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Thanks, Mom! Positive Life Lessons

An homage to our wise women on Mother's Day

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By Tessa Greenspan (as told to Nanette Wiser)

Success, attitude and being the best is your choice. You control your destiny with hard work and a positive attitude. My mother taught me that…and so much more.

Can you imagine being among the first women in the country who owned a grocery store?  Now imagine taking over a store that was one million dollars in debt and turning the business around with 10 million dollars in sales.

I was able to do just that.  I owned Sappington Farmer’s Market (like a Whole Foods) in St. Louis, MO for 28 years.  During that time, I transformed the store from near ruin to one of the most popular and successful in the city. For this and other achievements I won many awards including national Woman Grocer of the Year. 

I want to share my story of hard work, success, and positive thinking with you.  I hope that no matter where you are in life, by the time we finish, you will understand that success is not about where you started, it is about where you choose to go.  Only YOU can determine your future.

And the #1 tool to getting there? A positive attitude and can-do spirit.

My story is one of humble beginnings and extreme poverty.  It is about how I went from the outhouse to the penthouse.  I would also like to share my vision of success with you and help you understand that anything is possible.  It is never too late to take the first step.  I would like to push you outside of your comfort zone and help you continue to grow.

I owe a lot of my success to my mother Susie, who showed me that positivity, resilience, hard work and learning will always get you ahead in life.

Here is our story.

Being a woman in a field of full of men, was not always easy.  I had to work harder, be smarter, faster, and more clever than my male counter parts.  However, it wasn’t being a woman in a man’s occupation that drove my success.  It was my positive attitude and my work ethic that helped me to soar.  I was lucky enough to be born to a mother who was a role model in positivity.  She taught me that it was not your circumstances that guide your outcome, it is your attitude.

My mother grew up in a small shack in the back hills of Arkansas with 10 kids and 2 adults. Can you imagine what it was like growing up in a shack with a hard dirt floor, no electricity, no running water, and an outhouse in the back?  It certainly wasn’t easy.

When my mother was 14 years old, she attended the fall festival with her family where she met a nice boy.  They immediately hit it off and began to walk and talk.  Suddenly, he pulled her into the woods, covered her mouth and raped her. My mother was traumatized by this event. When he had finished raping her, the boy told that her if she told anyone, he would come kill her family.  I was born 9 months later.

My mother was able to hide her pregnancy until she was about six months along, that’s when her stepmother discovered it.  It wasn’t very long before her stepmother wanted her to have an abortion by an old country doctor.  This was a girl who had no place to go, no one to talk to and nowhere to turn.  After all, she was only 14.  Yet, even at the age of 14 her “never give up” attitude helped her to be strong. 

That was also the day my young mother began to grow into the woman who guided me my whole life and who was never afraid to do what was best for me. Since she refused to have an abortion, her stepmother arranged for my mother to marry a man she barely knew, as her parents did not want another mouth to feed.  My mother married a man named Harry Richard who agreed to marry her to avoid the draft. Once they were married, it was only 23 months later that my sister was born.

During their short marriage, Harry Richard spent all of the money he brought home from his job on alcohol leaving my mother to pick cotton in order to earn enough money for us to have food on the table.  It wasn’t long before my mother wrote the draft board and told them that, “he needs to be drafted, he drinks all day and takes all of my cotton-picking money.”  Shortly after her letter, Harry Richard was drafted. This would not be possible today.

When he went into the service, we moved to East St. Louis, IL and my mother went to work as a waitress to make a better life for us. 

I will never forget the Christmas when I was 4 ½ and my sister was 2 ½.  We were visiting our grandparents in Arkansas when Harry Richard, home on leave, came to see us.  He walked in wearing his uniform, gifts in hand for my sister Fredda.  He immediately rushed to pick her up, giving her a doll and a pearl necklace.  He didn’t bring anything for me.  It was as if I did not exist in that moment…or maybe not at all.  I was so sad, and I wondered what’s wrong with me.  I went into the kitchen and my Aunt Jensie blurted out, “Honey, don’t you worry, that’s not your Daddy anyway.”

 This experience changed my life forever.  I decided at that moment that I was going to be so cute and so smart that no one would ever ignore me again.  This moment shaped the rest of my life.  I became an over-achiever and a lifelong learner who always looked for ways to improve myself and show the world that I was good enough and that it did not matter who my daddy was. Some people wonder how I could make a decision like this at such a young age.  However, I never forgot this incident as it was burned into my mind. 

When Harry Richard got out of the service, he told my mother that he wanted a divorce and didn’t want a family. 

The summer that I turned 5, my mother was working the late shift in the restaurant and my sister and I were visiting our grandparents in Arkansas. Our mother, now 20 years old, planned on taking a bus from East St. Louis, Illinois to Arkansas to come get us when she got off work.  Knowing that it was late, one of her co-workers offered to drive her there in his car.  On the way, they were going 70 miles per hour and he lost control and hit a huge concrete wall at a bridge.  He was thrown out of the car, and my mother was crushed from the waist down.  She had to be cut out of the car.

The doctors did not think she was going to make it.  She was in such bad shape.  Her legs were broken and mangled.  She was in the hospital for 13 months.  After 12 months, gangrene developed in her left leg.  The psychiatrist came in to prepare her for what they had to do to save her life.  She said, “Do what you have to do.  I have to get out of here.  I have two little girls to raise.”

When she got out of the hospital, she had two kids, one leg and no money. We were on welfare living in the projects in East St. Louis, IL.

Times were tough during those early days when she first got out of the hospital.  In fact, our apartment only had a bed.  It didn’t have chairs, or even a table to eat on.  That Christmas Eve and she was looking sad as we did not have any food in the house, and certainly no tree.  Our mother broke the bad news that there would be no presents that year. We were devastated.  We all sat on the bed and cried.  Soon there was a knock on the door.  A church down the street heard about our situation and a group of people brought two huge baskets with food and presents for us.  I will never forget that Christmas as long as I live.  This was the moment that I became more aware of those less fortunate.  Since then, I have always found a way to give back.

My mother was determined not to let her circumstances hold us down.  She didn’t like the fact that we were on welfare, so instead she found a government program that taught people with disabilities a new profession.  She went to school, on a bus, on crutches, with one leg for over a year, learning how to be a secretary in an office. 

As I grew up, I saw my mother’s determination.  I watched her continuously pull herself up by her bootstraps.  I saw her work hard to improve our lives—never giving up.  From the beginning, my mother was always my inspiration.  Her strength and her courage lit the way for me even in the darkest times. 

She showed me that no matter what life throws at you, it’s your attitude and your determination that will carry you through.  She taught me to always be the victor and not the victim.  She also taught me that you have a challenge to look for the solutions. Anything is possible in life with determination IF you practice positivity and are willing to work to meet your goals.  

I’ve carried my mother’s example with me for my entire life and it was this determination combined with hard work that drove my success in business.

Being positive, setting goals, and not letting circumstances get you down are all a part of the formula to success.

Find a mentor and be willing to learn from them.  Even if you don’t have a parent who was encouraging or a role model, that is not an excuse.  Surround yourself with people who can help you achieve your goals and who will lift you up.  My mother was my mentor and she lit the way for me.

It is important for you to take time to find a mentor, someone who can help you on the road to success.  Look around, there are many people in our everyday lives that could play the role of mentor for you. Take advantage of what life offers and work to be positive in all you do.  My response to life has always been finding a way to look at the bright side and overcome every challenge.  You can too.

About Tessa Greenspan

Author, business consultant and motivational speaker Tessa Greenspan sold her successful St. Louis supermarket to pursue an encore career speaking, consulting and writing about how positivity practices can transform your work, life and relationships. Her informative blogs on positivity appear in numerous outlets, including St. Louis Gazelle, Thrive Global, Linked In and Paradise News and she is often interviewed in business and lifestyle media. She has spoken to numerous companies about integrating positivity into corporate culture. She is featured in “The 1 Habit of Successful People,” and on Brain Tap’s audio meditation with Dr. Patrick Porter based.

Her international bestseller, “From Outhouse to Penthouse – Life Lessons on Love, Laughter and Leadership,” is available on Amazon here.  This inspired personal story, struggle to overcome obstacles and life lessons is especially poignant during these difficult times.  “Failure is not an option,” is Greenspan’s motto.  

Greenspan is best known for her leadership in business and in life. She is currently on the Board of Advisors for Tetrasoft Federal. She has been a personal mentor to many business owners, female entrepreneurs and is a member of Women’s President Organization (WPO) and E-Women. As a dedicated philanthropist, Tessa Greenspan has sponsored numerous charitable causes including Gateway to Dreams. As an influencer and role model, Tessa Greenspan’s lectures to companies, private groups, business organizations and conferences continues to inspire many lives with her insights.  Set up a virtual or in person speech, consultation or book talk: [email protected]

Nanette Wiser is a multimedia journalist and author whisperer specializing in mind/body/spirit content. Got ideas? Email [email protected]

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