By Vilis Ozols, MBA, CSP
This article has been published in numerous newsletters, trade journals and company publications.
A picture is worth a thousand words. A journey is worth a thousand books. – Chinese proverb
Don’t let school interfere with your education. – Mark Twain
It is difficult for me to say that my sister and I were raised in a low income environment because of the remarkable abilities that our mother had to stretch and utilize every penny she earned while we were growing up. She was a single parent raising us on a secretary’s salary, working overtime and “moonlighting,” as she called it, taking on extra jobs, just to make ends meet. It was only after I started working and earning on my own that I realized how remarkable my mother and her work ethic truly were in making sufficiency seem opulent.
It was in my third year of university when a remarkable opportunity was presented to me. The opportunity came from my earliest true friend in life, Vivian, who at the time was employed in a foreign service position in the Far East. Vivian had a return airline ticket, a benefit of her Asian posting, that needed to be used by the end of the year. She herself wasn’t in a position to use it and her immediate family had also declined the use of the ticket. She presented this remarkable offer for a free “round-the-world” ticket to me and without a second thought I gratefully jumped at the opportunity.
Money for me, however, was still an issue. Up until then I had been barely able to put myself through school utilizing government funding assistance, by working full-time at the university pub and by the generosity of the always answered “Dear Mom, I’m broke” letters. University life was a blur then, because I was a full-time student, working full-time evenings, and competing as a full-time varsity athlete, as well. The trip would be a perfect break from the hectic school schedule and the timing was perfect, too, since my semester was about to end.
It was with great excitement that I called my mom to tell her of this wonderful travel opportunity. My first hint that my enthusiasm wasn’t to be shared by this remarkable woman came with the silence that my news elicited over the phone. My mom understood the reality of the finances of this “free” trip, and she quickly enlightened me to the harsh reality that I simply could not afford a trip of this magnitude. Hotel expenses, meals, ground transportation, not to mention the fact that the semester break was the only time available for me to earn the necessary income for my next semester’s tuition payments.
My decision to proceed with the trip in spite of the financial reality caused a deep rift in my relationship with my extraordinary mother. For years we had saved pennies for the dream of completing university and it must have flown in her face that I was “throwing it away” by embarking on this frivolous trip. We had many more silent moments leading up to my departure.
The trip was everything a young university student could hope for. I traveled around the world savoring experience after experience in England, Bahrain, Thailand, Hong Kong, China, Tokyo and Los Angeles. My third night in Hong Kong I was offered a job and I accepted, spending a full half-year overseas, modeling, acting and bartending. The trip taught me self-sufficiency and confidence and and as a result I truly became a citizen of the world. It was a remarkable growing-up experience that impacted my life and my personal development, even to this day.
When I did finally get home, the rift between my mother and me had grown. My university graduation was further delayed as I was now broke and had to take a semester off to earn tuition. I even entertained thoughts of not completing school at all. Our relationship eventually worked its way through these learning stages of mine, and I will never forget the emanation of immense pride from my mom the day I graduated from university.
My mother has upon many occasions since that time questioned (rightfully) my judgment about decisions I have made, as moms are known to do; particularly in the area of money and the way I chose to spend mine. At those times we always felt the specter of my decision about the round-the-world trip resurfacing, a wordless shadow darkening my relationship with my mother.
Many years later, my first son, Aldis, was born in Denver. It was a joyous, life-defining event for all of us. My mother enjoyed and welcomed her firstborn grandson. Vivian, my trip benefactor from years ago, was became the god-mother to our son. In the first months gifts and toys were given in abundance.
One gift, however, stood out in the way it united three generations and healed a rift, created many years before by my round-the-world trip decision. My mother, in private, handed me an envelope and with a mother’s wisdom said simply to me: “You invest this money, and when your son is old enough, you be absolutely sure that you use it for him to go on a trip … just like you did!”
Two years later our second son, Talis, was born. He too, received the same gift and mandate, from my mom, his grandmother.