Published by Ron Carson
People often ask me how I’ve been so successful in building my own businesses. One of the main drivers was my mother and partner, Rose Carson, whom we buried this year on Cinco de Mayo. She showed me that I could accomplish way more than I thought, as long as I didn’t give up. This has been so crucial to me as an entrepreneur and a leader. As we reflect on our lives and give thanks this week, I’d like to share my deep gratitude for my mom with this tribute.
My mother was raised on a farm in Ohio. Like my father, she grew up very, very poor. Neither had an unhappy childhood, but both of my parents used to say that even other poor people thought they were poor. My dad came from a family with five siblings and my mom from five. When I saw both of the houses where each grew up, I was surprised that they were the same size as the kitchen in my family’s house. It was my parents’ upbringing that instilled in them a deep desire to succeed and have more for their kids someday.
She didn’t let tragedy stop her from moving forward.
My father, who grew up in Nebraska, was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio when he met my mother. My mother was waiting tables in a night club called the Racquet Club in Dayton, and he was one of her customers. My mom was trying to get her life together after life-altering tragedy. I had a half-brother named Mike who had been born with a hole in his heart. He died of heart failure when he was nine. The year after Mike died, my mother’s first husband was killed in a car accident.
My parents got married a couple of years after they met and then started their own family. Growing up, my mother often told me I could do anything I wanted to do. All parents tell us things like that when we’re little: “You can grow up and be President of the United States. You can be an astronaut.” But my mom had this energy and excitement about life that was contagious and truly made me believe her when she said it.
Who convinced you that you can’t have the dreams you set out for yourself?
Now as an adult, I realize how rare that was. In my coaching program, Carson Group Coaching, I’ll often ask advisors: “When was it that society convinced you that you couldn’t have the dreams you originally set out for yourself?” You would be surprised how many will think about it and say it was a parent who told them, “Get rid of the dreams you are thinking about. You need to live in reality. You need to do this or that. You need to work in the family business.” My mom was just the opposite of that and it started early. From my earliest memories, she was the proverbial wind in my sails for nearly anything I set out to do.
When I was five, mom helped me set up a concession stand, where we sold frozen Kool-Aid. We sold caps and rockets and things that were really popular with kids in those days, too. My mom helped me set prices and think about what the market would be in our neighborhood. We would figure out how to make an appropriate margin, and she didn’t make it easy for me. She loaned me the money to buy the stuff I was selling. This was about 1969, and I made some $60. That was a lot of money at the time. That was the beginning of her being my “business advisor.”
When I was nine years old we moved from Ohio to Nebraska. Still, she continued her perpetual cheerleading and taught me the power of belief. She was always a positive influence and there was nothing more important to her than her kids. What she was giving me, though I didn’t realize or appreciate it at the time, was a power my dad affectionately called “persidity.”
“Your mother convinces you that you can do anything, so you have this relentless persistence—but you also have a naïve stupidity,” he would joke. “You don’t know something shouldn’t work so you’re willing to try anything. It’s just persidity.”
“Your mother convinces you that you can do anything, so you have this relentless persistence—but you also have a naïve stupidity,” he would joke. “You don’t know something shouldn’t work so you’re willing to try anything. It’s persidity.”
And try anything, we did: we had a popcorn business, a bait business, a fireworks business, and a greeting card business. Mom would even get up at 3 am every day for the two months the trapping season was open and take me to run my trap lines, because I wasn’t yet old enough to drive. By the time I was a freshman in high school, I had bought my own car and I had about $11,000 in the bank—again, that was a lot of money at the time. All my friends always had to borrow money from their parents to do things; I actually had my own cash. That was because of this partner, this mentor, this cheerleader I had—my mom.
You may be wondering how my mom knew how to run a business. Her parents were farmers, so I think part of her knowledge came from being around my dad. When he was stationed at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, he sold pots and pans door to door to make extra money. He also sold sewing machines, vacuum cleaners and then water softeners. I think after seeing him selling stuff and making money, she decided, “It can’t be that hard, so let’s be creative about what we can accomplish together.” Persidity in action.
That doesn’t mean all of our businesses went well. We had some that just flopped. At one point, I had an auction business. I went to auctioneering school and learned how to run an auction. We would go around to people’s homes, collect all of their junk they didn’t want and put on a consignment sale. I gave people a percentage of what I sold it for. It was a lot of work, and we made almost no money. I soon realized everyone gave us all of their junk so we would haul it away for them. We closed the business. Still, my mother had this “we haven’t failed until we quit trying” attitude. We would always get up and start over.
You haven’t failed until you quit trying.
By the time I was in fifth, sixth and seventh grade, the family farm was really expanding. All of a sudden my parents were doing pretty well in our small community. My mom, who’d learned how to hedge our crops, helped me set up my first commodities account when I was a teen, using money had I had saved from all of our businesses. She cosigned for an account at what at the time was Dean Witter in Omaha.
Unfortunately, I had an unscrupulous broker who encouraged me to trade my brains out every day to generate commissions for him. That debacle when I was 17 ended with me taking delivery on cattle. Not only did I lose all the money I had, but I actually had to borrow $2,700 from my parents in order to make my account whole. There are a lot of lessons I could have learned—and maybe didn’t—but I always knew that my mom was there for me. If I failed in business, she was there for me to be my counselor, my mom, anything I needed her to be. She encouraged me to put it behind me, and ask “What did you learn from that?” No matter what society said, my mother, literally to the day she died, was applauding myself, my kids, my sister, and her kids.
“I’m going to be fine.”
My mother wasn’t that sick before she died, and we didn’t expect her time to come so soon. The night before she died, I was getting ready to go out of town for a few days. I went to see my mom, as I did every day I was in town. She was in a memory care facility, because her memory had started to fade. Still, there was never a moment she did not recognize me. Right at the final hour before she died, my mom grabbed my hand and said, “Ronnie, I’m going to be fine.” I felt bad, because I believed that she thought she was getting out of there, and we pretty much knew she never was. That wasn’t what she meant at all. She knew she was going to die. She was being a mom and a positive influence on my life, right up until her very end.
Our society, on balance, is pretty negative. It is rare to have someone in your life who is always a positive voice above the fray, someone who encourages you through thick and thin. My mother was my coach throughout my life–and she was my hero. I will always draw strength from my mom’s voice, encouraging me to go accomplish the next thing, and from her unconditional love. Her influence taught me to be an entrepreneur, a leader, a citizen, a husband and a father. And for this, I am so very thankful.