Feature Story

A mother’s gift of grit and conviction lasts a lifetime

One Cisco executive reflects on lessons he learned from his mother, that made him who he is today.
May 10, 2019

Guest post by: Anand Oswal, SVP of Engineering for Enterprise Networking Business, Cisco

It’s a story arc you expect to see in an inspirational movie. Open on a scene of a loving family, husband, wife and six children, living a modest but comfortable life in a bustling city in India. Dad is an accomplished company accountant with a solid but modest income. Mom is devoted to raising her children, providing a safe home, and cooking as much food as they need to grow and prosper—which is a lot. Continuous education is a central theme for the family, as the mother, having attained a high school-level degree, knows higher education is the key to intellectual and financial growth for decades to come for the children.

The year is 1980 and the youngest son is 5, the oldest daughter is 15. As frequently happens in movies, tragedy tests the family. The father suffers a stroke and soon dies, leaving behind memories and love but not too much more for a family of seven to live on.

In one story line, you might expect the father’s extended family in a distant village to rally around the bereaved and provide support. But that would entail leaving the city, the children’s schools and friends, and the opportunities of city life. Trading all that for village life would compromise the siblings’ quality of education and thereafter make them dependent on the benevolence of the husband’s extended family. The decision is thrust solely on the mother, who must decide between relying on family support in a small village, or striving for independence for herself and children. Would the children be able to attend the universities of their choice should they move from the city? Would they be able to afford a higher education if they stayed? Could she care for the family while providing financial stability? You can imagine the scene: it’s evening, the mother finishing cleaning up after dinner, children doing school work, an empty chair, an unknown future. So many worries now, so much to do for one adult.

Grit and Conviction

Many widows might take the easiest path, even if it meant fewer options for her children in the future. Why struggle when there are relatives to rely on? But the easy path is not necessarily the best. Looking into the future, the mother has the conviction that they all need to stay in the city with its many potential opportunities as well as challenges. Keeping the children in their familiar schools so as to not interrupt their education is a primary consideration. She impresses on her young family that education is the one thing that no one can take away from them. Once learned, knowledge is their path to a better life.

To be able to continue the education of the six children beyond public schools and into university is the Mother’s greatest challenge. While working opportunities are abundant in the city, none are assured for a single parent with only a high school degree. What she needs is grit and conviction to make a new life blossom for her family. After a few stints at various short-term jobs, the matriarch finds an opportunity to start up a chemical supply company to serve local businesses.

The mother’s days overflow with running the new business, shopping for food and cooking meals, guiding the children through classes as they grow into adults in high school, and then the arduous task of applying to universities for each of the six in turn. A healthy dose of grit keeps the family together and focused on learning while chores are done and the supply business grows. Overall, it’s the conviction that the mother has in her children’s future that results in each of the six young adults not only obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in a local university, but continuing on to earn Master degrees from institutions in the U.S. and around the world.

See also: Achieving the nomadic lifestyle

If this were a movie, the camera might fade out on a festive family reunion, honoring the matriarch for all the sacrifices she made, the long days she endured for the benefit of her children, the love she shared with each of them.

But this is not a movie.

The determined matriarch is my mother. My degree of success today is due to her conviction that a quest for knowledge through education, risk taking, and entrepreneurship is a key to a fulfilling life. She taught me determination, focus, conviction of my beliefs, and the need to persevere against the obstacles life inevitably throws in the way. Most importantly, she taught all of us, my siblings, about making sacrifices for the good of the family. It’s an attitude that I strive to continue to follow today with my own wife and children. I would not be the person I am today, if not for the sacrifices my mother made for her children.

In my daily management at Cisco Enterprise Engineering Business, I apply the lessons learned from my mother to working with my fellow engineers and business leaders to tackle technical and organizational challenges that often seem insurmountable at first, as no one else has yet solved them. We plan, we take risks, we make mistakes, and we move ahead with the conviction that there is a way to create a new technology, build a new business, and find better ways of working together for the good of the company and our customers.

On this Mothers’ Day, and every day, I am thankful for the love and fortitude that mothers provide to their families, no matter how difficult the challenges they face.