From a Dysfunctional Family? What’s Your Story?

I have always prided myself on being an open book. From the time I was a teenager, I was not inhibited in the least about broadcasting the goings-on in my family (to the horrors of my mother). As an adult, I continued to replay these tales. “My parents did this wrong”. “My parents did that wrong”. “My mother was a screamer and a drama queen.”  My father was a dreamer and a control freak.” No wonder I couldn’t achieve my highest goals, I was from a dysfunctional family and it was all my parents’ fault.

What a crock of bull! Even though I long ago grew beyond retelling these stories, I realize that they can still sit underneath the surface sabotaging us. It’s the stuff we tell ourselves when were scared, when were worried about covering the bills before the next payday, when we don’t know the answer to a problem or when we’re faced with opportunities but are frozen in fear to act. These stories we weave don’t serve us, they never really did.

The facts are my parents raised five children, one with Cerebral Palsy, in turbulent times. My Dad’s business was on the brink of bankruptcy, the car he loved was repossessed and we were evicted from Mom’s dream home. Their marriage was collapsing around them. The family was split up and sent to four different households. The eighties shuffled in with illumination of the “dysfunctional family” and blame was squarely placed on the shoulders of parents that were only doing the best they could with the tools they had. I’m not talking just about my parents, I talking about a ground swell that demonized parents all over the United States (remember Mommy Dearest). The real truth is how remarkable and resilient these parents have been.

When I look back, I realize my mother was creative and imaginative, loved people and had a zest for life. She was a real lady. You never heard a vulgar word from her month. A lot of “God help me” and “Jesus, Mary and Joseph” but no profanity. She had style and class. She could grab a few garments from Sears, Wal-Mart or JC Penny and look like she just came out of Glamour magazine. What she could do within her budget was amazing. She was the Queen of leftovers. Mom would whip up these crazy concoctions from a few items in the refrigerator and proudly serve them to family, friends or visitors and they were delicious.  What a charmer too. She could talk to anyone. My mother did have a flare for the dramatic, but in a true crisis, her leadership shone as she comforted the fearful and rallied the troops. A truly amazing woman that I never fully appreciated in her lifetime.

My Dad is the quintessential entrepreneur. A dreamer, yes, but where would we be without the imagineers. He’s 89 years old and still out there raising investment capital for his latest venture. I don’t know how he does it. He may get rejected or ignored but he still wakes up every morning with incredible optimism. His belief system is so resilient it astonishes me.

Dad is a high school drop out that embellished his education and age to become a pilot in the Army Air Corps. He received the Distinguished Flying Cross twice while flying B-29s over Japan and at the time flew “the worst shot up Super Fort that ever got home” (San Francisco Call Bulletin 01/11/1945). But you would never hear him talk about being a hero. All the men from that era “were just doing their job” and how grateful we all should be.

After twenty years in the Air Force, my father retired to go into business for himself and become a serial entrepreneur. No one could possible work harder than my Dad, even today he surprises me.  When I was looking for my first job, with no skills and not enough education, he kept encouraging me to stay with it. He told me if I kept knocking on doors I would find a job and he was right. His certainty that there was work out there and his confidence in me has served me repeatedly in my career.

You could liken my Dad to a character played by the old screen legend Errol Flynn. He was an adventurer and a swashbuckler. When I was a 16-year old runaway, he led a squad of police to a den of drug filled runaways and drop-outs to rescue me (what a control-freak). Debonair and such a gentleman, he always opened the door for ladies, never let them walk unescorted to their cars or front doors and, of course, lit their cigarettes. Okay, so times have changed, but my point is fathers help us girls develop our sensuality and femininity. An ugly word in the seventies, it’s an intricate part of who we are today in our business and personal lives.

So why all this sentimentality? What does this have to do with your business? It’s about the stories we tell ourselves. It’s what keeps us stuck where we are. Even if we had been victimized by abusive parents, how does holding on to those stories empower us? It doesn’t.  Didn’t they use to say that 80% of families were dysfunctional? Well, maybe that means that 80% of families were normal. It’s all in how you spin it. Look at what Rogerto Benigni’s character did for his little son in the movie Life is Beautiful. He turned the Nazi death camp into a fantasy adventure for his son, thus sparing the boy the terror of its grim reality.

If you want to take your business to the next level, if you want more enjoyment in your life, then let go of these old negative parent stories. Look at what they did give us. Look at what we have accomplished. Look at what we can do! And then start telling new empowering stories.

So what’s your story?

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