5 Career Lessons From Grandma – With Lisa’s Grandma Venetta

Lisa's Grandma Episode Art

This Episode’s Focus on Strengths

Today's episode is a unique opportunity to hear from someone who has already been there, and done that — Lisa's Grandma Venetta. Lisa interviews her grandma to get valuable insight into better ways to value your own life experiences, use your own strengths, and see the good in others. In my opinion, this is one of the best podcast interviews yet, because it includes real-life lessons that you can immediately apply to your own life.

What You’ll Learn In This Episode

There are five lessons you will learn in this episode, and they can be applied to both your home and work lives.

Lesson 1: Stop The Fussin' And A Fumin'

  • Show respect for everyone, regardless of their title or position.
  • Be a bridge-builder between the various people at your company. Listen to what employees and managers are saying, and help bridge the gap between them.
  • Remember that relationships are important, even when you are busy. Treat people like they want to be treated. Treat people like they matter.
  • Stop taking yourself so seriously. One of our favorite companies here in Austin, Texas, is Kasasa. They have some great examples in this video about humanizing the workplace. They have a good time, and it helps people get more done because they live out their values and respect each other. These are not pedestrian kumbaya games. They have a wooden spoon challenge and a hula hoop competition that I'd like to join, even though I don't work there.

Lesson 2: Your "Fastest Zipper Sewer" Skill

  • Be on the lookout for your unique skills and talents.
  • Notice what works for you and leverage the heck out of it. You'll have more moments of success and high energy. Help your team members do the same.
  • Recognize someone on your team for something. It could create that moment that they'll remember for the next 50 years, just as Grandma Venetta remembers the moment she was declared the "Fastest Zipper Sewer" in the Midwest.
  • Create fun, unique titles and awards for your team, such as "Fastest Zipper Sewer." It doesn't have to be fancy or expensive. In another awesome Kasasa video, you can see how they give recognition for employees showing their badassitude and living out their other "Patch" values.

Lesson 3: Your "Cancer is Contagious" Kindness Factor

  • Grandma Venetta's family moved an uncle into their home. He had cancer, and they moved him in, even when they thought it was contagious, because that was the kind thing to do.
  • You should do anything you can for your friends and neighbors (and co-workers too).
  • Find what your "Cancer is Contagious" kindness factor is. Here are some ideas: smile first thing in the morning, even when you're tired; hold the door for others, even though it will delay you by a whole 14 seconds; volunteer to call the customer with difficult news because you are the one with the best relationship, even if it's not your job. These are moments when you can be proud of yourself.

Lesson 4: Actions, Not Words

  • Your values and expectations are all shown through your actions.
  • Remember that people are always watching you, so they will know who you are, what you value, and what you expect from others.
  • Everything you do shows them how to interact with you, and what you expect from the culture at work. Remember these things when you walk through the door in a bad mood.
  • Here are some ideas from Mike Michalowicz. It's 101 ideas for recognizing people at work, without giving them money. This is a great way to model what you want to see from the world: more noticing what works so you can get more of what works.

Lesson 5: Feeling Lucky No Matter What

  • Grandma Venetta accidentally ran over herself with her own car, but that didn't stop her from driving. She only stopped when she was afraid of hurting others. Rather than feeling sorry for herself about the medical issues, she finds amusement in the absurdity. She quickly moved to the gratefulness for the lack of serious medical issues.
  • Even though Grandma Venetta is unable to drive now, and has to ask family to take her places, she still feels lucky to be alive, and to have family who loves her and is willing to care for her. Even though she still hates asking for help and feeling like a burden, she chooses to focus on feeling lucky for being loved.
  • Look for the good in things, even when you are stressed at work and feeling overwhelmed. Step back, get some perspective, and find some good in what you do. This will help you feel lucky and happy for what you do have.

Grandma Venetta says to live every day like it's your last. Your life is always going to have its ups and downs, but if you focus on the good parts, it makes it much easier to deal with the challenges.

Resources of the Episode

Here's a fascinating compilation of elder wisdom. It's actually one of the things that inspired Lisa to travel to St. Louis to interview her grandmother. It's called The Five Regrets Of The Dying. Of course, the lessons are different from this episode because most of the subjects knew they were dying. In the book, Bronnie Ware tells stories of caring for people in their last weeks or days on earth. Not surprisingly, one of the key lessons is, "I wish I hadn't worked so hard." My favorite is, "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

That concept is in perfect alignment with what we teach in StrengthsFinder training events. It's about finding your personal yearnings and natural talents so you can build a life that feels rewarding and energizing. If you spend a lifetime taking jobs that impress other people, you might just look up in your 80s and realize that you didn't impress yourself at all.

Go Live Your Talents

Remember, using your strengths every day at work makes you a stronger performer. If you place a lopsided focused on fixing your team’s weaknesses, you’re choosing the path of most resistance. Go claim your talents and share them with the world!


Here's A Full Transcript Of The 18-Minute Interview

Lisa: You're listening to Lead Through Strengths, where you'll learn to apply your greatest strengths at work. I'm your host, Lisa Cummings and I got to tell you, whether you're leading a team or leading yourself, it's hard to find something more energizing and productive than using your natural talents every day at work. Check out your guest for today.

Venetta: I'm Venetta. I used to be a supervisor in garment factories — just getting old and creepy. I need to find something to do.

Lisa: So you just heard my grandma's voice? Is she cute or what? As you can tell, this will not be your usual Lead Through Strengths interview.

So you know, when I do StrengthsFinder training events, we often get on the topic of personal legacy, personal legacy. And so, I often ask people about their rocking chair moments when they're my grandmother's age, what do they want to be proud of when they look back? So I thought it would be fun to interview her and see what someone who's really in the rocking chair phase does look back on, and what do they see as important in life and work, from that perspective.

So, you'll find as we open the conversation, just like many of us, she was attracted to promotions for the same reasons high achievers today, are attracted to promotions — because she wanted more money. And one of my favorite viewpoints on this topic comes from Marcus Buckingham. He warns people to not just look at the adornments of a job like titles and money, but to really be focused on the activities of a job. What it's like really doing the work?

So, let's fast forward back into your insights from Grandma, and what it was like being the breadwinner, when that wasn't a very common thing to see.

Lisa: [1:58] Okay, since you brought up garment factories, and being a supervisor, let's talk about that first. Because I think it's so fascinating that back then, when was back then, when you actually were a supervisor of people?

Venetta: [2:11] Probably about 1965.

Lisa: [2:13] What made you want to be in a role like that at work?

Venetta: [2:17] More money. After I had been supervisor for a while, and work was getting slower, I went up and worked with our designer on new things. I learned a lot from him. I was the only one I think that they ever had that is a…. operator that, you know, and supervisor that went into the designing thing.

Lisa: [2:41] A special job.

Venetta: [2:41] Yeah, it was more of like, I’m one of them that you'd like even if you didn't get paid anymore.

Lisa: [2:48] Did they pick you for that or how did you know that that was available?

Venetta: [2:52] They came by to the machine where I was working with the girl one day and they said they wanted to see me in the office. And I thought that probably I was going to get laid off. But as it turned out, Jack Hefner was our plant manager, and he's the one that came and got me. He talked for a while and he said, “what do you think about being a supervisor for us?"

So, I told him, yes. And that was the beginning of it. I was basically just turned loose to learn how to talk to people.

Lisa: [3:24] That's not so different from what happens today, all the time. I talked to new managers, and they were really good employees. And then they get promoted, and they just have to figure it out.

Venetta: [3:34] Uh-umm.

Lisa: [3:35] How did you learn how to figure out people and how to get their best out of them?

Venetta: [3:40] Get along with people was more, I paid attention and listened to what the worker said, along with the supervisors and tried to work as a bridge between them. It just seemed the right thing to do. I'm the go-between.

Lisa: [3:56] You're a bridge builder, family, work, everywhere in your life.

Venetta: [4:01] It didn't hurt me. I'm gonna be 85 right away. And I guess it's alright. I think you do that in life in general, that you're really good listener and observer and you figure out what other people care about.

Venetta: [4:15] Think maybe you're right, because I cared about all of them. It nearly killed me to lay somebody off. In fact, they used to tell me I was too big softy, but it was always I treat people like I want to be treated. I think it really works out that if you as long as you do that, you may not have a perfect life but who does and yours can be a lot brighter if you're not fussing and fuming with somebody.

Lisa: [4:44] I like that, “no fussing and fuming around."

Venetta: [4:47] Yeah.

Lisa: [4:48] Oh, that's making me think of another interesting piece of the story that I remember you telling me once that you were the breadwinner in the family. And that must have been a really weird dynamic for those times. What was that like?

Venetta: [5:01] It was kind of rough at times. It used to make Emil aggravated because I made more money than he did. And he thought the man was supposed to be the one that did all the work. And then, but he never refused me going to work.

Lisa: [5:17] How did he handle it?

Venetta: [5:19] I think the best thing that describes it was, I work days and he worked nights. We didn't have to worry about a babysitter, then. It was just something that we just automatically we met in the hallway one going in one going out.

Lisa: [5:33] Almost like a team to be able to figure out how to do what you had to do, huh.

Venetta: [5:38] yeah.

Lisa: [5:40] Let's talk about good work memories. Tell us about some recognition you received that you remember, or a work situation that you are most proud of.

Venetta: [5:49] I got the notice of being the fastest zipper sewer in the St. Louis area.

Lisa: [5:56] Oh my gosh, I love that the fastest zipper sewer.

Venetta: [5:59] Yeah, I want to say faster zipper sewer in the West, but it wasn't really in the West in the Midwest.

Venetta: [6:04] Yeah.

Lisa: [6:05] What are you most proud of?

Venetta: [6:06] It means a lot to be able to look back at your family and think about things that they did. I remember when my uncle Perry had cancer. A couple weeks later, mother and dad went up and they moved him in with us. And back then, mother was so sure that cancer was contagious.

Lisa: [6:29] That’s the most wild…

Venetta: [6:31] yeah…

Lisa: [6:32] …thing to even imagine today, knowing what we know. So, when you look back, what lesson do you feel like you learned?

Venetta: [6:41] You want to do anything you can for your friends and neighbors.

Lisa: [6:46] You're kind of reminded me of a song lyric, it's one of Jewel’s lyrics. And she says, “only kindness matters”. It reminds me of that when you're talking about being helpful. Be a good neighbor, a good friend and family member. How do you react to that song line?

Venetta: [7:04] I think it's appropriate. You should be good to your friends and neighbors. It's going to make you a better person because you put out the extra effort to take that in along with your own problem that you had.

Lisa: [7:19] This reminds me of what you told me about…. tell me if I get this wrong, but I'm paraphrasing how I understand grandma’s philosophy - that you have good stuff and bad stuff. And you've always focused on what's good. How did you come to that philosophy?

Venetta: [7:36] Oh, I think a lot of it had to do with my mother in bed. When I got out of school, she took me over and talk to the boss and he hired me then as just a worker.

Lisa: [7:48] Is that your first job?

Venetta: [7:49] That was my first job?

Lisa: [7:51] And how old were you?

Venetta: [7:52] 13. You know, it was right after the end of the war. I always figured if people thought enough me to hire me, then I should do as best I could.

Lisa: [8:01] I can tell you that you've always put your best effort. So, you're a little bit of a rule breaker or at least a little stubborn and you don't want help from anybody. I know that you've passed down this gene to me because I have a real independent streak as well. And I feel proud that I can take care of myself - some of those things that came from you. Where do you think you got it from?

Venetta: [8:22] I think from my mother. Mother was so persistent. That I think she kind of drilled that into me. And not by saying anything, but just by doing because she would work at the factory. She'd take in laundry. She would do ironing for people. She cleaned house for people. I know that she worked Saturdays all the time.

Lisa: [8:48] I love that lesson of instilling that and through actions, not they're trying to tell you, but showing you.

Venetta: [8:55] She always thought she had a duty to us kids.

Lisa: [8:59] Sounds a lot like you that you keep those things to yourself. And you're very humble and you instill a lot of good lessons. And you probably look at your kids and say, “Hey, look, I have a nurse and a pharmacist and people who own construction companies, and they've all found their way to make their way in the world.” And you can be really proud of them and go tell them who they go to be, right?

Venetta: [9:24] No, I never told them who I thought they should be. I thought that had to be their decision.

Lisa: [9:28] How do you teach people about values?

Venetta: [9:32] Basically, just by showing them back to the same old basics as long as you do right and do the best you can toward anybody. I think that you're more satisfied the people around you are more satisfied. And that's what you really want. You want people that like you for you not because what they can give you or something like that.

Lisa: [9:54] The same at work. It's the same with friends. It's the same with family.

Venetta: [9:58] In my opinion, it is.

Lisa: [10:00] So one other last thing. You've said to me something about figuring out how to appreciate what you have right now, because you never know when you'll lose it all. Whether that's thinking about your job or your life and your happiness right now say more about that.

Venetta: [10:18] Well, I think that's true. You should live every day like it's going to be your last. Because you don't know it maybe you never know when a loved one that you have might pass away or might get sick. When I get to thinking back, I think about how lucky I am. I had cancer, it never flared back up, and had a pacemaker put in, and it worked great. Now I've got the valve in my heart, and I'm sure it's okay. I hate having to ask the kids to take me places. I decided that drive as a pretty bad, maybe hurt somebody else. I gave keys to kids.

Lisa: [10:59] Well, it might be important because people listening to this might not realize that you only stopped driving when you were afraid of hurting someone else. But when you ran over yourself trying to get into your own car that didn't stop you from wanting to drive.

Venetta: [11:15] Yeah, I still don't understand how I did it.

Lisa: [11:19] Who else has a story where they ran over themselves?

Venetta: [11:22] Yeah.

Lisa: [11:22] That takes talent.

Venetta: [11:23] Yeah.

Lisa: [11:24] I bet anybody who's hearing this, who doesn't know how it all goes down as thinking, how is it even possible, but I can just imagine you hanging off of the running board and trying to reach in and put the gear being half in and half out?

Venetta: [11:38] Yeah.

Lisa: [11:39] If that doesn't make you feel like Wonder Woman.

Venetta: [11:41] That's what I did.

Lisa: [11:42] I like it. I thank you for the stubbornness you've given me and the independent spirit to be able to just figure things out.

Well, I really appreciate getting to do this this way. It's really fun to hear your stories. And I know we don't talk, usually as much about work kind of stuff. Usually it's more fun family weaving stuff in or tales of your childhood. So, it's kind of cool to get a new angle this way. But I think it'll be fun for people to hear what it's like from the perspective of somebody who worked in a day that we didn't have all the technology to help us get where we want to get and you really strip it back to the simple human interactions that matter.

Venetta: [12:24] That's something that I'm proud of, if it helped you.

Lisa: [12:28] I hope you think my grandma's insights are as useful as I do. There's so much perspective to get from people who have been around the block already. And I want to offer you a recap of five key lessons that I think you'll find useful from my grandmother.

So Lesson 1 is, “Stop the fussin’ and the fumin”. That was so cute. So rather than working in dysfunction, be a bridge builder. Show respect, regardless of people's levels and titles in your organization. And remember that relationships are important, even when you feel too busy to give them attention.

Lesson 2, is to find your fastest zipper sewer moments at work. Now, even if you don't get an award that shows your best skills and talents, you can certainly be on the lookout for your skills and talents. And hey, you can make up whatever award or rewards you want for people that you work with. I mean, come on, that's the zipper sewer in the West. You can make up something like that for your team. And this gets to the heart of strengths-based career development, if you will notice what works for you and you'll leverage the heck out of it. You'll have more moments of success and high energy. And the same goes for you noticing those things and others. I mean, isn't that cool? She remembers almost 5055, zero years later, some recognition that she got at work.

So, especially for those of you in a people manager role, doesn't that say something huge about the ripple effect you have on the world? Every person listening to this episode has the power to recognize someone for something great they did at work. And who knows, maybe you'll be part of their rocking chair moments, 50 years later.

So, Lesson 3, what's your “cancer is contagious” kindness? I don't know about you, but whoa! Whoa! Did you catch that story? I mean, just the notion that people thought cancer was contagious kind of blew my mind. But then go beyond that. My great grandparents were convinced that it was contagious, yet they still took in family members into their home to care for him. If you apply this on a work scale, think about simple acts of kindness. Are you taking time to smile and look people in the eye? Are you holding the door when someone's 10 steps away and you could have just walked in but instead you wait 15 extra seconds and you hold it open for them? Do you volunteer to call a customer with difficult news because you're the one on the team with the best relationship even though that call is not going to be something you look forward to. Those are the moments when you look back that will make you proud of the actions you took and make you proud of the person you were becoming.

Speaking of actions, Lesson 4, it's about actions, not words. Just like grandma said, your values and your expectations are shown through your actions throughout the workday. You're constantly teaching people what your values are, and what your expectations are, and who you are. Those are all shown through your actions. When you're a leader, people are always watching you. And because of that, everything you do is showing them how to interact. It's showing them what you value. It's showing them what you expect of that work culture. It's great to say what you expect. And what's more important is that your words and your behaviors actually match up.

And the Lesson 5, is feeling lucky. Can you believe that she single-handedly ran over herself with her own car? I know this may just be completely crazy when you heard it. You can't even imagine how that is possible. But she did do this. She got in the car and was halfway and it put it in neutral. And then it started rolling backwards, she fell out and it ran over her crazy.

But even more wild than that, is that she has been through a lot, lot more. And she still feels lucky. She still looks for the bright spots every day to keep perspective and remember what's going well. This reminds me a lot of the challenge that I set for people in my workshops to make it really practical. It's to go catch someone doing something right. You know, there's such a negativity bias that's natural in people's minds. And it's easy to get overwhelmed by stress into any meetings, too many emails, too many requests for TPS reports. Yet if you step back, make yourself get some perspective, you can always find some things that are going right and celebrate them.

So, get out there and catch someone doing something right. Well, I think that's the perfect transition out when you lead through your natural talents. You automatically keep your superpowers and your energizing work moments in front of you. It helps you remember why your colleagues are lucky to have you around and it helps you see the same in them.

So, thanks for listening to Lead Through Strengths. And if you want to get some more practical ideas for building a strengths-based culture, join our Virtual Training Series. It's that http:/leadthroughstrengths.com/monthlytraining. It's usually the second Tuesday of each month. No charge the first couple hundred people because it's our monthly pay-it-forward event, and I personally come on camera and meet you with your fellow managers and strengths champions, and we meet up live for 30 minutes, and I give you some tools to apply the strengths-based approach in your workplace.

So, with that, remember, using your strengths makes you a stronger performer at work. If you're putting a lopsided focus on fixing your weaknesses, you're choosing the path of most resistance. So instead, claim your talents and share them with the world.