I had just gotten dinner somewhere in downtown Sunnyvale, and it was getting late ... and I was about to call my Uber to get to bed (yes, I’m still doing the Airbnb thing). What popped in my mind at the moment was the 2015 Oscar’s acceptance speech by J.K. Simmons to “call your mom” that compelled me to ... well, call my mom. Lucky for me, my mom is still alive and I remember to talk to her once in a while. The great thing about the Silicon Valley area is that it doesn’t get that cold at night so I was randomly walking the streets and talked to her for quite a while.
Part of the luck of coming from a working class family is that my parents never really understood what I did every year past leaving high school. They just thought that it would lead to a better life than they had weathered and managed operating a tiny tofu factory in Seattle. I remember after my third year in college, my mother asked me what I was doing that summer at Texas Instruments as a summer intern -- and I replied with some technical gibberish. To which her response was unhesitatingly, as it’s always been, “That’s good, John. I know you can do it. I believe in you.” I would never attempt to explain in detail what I was doing -- which I know wouldn’t matter, not because she wouldn’t be able to understand it -- I just knew that she cared in a way that could be easily mistaken as not caring. Sometimes we think that mutual respect is born in mutual understanding, but when its the relationship between a parent and child, there’s really something else there. You just know that it doesn’t matter that your mom doesn’t understand what you do, but you know that she believes in you. That makes all the difference in the world sometimes -- and have experienced it first hand in my darkest moments.
So while I was walking about in the darkness of downtown Sunnyvale, I had that recurring moment on the phone when she asks, “How are you doing, John?” And I’ll say something short or long -- the brightness or darkness depending on the goodness of that day or week or month. And in a completely predictable way I know she will eventually say, “Well ... I believe in you, John. I always have.” It is a kind of empathy grounded in nothing to do with knowing the complex WHAT or WHY or HOW of what I might be doing. But when it happens, you suddenly know that everything will all be okay. Even though your mind knows that’s completely impossible based upon any form of logic. It feels a bit like what you might imagine as an infant you might have felt when being held or gently patted to sleep by a loving parent, or guardian, or important-someone. Everything will be okay, because someone believes in you and cares for you.
So towards the end of my conversation, and when my mother eventually said, “I believe in you, John!” although it was completely predictable, it made its impact that evening. It lasted a few evenings afterwards, and clearly is still with me now many weeks later.
Whoops, I think I better call her now to wish her a happy mother’s day! If you’re lucky enough to have a mother(s) that is alive and that you’re friendly with (I know that all relationships are not perfect), I hope you enjoy that rare exchange you get to have -- it’s powerful. -JM
Copyright 2009 - 2016, John Maeda