6 Inspiring Life Lessons I Learned From My Grandma That Actually Helped My Career


Last month was my grandma’s birthday. Normally, I would have celebrated it with her by doing things that she loved – having coffee together in the morning, taking her shopping, doing dinner with the family, and maybe even an occasional pull of the slot machines at Monticello raceway.

However, things were different this year.

My grandma was everything to me. She was my heart and soul. But sometimes, the best people in life have to go through the worst pain imaginable.

Sadly, my grandma lost a tough 17-year battle with cancer in 2015.

We were extremely close. My parents got divorced when I was a youngster, so grandma stepped in to fill the void created by an unpleasant situation.

Little did I know, this would eventually turn out to be a major blessing in disguise.

Here are the 6 most important life lessons learned from my grandma that I applied and translated into my own business success.

1. Be Likeable

My grandma had an incredibly warm and welcoming spirit. When you were in her presence, you couldn’t help but feel comfortable. She was non-confrontational and easy going.

The amazing part about it – people would automatically reciprocate the same mannerisms back toward her because her spirit was so infectious.
This is an incredibility difficult skill to develop, maybe even impossible for some.

But it’s the key to becoming influential. I’ve always done my best to convey a similar aura toward folks I interact with in the business world.

Some ways I practice being likeable

  •  Show genuine interest and listen actively during meetings.
  • Be open minded to the ideas of others; your ideas are not always the best.
  •  Don’t ask for feedback without purpose or solely to seek validation of your own ideas.
  • Ask teammates (especially those unlikely to speak up) for their input; promote inclusivity.
  •  Avoid being a challenger just to prove a point.
  • Consider the goals and priorities of other departments.

Let’s be honest – you’re going to have a tough time in business if people don’t like you.

Becoming influential requires sacrifice. Acquiring likeability means building trust and respect from your team.

The other part of this equation is self-awareness: don’t blindly assume everyone likes you.

Make sure you understand the gap between how people actually perceive you, versus how you think people perceive you.

2. Be Selfless

My grandma was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. She always put the needs of the family above her own.

Even struggling with terminal cancer, she prioritized nursing me back to health if I were ever sick.

When she received her social security check, the first thing she’d do before spending it was ask me and my brothers what we needed – whether it be school supplies, groceries, lunch money, whatever the case.
She once won a few thousand dollars on a scratch off ticket and gave it to me and my brothers to share, with very little left over for herself.

If someone was hungry late at night, she’d cook up a storm with pleasure.
The following video embodies the quintessential spirit of my grandmother; it’s by far the most beautiful memory that I keep of her.

Here’s how I practice being selfless in business

  • Share successes with your team – don’t take sole credit for a team effort.
  • Teach your team new skills, host lunch & learns, and whiteboard sessions.
  • Put your priorities aside to help teammates who may be struggling.
  • Take the time to get to know your team – you may even have surprisingly similar things in common with each other.

Example: There are plenty of times where I’m under a tough deadline for a deliverable, but the email team needs help with copywriting. As a leader, I understand that it’s an investment worth making to serve my team, although it means I’ll be working longer hours that day.

Commandment of Being Selfless: Don’t ever, under any circumstances say… “That’s not my job.”

3. Learn How to Work with People Who Are Different Than You

My grandma and grandpa could not have been more different from one another.

She was caring, compassionate, warm, friendly, vibrant, outgoing, and lovable. She was your typical Italian grandma – you just wanted to hug her all the time.

My grandpa, on the contrary, was stern, numbers driven, and business focused. Like most Italian men, proving their manhood by establishing role as alpha provider was a normal attribute.

Given the polarity in their relationship, my grandma had to sacrifice and navigate around his personality type to make things work.

She did this with such a masterful approach, that only true high EQ individuals would be able to notice when this was happening.

Here’s how I apply this in business

  • Analyst vs Account Manager: Analysts are responsible for doing deliverable work. Project managers are under client pressure. Communicate clearly and concisely for maximum performance results.
  • Manager vs VP: VP’s don’t care about SEO metrics. They care about business results. Learn to adapt to their needs by reporting in a way that they’d care about – keeping signups and ROI at the forefront of the discussion.
  • Sales vs Marketing: Salespeople, like VPs, are very interested in speed of execution and revenue. Cater to their needs by reporting in ways they will understand.
  • Bridging the Gap: Inbound marketing can be tough for salespeople to grasp. It’s much slower and hard to connect the dots back to ROI. Tie your marketing efforts back to lead gen to be the most effective.

4. Be Highly Adaptable to Change

My grandma, like most other Italian immigrants, came to the United States not knowing a word of English and had zero understanding of the American way of life.

While I’m sure she would have loved for Americans to learn Italian and adapt to a lifestyle she was already accustomed to, that just wasn’t realistic.

So, my grandma learned how to read and write in English at a level that was far superior to that of her country mates, or paisans if you will. She knew that adjusting to a new environment was critical in order to survive.

Here’s how I’ve practiced being adaptable to change:

  • Marketing Consulting: When I put my marketing consultant hat on, the first thing I do for a new client is take the time to intimately learn their industry. Learning new industries on the fly keeps you agile.
  • Working with Developers (Agile Framework): While I was running SEO operations at Pipedrive, I had to adapt to our developer’s workflow. This meant being held accountable to short term goals while learning new frameworks such as estimating the backlog via the Fibonacci sequence.
  • Working at High Growth Organizations: Executive visions can shift, funds can evaporate, culture can evolve, new (and sometimes unpopular) rules can be implemented. Roll with the punches and keep moving forward.

5. Be Disciplined

My grandma knew that becoming successful required tough discipline. Some of these examples are a bit extreme, but here’s how my grandma exemplified being disciplined:

  • Waking up everyday at 5AM – This pretty much wasn’t optional. Getting 4 wild grandchildren ready for school, owning household admin duties, and running a restaurant isn’t something that allows for sleeping in.
  • Going to Sleep Every Night at 11PM – Don’t think this was optional either. After an 18 hour day, I doubt she had energy for anything else.
  • Family First – This one’s a given, but have you ever thought about what it takes to put your family before everything you do, including your own wants and desires? My grandma sacrificed for us, and did it with pride. That’s something to learn from.
  • Business Second – There were no vacations. No going out to clubs. No fancy dinners. No partying. No watching marathons of pointless shows. No drugs or alcohol. It was family, then all business. No games. (Not saying I completely agree with this, but it was reality).

Here’s how I practice being disciplined in business

    • Stay focused – This pretty much means avoiding all distractions. In our lack of attention span digital world, this is harder to do than it seems.
    • Prioritize Tasks – This is much harder to do than people think. I like to use Asana to prioritize tasks based on the Getting Things Done framework.
    • Set Goals (And Stick To Them) – No secrets here, just good old fashioned hard work.
    • Avoid Procrastination – From my experience, waiting until the last minute to get shit done almost always results in pain and suffering. Let’s just say I’ve done my fair share of all-nighters in the past, and they suck massively. Proper planning and taking action at the right times helps me avoid this disaster from becoming a recurring event.

6. Be Strong During Tough Times (And Get Sh*t Done By Any Means Necessary)

When my grandparents teamed up to open DiNardi’s pizzeria & restaurant, my grandma was the face of the business.
She had the personality and communication skills to run operations like hiring, inventory management, and customer service – not to mention she was the master chef, serving up to 100 dishes per night on a regular basis.

Why was all of that significant?

Cancer Didn’t Stop Her – Doing all of that work is a tall order for a completely healthy person. She managed to get all of that done while going in and out of hospitals for surgeries and chemotherapy on a daily basis. Imagine going directly from chemotherapy to a 100 degree kitchen to cook for 8 hours straight.

She Had A Strong Poker Face – Even when she wasn’t feeling well, she’d come out from behind the kitchen and interact with customers like she was 100% okay.

As heartbreaking as it is to think about “the good old days,” I could not be more proud of the legacy that my grandma left behind.

The kind words from the gentleman above represents a powerful testament to my grandma’s spirit; I can only try my best to follow in her footsteps.

Here’s how I apply this in business

Self-Learning New Skills (Under Pressure)
– During my agency days, I had to complete challenging client deliverables that I’d never done before. I utilized online guides and watched video tutorials to learn what I didn’t know.

Do Stuff That Sucks – Front-load your pain: do the most difficult tasks on your list first – get it done and move on.

Pay super close attention to the most minor details – This can be as simple as obsessively proof-reading every single line of written communication you send.

Respond to every single email, no matter what – Don’t leave people hanging. It takes 2 seconds to reply and let someone know you’re working on the task at hand.

Meet tough deadlines, even if it requires working on holidays – Yeah that’s life. Sometimes you gotta suck it up and get shit done.

Make productive use of spare time I don’t sleep on flights, I work – Do you really need to watch the latest episodes of Lost on a flight? Get shit done instead.

Listen to audiobooks and podcasts at the gym
– A pro timesaving hack for grinders who are truly hungry to learn.

Find Time For Things You Love – For me, this is continuing to produce music.

In Loving Memory of Luisa DiNardi. Until we meet again someday… I love you.