Give The Gift Of Words—And Follow Dorie Clark’s Example

Michael B Arthur: Dorie Clark makes regular references to her “Mama,” now 84, in her writing. However, she (Dorie) has never taken the time to think systematically about why she appreciates her mother so much. She (Dorie again) eagerly accepted an opportunity to do so, and to do it in the form of a holiday gift—a gift of words.

This appreciation is broken down into a series of stories. Their principal purpose is for Clark to show her mother how much she means to her daughter. In each case, Clark tells a story, and describes why she likes the story. If the idea and the basic format appeal to you, you are welcome to let them inspire your own gifting activity. Is that right, Dorie?

Dorie Clark: It is absolutely right. Let’s begin with one of my favorites, the braces story. When I was thirteen I got braces, as do a lot of 13 year-olds. However, my mother went and got braces at the same time. She said, “I realized I could be two years older, or two years older with straight teeth.” She has now enjoyed those straight teeth for thirty years.

My mother has always been adventurous, always been open to new learning. She stands in contrast to people who so often have these self-imposed limits saying, “I’m too old, my time has passed.” Yet, the truth is the average life span is increasingly dramatically, into our 80s, and even our 90s. So, it’s a terrible mistake to start thinking your life, even your professional life, is over.

Arthur: So far you seem to be responding well to your mother’s example. What else?

Clark: Let’s look a few years ahead to the divinity school story: Mama is someone who has always been professionally supportive of me. She absolutely did not understand why I wanted to go to divinity school for my Master’s degree, and thought it would be far better for me to go to Law School instead. However, when I was adamant, she didn’t press it and she got behind the choice that I made.


Some parents have such a fixed idea of what success should look like for their kids, and they can become dogmatic about it. In acting that way they relate to their own idea of success, rather than relating to the actual child they’ve been raising. Mama had preferences and she expressed them, but at the end of the day she was willing to accede to my judgment. She understood that going to graduate school and learning was a good thing, regardless of whether it was precisely the subject she preferred.

Arthur: “She was playing The Long Game long before your book on the subject came out!

Clark: Yes, she was. That reminds me of being thirteen again, and the Indigo Girls story: When I was a young teenager I was a big fan of a band called the Indigo Girls, and they had a concert coming up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, around an hour and a half away. My mother agreed to take me. It was before the internet so the way you got tickets was to call the venue, get someone on the phone and use your credit card. I kept calling and the people at this little club kept saying to call back. Then one time I called and, of course, they were sold out.

Mama found out the band’s next concert stop was Athens, Georgia, and it turned out that tickets went on sale the next day. She said, get in the car. She drove me for seven hours, we stayed in a motel and were able to buy tickets the next morning. Then we did the same thing a week later to get me to the show!

When you’re a kid one of the best gifts that a parent can give you is to be genuinely interested in you as a person, rather than trying to always dictate the terms of the engagement, or to force you into doing their thing. My mother was always interested in meeting all my friends, learning about the things I was interested in, and where relevant encouraging those interests. She absolutely knew how much the concert meant to me at that stage of my life.

Arthur: That’s a great story of parental commitment, and great role modeling too. How about other experiences?

Clark: Mama did things that annoyed me, but I respect she was intent I should be exposed “every opportunity.” This is a lovely goal for parents to have for their children. So, she signed me up for all of these every opportunity lessons in things I absolutely did not want to do, but she insisted I do to build my character. I had swim lessons, piano lessons, and in particular ballet and tap lessons. These were the triumvirate of lessons that I hated! God bless her, though, she’s not wrong. When you’re a little kid you don’t really know what you like, what you are drawn to. It could have been that I had some amazing talent in some of these things. It was a reasonable hypothesis and I respect the thought that went into it.

What she did do, which I appreciated, was that in addition to her own hit list of activities, she was also very willing, whenever I showed an interest in something, to let me explore that. What I liked to do was sports—I played soccer, basketball and baseball, and later volleyball. I also got interested in the guitar, and took guitar lessons. My mother was always encouraging and glad for me to do those things as well.

Regarding the piano I made such a fuss that she let me stop. However, I had to do ballet and tap for three years. My mother still boasts I have “perfect turnout,” which means you can turn your legs fully out to the side. The reality is if you start ballet after puberty you are never able to achieve that perfect turnout. So, the good news is if ever late in life I suddenly realize I have missed my calling as a ballerina I will not be handicapped, because I can tap into this talent. It’s all about optionality!

Arthur: Other Mama moments, or maybe hard times?

Clark: I can tell a hard times story. In my 30s I had a serious girl friend and I was flying down to Palm Beach to spend a weekend together with my mother, after Dad had died. My girl friend and I had been fighting before I left. When I landed in Palm Beach there were 15 text messages that popped up at once – a barrage of nasty, angry messages. Mama saw me and could tell I was upset. She was so encouraging. “Don’t let it bother you. We’re going to have a great time.”

That message was and is her mantra. The mark of a good parent is that they feel the stress when you feel the stress. My mother always likes to be there when I get upset about something. She would often drive up or fly up to be with me.

Arthur: Where next ?

Clark: My mother is always very interested in self-development. A lot of people just shut that down, either because they’re not motivated, or they have really limiting beliefs. I was at a book fair for an earlier book, Reinventing You, and a woman just picked up the book and threw it down and said “I’m over 50, it’s too late for me.” I just thought how horrible it is to think that about yourself. Because of course if you believe it, it is true.

If you never develop yourself you are done, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Mama has taken classes in all kinds of things – calligraphy, taking better iPhone photos, earning barber’s and cosmetology licenses. She never made any money at it, but she cuts and styles the hair of her friends. She’s now learning Spanish, since I’m buying a condo in Florida and she sees an opportunity to use the language there. I keep telling her it’s a smart move, since she’s going to end up with a sexy Cuban boyfriend.

Arthur: Is that range of classes more carefree and scattershot than you typically encourage?

Clark: I’m not necessarily wedded to people having to have this super clear progression in mind. I think sometimes we learn through an iterative process and we determine what directions we want to go down. So the act of studying Spanish – who knows where that’s going to lead? Is it to travel, business opportunities, or romantic opportunities? In The Long Game I have a section on “Optimizing for Interesting,” and my mother fits that model.

In January 2015 I got a university speaking engagement at Nazarbayev University in Kazakhstan, and my mother decided she would come with me. My students wanted to take me to dinner, and to bring Mama along. Now she has all these Facebook friends she made on that trip, and has more time that I have to keep in touch. She keeps me informed about what the students are doing today.

Arthur: How about today?

Clark: In the new year I’m running a one-year Mastermind program for solopreneurs and entrepreneurs who will be meeting and learning from each other as a group over the course of a year. We’re going to do a Spring retreat in Miami and Mama has volunteered to be there. She says “It’s so hard for you when you’re doing these events and laying out the food and making sure there’s water. I can come down and help with that.” I’m not sure what to do about the offer, but I very much appreciate her making it.

Arthur: Was there a father in the picture?

Clark: Yes, there was, but my dad was a bit of a counterpoint to my mother. He was not very interested in me as an individual. He was a little more interested in me as a concept, in bringing glory to the Clark name. So, if I wanted to interact with him it really had to be on his terms, like talking about stocks or going to the golf driving range. That was fun, but it was clear he was not interested in engaging with me and getting to know me. In many ways he had a traditional view, and he just outsourced the parenting to my mother. As with business outsourcing, it’s highly efficient but there are tradeoffs!

Arthur: So let’s wrap this up. What else would you like to say to your Mama?

Clark: I do not plan to have kids, and some people ask, who’s going to look after you when you grow old? We live in a culture where having children to look after you is not a guarantee. Filial loyalty needs to be earned, and you earn it by showing care and consideration and being willing to provide love and attention. When you do that you earn everything back.

One of my explicit goals is to be a good daughter. Every 1-2 days I call and talk to my mother. I know it gets harder when people are older, especially in your 80s, and people in your social circle start to die. Mama had a friend who died of Covid. Also, travel becomes harder, because of physical challenges and things like that. It’s easy for people’s worlds to narrow, so it becomes critical for them to hear from younger people. There’s a disproportionate meaning in that when people are older. I am beyond glad to spend time and energy with my mother, because she has been such a force for good in my life.

When someone has really put in the time and effort and love and care, that’s one of the best gifts anyone can give. And if we want to be the kind of people I think most of us want to be, then first and foremost we have to tap into loyalty someone has shown for us. In my case, that someone is my mother.

The Tycoon Herald