Bring your Parent to Work Day
The day started like any other day in the late fall. The air is cold and my room is dark. My eyes slowly open to reveal the faint sunlight filtering into my bedroom. I sit up and ease my feet onto the carpet below my bed as I’ve done a thousand times before as I listen to the sound of my wife’s light breathing while she sleeps. These sounds are softly and suddenly interrupted by the furnace pushing air through the vents. It’s 5:03 a.m. and, despite the ungodly early time, I am filled with a sense of eager anticipation. I can’t wait for the day to begin as I quickly put on my running attire, which I dutifully placed beside my bed the night before. Butterflies buzz in my stomach as if I am back in seventh grade and it’s the first day of school. However, this day is much different and I know it. It’s “Bring your parent to work day” at Linkedin and I am bringing my mom to Silicon Valley to show her what the heck I do all day. My mom, Kathy Lopez Shaw, has never been to a technology company although she has spent most of her life working in an office. She is 72 and retired after working in various industries for the past fifty years. When she first retired about twelve years ago from her position in the banking industry, I was worried that she would get bored since I had never known the woman not to work. I wondered what she would do with all that free time. She joined a couple of book clubs and got more involved in an investment club and spent her mornings baking for my nieces while she watched CNBC. Then two years ago, she went in a different direction. She changed her diet and became a Paleo fanatic even during the food lovers holy holiday of Thanksgiving. Furthermore, she has become uber fit as she also joined a crossfit group that meets five days a week. That’s right. Five days a week at the age of 72.
I arrive at the San Jose International Airport to pick up my mom. No sooner is she out the baggage claim area and I envelope her tiny frame in a giant bear hug. Not too many years ago she would have been picking me up from the airport when I came home from college. I have been looking forward to seeing my mom as given the hectic pace of our everyday lives, we haven’t spent time together in a while. We grab coffee at PEETS, our favorite coffee place, and off we head to work. It’s a relatively short drive from San Jose to Mountain View, but, with traffic, it usually takes over an hour. My mother is excited to come to LinkedIn and to learn about what we are doing and where we are planning on going. She loves to analyze companies and coming onsite today will provide her with more insight.
I start thinking about my mother and how she finally made it to retirement. She raised two of her own children as well as myself. Kathy earned a modest living working in various administrative positions in Carson City, Nevada. She never complained about a lack of money or the inevitable struggles of raising her children all the while managing to put all three of us through college. As Jeff Weiner, CEO of Linkedin, would say “she just gets shit done.”
People greet me and my mom and are very nice to her. We attend Jeff’s speech and listen to other members of the Linkedin team speak about our company, but, more importantly, they poignantly share what it means for them to have their parents with them at their place of work.
Creating her Linkedin profile:
A little later on, I am sitting at a table when I tell my mother that she needs a Linkedin profile. My mother scoffs and asks, “Why would I need that, Steve, I’m retired!” At that very moment the AP Photographer takes a pick of us laughing and smiling at one another. I laugh because for years she did not need the internet, satellite TV, Tivo, email, Facebook or an iPad. I will chalk this up to another one of those things she thinks she doesn’t need as well.
Meeting my co-workers:
We go to my office to meet some of my team members so my mom can get a feeling of where and how I work. I am little nervous because what if my mom spills some of embarrassing secrets from back when I was young and foolish or suddenly whips my eighth grade photo out of her purse and starts flashing it around to all of my colleagues? She strides purposefully into my building on her delicate size six feet and immediately starts to build a rapport with the receptionist and security guard. She makes a joke and they all laugh. We walk up the stairs and head towards my office where I introduce her to my colleague. Mom says a firm but tentative “hello” and ten minutes later the two of them are exchanging recipes on Pinterest and talking about the best vacations spots in Seattle. As I begin to walk over to my desk, my manager enters the room and I introduce my mom to her as well. It is a brief conversation, but my mother quickly engages my manager in conversation. Several minutes later another colleague comes in with an interviewee in tow and without so much as a hiccup my mother starts chatting them up as well. Watching her work the crowd I am reminded of how alike we are given that I am a natural extrovert. Listening to her speak reminds me of the first real job I held during the summer before I entered the tenth grade in Carson City, Nevada.
I am fourteen years old and its the beginning of another long, hot and dry summer in Northern Nevada and I am working for the Nevada Health Facilities, which was responsible for licensing all of the nursing homes and long-term care facilities in the state. It was a temporary summer job and I was responsible for filing all of the ambulance reports for the state of Nevada. The abundance of reports was overwhelming and literally filled a room to the ceiling as there must have been close to ten thousand reports. Nevertheless, it was my job and I had to do it. In many ways it was a great summer, despite the monotonous work,– mostly because my boss took me to lunch every day and, as a growing boy and a member of a children’s home, I could never get enough good food to eat. To this day, I still love food. More than just food, my boss also imparted important words of advice while we broke bread together daily. Her words have literally shaped my life. One day, during our customary meal, she looked me straight in the eye and said, “Steve, if you want get ahead in work you must do three things.” Looking back on it now, I am sure these words were tailored specifically to me since, at that point, she had become familiar with my unusual family history. I slowly swallowed a bite of my taco and nodded at her as she continued, “One. Always be on-time to work. Two, do what others will not. And, three, and maybe the most important… Don’t be afraid to make a decision.” That was it. That summer I got better at filing those ambulance reports and actually started to understand the impact those reports had on the logistics department and the scheduling of ambulance services around the state. It turns out that my boss, Kathy, would give me advice and supervision for many years to come as by the end of that summer, she became my foster mother. It is fitting that Bring your Parents to Work Day happened to fall in the month of November, which is National Adoption Month.
I shake my head and return to the conversation with my mom. Finally, after twenty minutes of looking at pictures of gluten-free foods and recipes for paleo diets, I gently pull her out of networking mode and we head off for lunch in one of our local cafes. My mother graciously smiles at all of my colleagues and tells everyone goodbye and thanks the team for being so nice to her. As we walk out of the building with the scent of grilled chicken cooking downstairs wafting in the air, I look at the petite little powerhouse next to me, smile and say, “Mom, you should work at Linkedin!”
Kathy has spent most of her life working; ever since she was a young teenager. She worked hard and saved money until she had her oldest child Vince and then stopped working until her daughter Gina turned six and entered school full time. Kathy never earned a college degree but she is one of the smartest persons I’ve ever known and possesses interpersonal skills that match some of the best in the US state department. She knows how to manage complex problems as well as finesse delicate situations and she can charm the uncharmable. So I say, “You’re smart; you’re thorough and, most importantly, you’re great at building relationships. You really could work here at LinkedIn.” She quickly responds waving her hand in the air, “Steve, I am too old, and I am retired. I mean, I am in two book clubs, I volunteer at the library and I have crossfit five times a week.” I laugh and say “Yeah, you’re right. Good thing we created a LinkedIn Profile so all of your crossfit buddies can find you.” She smiles and nods her head in agreement.
The day ends and I drive my mom back to my house in San Jose so she can spend time with her grandchildren. They are excited to see her and eagerly await grandma’s home-cooking.
I truly was moved by the end of Linkedin’s Bring Your Parents to Work day. I was so proud of my mom for all that she had done, not just because she had arisen at 3:30 a.m. that morning to get on a plane to fly to San Jose and go to work with one of her sons. But because of what she had accomplished overall for her children. She raised her family including me, after she took me in at fourteen, on a very modest income for many years. In the end, she did not complain or ask for anything in return. So bringing your parent to work was much more of a validation of her work and less about my accomplishments. It showcased all of the work and time she put into me enabling me to achieve career success. In conjunction, I understood very well all of the happy faces on my fellow employees that were sharing their work day with their own parents. They were eager to show their parents what they had done at LinkedIn, but, more importantly, they were implicitly saying thank you to their own parents just like I was. So, take your parent work next year and let them bask in your/their greatest achievement.
Stephen Thompson is an Executive Recruiter with Linkedin, and author of Hotel Goodbyes, Hotel Goodbyes reveals the story of a mother’s epic failure and how a young boy successfully navigates loss, addiction and abuse to become a successful Silicon Valley entrepreneur with a loving family of his own.