Five Life Lessons David Novak Learned from His Mom

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When I think about the people who impacted my life, my mom would be right up there at the top of the list.  She’s so loving and always makes a positive impact wherever she goes.  People respect her wisdom and she role models perseverance.  Time and again she weathers whatever life challenges she faces with a smile and “can do” spirit. 

My mom does so much for me. To this day, she instills confidence in me because she believes in me.  I learned there is nothing I couldn’t do or couldn’t get better at from her.  She was my first mentor and she helped me become a successful husband, father, and leader.

I want to honor my mom for Mother’s Day and couldn’t think of a better way to do it than by recognizing five life lessons I learned from my mom. 

1. Make the most of every experience.  I didn’t have a stereotypical childhood because my dad was a government surveyor.  This meant we moved every few months with fifteen or so families on the survey team. This isn’t easy on a kid, and my mom knew this.  So, she gave me great advice on how to make the most of changing schools every few months.  When my mom checked me into a new school, she would say, “David, you better make friends in a hurry because we’re leaving.”  That’s how I quickly learned to size people up and figure out who the good ones were and who I should avoid. 

My mom’s advice really helped me develop a good gut instinct when it comes to assessing people and talent, which is an invaluable leadership skill.  She taught me to make the most of every opportunity and experience – even the hard ones – because there’s always something to learn. 

2. It’s important to be there for your family and those you lead. My mom is always there for me and that made such a positive impact on my life.  In the good times and bad, she is always ready to support me no matter what.  I vividly remember an experience I had when I was ten years old.  I entered a speech contest in Knob Noster, Missouri and my mom and I were convinced I would win it.  She coached me and helped me write what we both thought was the best five-minute speech ever written on “Idealism in America.”  I did great, we were confident… but I didn’t win.  On the ride home, I was crying in the car and my mom was there to help me work through my emotions and tell me how proud of me she was.  And while I did recover, to this day, we still can’t believe I didn’t win that contest!

3. Recognition inspires people to do great things.  My mom is my biggest cheerleader.  It started when I was young when she attended my little league games to cheer me on, and it continues even today.  When I received the 2015 Horatio Alger Award, no one was prouder of me than my mom. When I’m the host on Squawk Box or write articles, she’s the first to call me and tell me it’s the best I’ve ever done.  Honestly, her recognition created in me a desire to never let her down.  

My mom taught me the power of saying thank you and to always watch what people are doing and let them know when they do things well.  This recognition mindset became the single biggest thing I drove as a leader at Yum! Brands and had a lot to do with our success and ability to attract and retain great people.   I’m thankful my mom taught me about the power of recognition and that she still recognizes me today.

4. Unconditional love creates space for mistakes.    As a kid growing up, I made a lot of mistakes – ranging from my grades not always being what they should be to staying out way too late to banging up our brand new car backing out of the garage – just to name a few. But regardless of what my mistake was, my mom never turned her back on me.  Now I have to say that she might get disappointed in me from time to time because my mom doesn’t tolerate poor performance, but I always know she loves me no matter what. 

My mom was such a good parent and her legacy of unconditional love lives on today as I use what she taught me to love my wife, Wendy, my daughter, Ashley, her husband, and my three grandkids.  This is a gift that I don’t take for granted.

5. Be a self-starter and make yourself invaluable.  My mom not only was amazing at being a parent, she was also amazing at whatever job she held.  She was incredible at selling Avon in our neighborhood and I remember her raking in those 40% commissions. Her ability to connect with people and do whatever it takes to succeed made her an excellent sales person.  She moved on and led ticket sales and inventory control at a local theater chain and basically ran the place. And then she rose from being a bookkeeper to becoming the office manager of a significant wallpaper and paint company. No matter where she worked, she became an invaluable part of the team.  People sought her out for advice and help.  And no one had to tell her what to do – she took the initiative and made things happen.  

I learned to be a self-starter from my mom.  Throughout my career, I took the initiative to be proactive, work harder than the next person, and move into the jobs that would help me achieve my goal of becoming CEO one day.  My goal was to do my job so well, it would be hard to replace me.  And when making hiring decisions, I look for people like my mom:  those who work hard and bust their tail every day to do the best job they can and take initiative rather than waiting for someone to tell them what to do.  

I could go on and on about my beautiful 89-year-old Mother because I learned and continue to learn so much from her.  I know for a fact I wouldn’t be who I am today without her.  As hard as I try, there really are no words I can use to convey just how much she has blessed my life and how much she matters to me. I’ll be waiting for her to call me and say, “David, this is the best thing you’ve ever written,” because after all, my mom loves recognition as much as I do.  I love you, Mom!

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