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Freckles and Fruit Trees: Things My Mother Taught Me About Being a CIO 

I was reading an email that a friend sent to me.  He told me of an amazing tale of his grandfather and his diminutive pony named Freckles.  My pal, encouraged by his grandpa, saw the greatness in this minuscule stallion; knew he had to hold on to his mane or fall; and dared to command this ill-tempered animal. It was an important memory that shaped his manhood. 


Well, as a city girl, I rode Washington’s Metro and not horses. But the story of Freckles made me think of my freckles.  I used to hate them.  My baby sister and I, who don’t worry about the results of too much sun, worry about sun exposure and the possibility of one more freckle.  Then I noticed the beauty of my mother’s freckled face and imagined her as a young girl playing in my grandmother’s yard, tucked away in Northeast Washington, DC, going from fruit tree to fruit tree, eating cherries, grapes, and mulberries.  


My mother lives with us in a Maryland suburb, not too far from our childhood home.  One of the pleasures I have as a result of this is the enjoyment of looking at her and perhaps seeing the future and observing the woman I might become.  Or maybe looking back in time and seeing the woman that she was. Was I that CIO because of learning and experience? Good CIO genes? Or did my mother raise me to be a CIO? I love my freckles now. 


Believe you can fly.


I have a memory of when I was probably around 4 years old.  I had a tricycle.  I thought I could fly.  I performed several scientific experiments on the Northeast Washington, DC porch of my childhood.  I ran and pushed the tricycle off the edge of the porch.  It sailed in a parabolic path and then landed safely on the ground.  After several trials, I was ready for my maiden voyage.  I peddled fast, then sailed off the edge of the porch and went straight down.  I cried. 


My mother ran out to see what the commotion was.  There she found her oldest child in a heap on the ground with the tricycle on top.  She asked me what happened.  I was inconsolable, not because of the injury, but because I couldn’t fly.  She consoled me and told me I could surely fly, but just not on this bike.  Not sure if this was a foreshadowing of a NASA gig, but I believed her. 


As a leader, sometimes, you must have a big vision for what might seem to be the impossible.  And you’ve got to believe it to achieve it.  If you can visualize it in your head, it can happen.  I know this because my mother told me. 


You made your bed, now lie in it.


This was the charge that often went to my rascally baby brother.  Seems like baby brothers are always causing some mess.  If you caused a bad situation for yourself, you had to suffer the consequences of your actions.  


As a CIO leader, I had to be accountable for what was entrusted to me.  Often, people want to be leaders … or, perhaps more accurately, want to be in charge … but not accept responsibility for outcomes, good or bad.  


Reminds me of another thing my mother used to say, “Everyone wants to go to heaven, but no one wants to die.”  So, being a leader means that you must face the possibility of death by the actions you take, death by the decisions you make, or death by the mistakes you make.  


Sometimes you have to be with a group, but not of a group.


Took me a while to figure this one out.  After all, I’m the same introverted little girl that never wanted to go outside and play with the other kids in the first place.  But I realized the true meaning of this as I got older.  Leadership is lonely.  Some have said it’s lonely at the top.  Consider this from Mary Lou Anderson: 


Leaders are called to stand  in that lonely place  between the no longer and the not yet  and intentionally make decisions  that will bind, forge, move  and create history.  We are not called to be popular,  we are not called to be safe,  we are not called to follow,  we are the ones called to take risks,  we are the ones called to change attitudes;  to risk displeasures,  we are the ones called to gamble our lives,  for a better world.


I guess I love my freckles.  It’s what my mother gave me.  And what I have – the total of my experiences, learning, DNA, and heritage – makes me the freckled person I am. 


~ Dr. Linda Cureton

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