18 Things My Mom Taught Me

My mommy likes free things, so I wrote her this free article last year. I’m still working on new ones for this year. Here’s what I’ve learned from the most amazing person:

1. Cheap things are good. FREE things are even better.

2. Strangers are friends you haven’t met yet. Talk to and laugh with them! (When Mom worked as a cashier at a supermarket, she cultivated so many relationships that regular customers would join her long line even if there were empty lines nearby. They did this just to interact with her for a few minutes!)

3. A polite tone goes a long way in any human interaction. Especially when you’re speaking with customer service, ask for the representative’s name, be patient, say please, and say thank you. (Often, you’ll get what you want. Sometimes you’ll get it for FREE. But really, it’s just the right thing to do.)

4. But you must also stand up fiercely for what is right and have zero tolerance for nonsense. (Mom has an odd dichotomy between charm and stern persistence.)

5. Every penny saved is a penny earned. Saving money is a part-time job that rakes in hundreds or thousands per month–that’s up to you. Learn to resist impulses, reuse things for creative second purposes, save food, ration food to not waste any, use coupons, negotiate deals, make mutually beneficial connections, get rebates, spend time doing consumer research, invest in stocks for long-term gain, be practical with how you spend anything, and live a simple life. All together, you save a fortune in your life. (Mom manages to get electronics for fractions of the regular prices, have a neverending supply of FREE household items, and save hundreds of dollars in one grocery store visit.) (Side note: Per Chinese tradition, all frugality is thrown out the window when it comes to hospitality, hosting, giving food to others, or dining out with others. Be cheap for yourself but not for others.)

6. Things don’t break. You break them. That’s true in 80% of cases. Treat your things well and they’ll last longer. And you won’t have to buy replacements so soon. And you’ll save money. (Both of my parents are so cautious, careful, and gentle. Their cars have never been scratched in an accident and our phones look pristine when our two-year contracts are over. We still have brand-new-looking nine-year-old Razr phones we can use on international trips because they have removable SIM cards.)

7. Human relationships are about giving and taking. Give more than you want to and you’ll receive more than you’d ever imagine. Again, it’s just the right thing to do, even with no expectation of a reward. What you receive is the bonus. You are never EVER too busy to do a favor for a friend. (If it’s to help someone and make the world a friendlier place, Mom will say yes to anything.)

8. But your own life is vastly more important than anyone else’s. If anyone takes advantage of your friendliness, your patience, or your hospitality, drop them from your life. You’re in charge of your own limits. And you’re in charge of building your own super network of love and social support. (If you let people run you over, you are “chun doe say”–dumb as hell.)

9. Food is better when it’s shared. If something tastes good on your plate, offer some to other people. Tell them it’s FREE.

10. Human connections never end. (Mom had a tradition of mailing out a yearly holiday letter to update her huge network of friends on how our family was doing and what our year’s highlights were. Some of these recipients were former coworkers, supervisors, and neighbors she hadn’t seen in decades. Your life is made of all the people you’ve met. Never forget them.)

11. You’re never too old to learn. (Mom was in her late 40’s when she learned how to turn on a computer. Today, she shares photos on her smart phone, is on social media, and is the queen of online stock trading within her circle of friends. She was also in her 40’s when she learned 100% fluent Mandarin just from talking to people. If you put in the effort, you can learn anything at any age. This has inspired me to learn anything I want. More about that…)

12. The public library is the most amazing place in the world. And it’s FREE. (Libraries and bookstores were our family’s most desired hang-out spots. Mom, thanks for getting me hooked on my biggest distraction from work and studying. Throughout my life, libraries and bookstores helped me teach myself how to juggle, play soccer, code websites, take good photos, teach better, write, start a business, read people, socialize, change my life around in many ways, and super-charge my life with inner peace and happiness. Mom deserves credit for giving me my most useful hobby: reading.)

13. A score of 99 out of 100 is not good enough. Reach higher. Reach for perfection. But if you fail, that’s okay too. What counts is that you tried. This goes for anything in life. (I had straight A’s in high school. I was never yelled at, grounded, or punished the times I did poorly–as in a B on a quiz. I learned that my successes and failures were my own. After the long hours she spent reading to me in my childhood, Mom didn’t understand any of my work after 5th grade to be involved anyway. But my brother graduated high school as the salutatorian, I graduated with a class rank of 3, and my sister graduated college with magna cum laude honors. We all have enough plaques, awards, and records of perfect standardized test scores to fill the walls and cabinets. When other parents asked my mom about the secret to her children’s academic success, she shrugged and said, “Ask them.” We had so much internal motivation because of Mom.)

14. You have every right to be proud of who you are, what you’ve done, and how valuable you can be. (Extreme modesty is too common in Chinese culture. My mom taught me the opposite. If you don’t believe in how incredible you are and make it known, then no one else will believe it and you’ll lose tons of opportunities.)

15. Laughter is appropriate almost everywhere. (My family cracks up at inappropriate things in public places like restaurants. Often, it’s middle school humor. One time, the waitress on our Florida vacation thought we were insane. Another time, the limo driver on our way to grandma’s funeral thought we were quite the odd bunch. Some of our relatives probably think that too. But the laughter keeps us healthy. And Mom’s laugh is always the loudest.)

16. [Edited out: Inside joke and Chinese word for something dirty. Hahaha.]

17. Real love–and real friendship–is about trust, support, dependability, and quality honest communication, not the physical acts on the surface, gifts, or the title of being together. Anyone who lacks the first four isn’t worth your time. (I have never seen my parents kiss or give an extravagant gift to each other, but they are in the most stable relationship I’ve ever witnessed.)

18. Junk food tastes better in the car. Especially when it’s extra crunchy and messy. Especially when Dad is driving. Especially on longer rides. Especially when it was free.

~ ~ ~

If you’re used to reading my motivational writing, you probably think that this post sounds so much like my own belief system and life philosophy.

But all of these things were actually taught to me by my mom–my mom who has never been to college but somehow taught me to be an intellectual, my mom who makes funny English mistakes but raised me from an ESL student to a freelance writer, my mom who has never been back to her home country but who has spent so much on me and my siblings, my mom who treats her parents, siblings, in-laws, partner, and children so well and who–above all else–teaches me what love really means and that life is all about that.

Thanks, Mom!!! Happy Early Mother’s Day!

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