunately, I had another commitment that afternoon.

I responded, "Perhaps the following Friday, 1/25 or 2/1? Actually, February 1 is the anniversary of my mom’s passing," I wrote. "Perhaps that might be a nice remembrance.”

Bobby responded, "I think February 1st might be a sign from above. Let's do it."

The last time I saw Bobby was in 1986, at my mom's funeral. He was seventeen years old. Now a man of fifty, I was so heartened by the extraordinary detail with which he remembered her.

"She saved me in so many ways. Helped me through difficult times and losses," he told me. "She gave me a love for music. And she had such deep faith."

Over the next few hours as we talked of her passionate, loving and giving soul, Bobby would pause often to wipe a few tears from his cheek.

In my office at home I have a framed newspaper article written about her many years ago. The columnist described Mom as a ". . . big, warm-hearted woman whose delicious sense of humor dances in her dark eyes. She is also a woman of deep religious faith revealed through her music."

In addition to teaching private piano and voice lessons, Mom was the organist and choir director at St. John the Baptist Church in Syracuse, NY. Although a Catholic, mom shared her rich, dramatic contralto voice in the quartet at the Temple Society of Concord worship services every Friday night.
And she was extremely proud of her special choral group, the Out of Sight Singers. "They may lack eyesight, but not voices, and I love every minute I work with them," she said.

Bobby is not the only person to reach out to me about my mom over the years. Numerous people have contacted me via Facebook and shared their memories of her. And like Bobby, many have gone on to study music in college and work as professional musicians and music teachers. And each and every one makes it a point to say, "I loved her."

I loved her, too. I was blessed to have her as my mom and mentor in life. The greatest lesson I learned from my mom is to be mindful of how my words and deeds affect the people I interact with each day. Be it a friend, colleague, cashier, attendant, someone I pass by in a store or on the street.

"See them," she’d say. "Look beyond appearances. Be grateful for the smallest act. And always show the world your true self."

Words to live by, indeed.

Thursday, February 17, 2022

Ambition, Achievement, Fulfillment

 A colleague once said to me, “I admire how ambitious you are.” Her words stopped me.

“Ambitious? You see me as ambitious?” I was puzzled. I never thought of myself in that way, so I had to ponder what she meant by that.

I turned to my internal dictionary and thesaurus — the one my grandmother had drilled into me as a child by insisting that I learn the list of spelling bee words she tore out of the Sunday paper each week.

Ambitious: a go-getter, power-hungry, zealous. That’s not me. Determined. Hmm. Determined. Now that is me. I am determined, purposeful, motivated, and an enthusiastic learner. I am an achiever.

This got me thinking about what is achievement? Achievement is the experience of accomplishment, of attaining the goals you set for yourself. While ambition is the chief driver of achievement, it seems to me they are variables in the equation that equals fulfillment.

Fulfillment is the achievement of something desired, promised, or predicted; it is the feeling of satisfaction or happiness as a result of fully developing one's abilities or character. You may have all the success and money in the world, yet be internally bankrupt and feel that life has no meaning.

Fulfillment is accomplished by two things: continuous growth and continuous contribution beyond oneself. It comes from living a life of meaning, of significance. Achievement, however, is pleasure; achievement is of and in the moment.  

In my studies in strategic intervention, I learned that the strongest drive in human beings is the “drive for fulfillment, and that all human beings share this need to experience a life of meaning and purpose.” (Robbins-Madanes) Fulfillment can only be achieved when we focus our lives on the need to grow continuously, and the need to contribute beyond ourselves in a meaningful way.

My desire to grow continuously and to contribute beyond myself in a meaningful way is fueled by an inner ambition to do so.

Perhaps my colleague was right. I am ambitious.

Thursday, February 10, 2022

That Four-letter "F" Word

Do you sometimes find yourself spewing that 4-letter "F" word?

No, not THAT one . . . I'm talking about that other 4-letter "F" word -- FEAR.

Fear is a distressing negative emotion brought on by a perceived threat. It is a basic survival mechanism that triggers your 'fight or flight' response. Our fears, however, can often take on a life of their own and stop us dead in our tracks.

Rejection is an irrational fear that others will not accept us for who we are. Fear of rejection is one of those insidious, perceived threats that can hold you back, keep you from achieving your goals. Fear of rejection pervades our minds, often rendering us incapable of doing or saying anything for fear of others' rejection, lack of acceptance, or disapproval. Yes, there will be times in your life when you will face rejection. How will you handle rejection if it does happen?

To start, be prepared. Identify your limiting thoughts, such as...

    People dislike me
    I am a failure
    I am not worthy of their approval

. . . and then dismiss them one by one.

To do so effectively you need to build your self-esteem. And you build self-esteem by understanding your self-worth.   So make this list instead . . .

    People like me because...
    I have been successful in...
    I am worthy of others' approval because...

Work on your self-worth list everyday by adding just one good trait about you. Remember my equation:

Self-confidence + Self-worth = Self-esteem