2020

CAREER COACH

CAREER ADVICE

Words of Wisdom

How your mother’s life lessons can help your career

by Denise Wrestler

I know I’m not the only one who owes a large debt of gratitude to their mom—or dad, grandparent or other parent figure—for making them the successful person they are today. Not only has my mom loved and supported me throughout my life and career, but she also continues to inspire me and teach me new things.

So, in honor of Mother’s Day, this month’s column is dedicated to my ma and the life-lessons she has taught me that have made me the person I am today.

Sometimes it’s OK to wing it

I’ve always followed a pretty rigorous schedule—everything as it should be, everything in its place. It should come as no surprise, then, that when I cook, it’s by the recipe with perfectly calibrated measuring cups and spoons. I can still hear my jaw dropping to the floor the day my mother took my measuring spoon from my left hand, the jar of garlic from my right, and proceeded to dump most of the jar into my pasta masterpiece stewing on the stovetop.

That day I learned that not everything must go by the book—sometimes it’s OK to wing it. That is one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever received, especially when dealing with the ever-changing environment that is corporate America.

In one of my previous QP articles,1 I highlight the fact that quality assurance (QA) professionals spend a lot of time making critical decisions that are black or white, yes or no, true or false, and pass or fail. But sometimes we’re confronted with decisions that fall somewhere in the gray area between right and the wrong. Often in my career, I have had to analyze the risk in a decision that is made outside of operating procedures. Sometimes, it is perfectly acceptable to wing it—as long as all stakeholders are involved and considered.

In the case of cooking, more garlic is always a good idea. All stakeholders in my family would agree with my deviation from the cookbook.

The gold standard

The “mother test” is a frequently used term among quality professionals in the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-regulated industry. Many ask themselves, “Is this device good enough for my mother to use?” or “Would I want my mother taking this medication?” If a product isn’t good enough for her, chances are it shouldn’t be widely available to the public, either.

I believe mothers worldwide serve as the gold standard in which we base our quality metrics. They, and many others who encourage us to better ourselves, are the reasons we do what we do—ensure quality products and services to people worldwide. They play a critical role in how we operate.

A good reminder

Despite my longing to serve people as a medical professional, medical school wasn’t an option for me. Instead, I went into the medical device industry where I indirectly help people. I often forget the effect I have because I don’t deal with patients directly. I rarely get to see first-hand the results of being a quality and regulatory professional in the medical device realm.

My ma constantly reminds me that, although indirectly and in minuscule amounts, I’m helping change the world. My ma’s knees aren’t in the best shape, so when I was able to use some kinesiology tape to add support to her ailing joints, I felt like a superhero doctor. When my ma wanted to know more about the clinical trials of her prescription, I could provide her an article. My ma gets excited about her new CPAP mask­—and although I didn’t create it, I know there are people like me out there who did. They created it, tested it and ensured it works—for my ma and for everyone else in the world.

As QA professionals, many of us are so caught up in documentation and procedures that we often forget to see the big picture. A quality control technician testing the pouch seal strength of a packaged implantable product, for example, is playing a critical role in ensuring the products’ sterility and preventing infection, sepsis or other conditions from being introduced into a patient.

Technicians may not realize the importance of their role as they set up pull testers and prepare samples, but they are one small link in the long chain that makes up healthcare. It is because of technicians that devices are safe and available to people in need.

A big dose of perspective

At a previous job, the president and CEO was flustered that the organization was receiving so many complaints.

“Things just couldn’t be worse. This is a mess!” he yelled as he marched through the office with his arms flailing.

I calmly put my coffee down and asked, “Are we able to fix these problems?”

“Well, yes, we’re working on them now.”

“And has anyone died from our product?” I asked.

“No, no one has died,” he chuckled.

I calmly said, “Then it’s not that bad, is it?”

When my ma throws a dinner party at her home, she doesn’t worry about the dust on her lampshades or the annoying creak that comes from the staircase. She’s more concerned about her guests and party stakeholders, and whether they are having a good time. Are we out of deviled eggs? It’s OK, there’s plenty of other appetizers available. Are we out of clean silverware? It’s OK, we have plastic utensils as backup. Is the house on fire? That would be the time to panic.

My ma taught me to always think about the bigger picture, and ultimately how to calmly and effectively handle “doomsdayer” upper management. Often the best approach is with humility and humor.

Life is too short—do what you love

At 56, my ma—strong-willed and looking for her next adventure—started college. She held her head high, staring down the 20-somethings and their judgement as she strolled into her first class. Ma received her bachelor of arts in English rhetoric and composition at 58, and later this year, at 61 years young, will be earning her master of arts in the same discipline.

She inspired me to seek out my next adventure by starting my own consulting business. Although scared and feeling a little out of my league, I started my new venture with my head held high, shooting down those that didn’t think I’d make it—and I’ve never looked back, either. I cannot wait to hear about my ma’s next adventure and how she’ll inspire me more.

Humble beginnings

I graduated with a degree in chemical engineering, but my ma likes to remind me of the time I put dish soap in the dishwasher instead of dishwasher detergent and filled the kitchen with suds. She still laughs at the time I asked her in absolute confusion where the box was when we were making a cake together—a homemade cake from scratch that required much more than just adding water and eggs to a pre-packaged powdery mix.

My ma reminds me that I still have much more to learn—not just from her, but from life. It’s often good to remember where you came from to see how far you’ve come. Realizing your own growth can be one of the greatest motivators to continue growing.


Reference

  1. Denise Wrestler, “Shades of Gray,” Quality Progress, January 2018, pp. 14-15.

Denise Wrestler is an independent quality assurance/regulatory assurance consultant for CYA Medical Device Consulting in Dallas. She holds a bachelor’s degree in chemical and biomedical engineering from the University of California, Irvine. An ASQ member, Wrestler is an ASQ-certified quality auditor and engineer.


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