Lessons From My Grandma

Julie Olander, AAMS® |

What will you leave behind when you leave this world? This question has been on my mind since my grandmother, Louise Leopold, passed away in June of 2020. The more that I think about it, the more I realize that the lessons she taught me and the way that she lived her life have left a lasting impact on me and who I have (and will) become. She taught me both by her actions and with her direct advice. As most grandchildren can probably relate, I didn’t always fully hear or see this until I became older. I made an extra effort to learn and hear her story over the last 5-10 years and I am forever grateful for this. I continue to have strong regret for not taking the time to get to know my Dad’s mother, Lori Peters, before she passed away while I was in college. This regret made my desire to learn and understand about Louise’s life stronger and I felt deep meaning in doing so. To keep it short (and hopefully sweet) here are some of the most significant lessons she taught me.

Treat Everyone Equally

It doesn’t matter if the person in front of you is the janitor or the CEO, everyone deserves respect. Call out those who are not doing the right thing and recognize those who do. This advice really hit home when we were in Santa Fe, NM visiting my grandpa after my grandma’s death. We were sitting in his apartment at their retirement community and the entire housekeeping staff came by to offer their condolences and speak about my grandma’s impact. Furthermore, my grandpa received well over 60 cards from the community filled with ways my grandma had impacted their lives. Many of these cards referenced my grandma’s smile and how she made an effort to understand them. She could light up a room and would use this skill to ensure no one was left behind or excluded.

Listen to Learn

It used to drive me crazy as a kid the amount of time my grandparents would take talking to people we came across. Waiters, housekeepers, someone we passed on the sidewalk, it didn’t matter who it was, my grandparents wanted to know more about that person, their family, and what was important to them. My grandma and grandpa were and are staples of the community because they cared. They wanted to learn, know, and understand those around them.

My grandma was a fantastic teacher and she also honed the skill of listening to learn by teaching in low income communities outside of Santa Fe, NM. We spent many summers visiting these communities including several of the Native American reservations around New Mexico and learned about their traditions. She took the time to learn about the cultures of her students and always had a great respect for the Native American history and the customs that were important to her students. The fact that she listened to her students and cared about their futures, made her the amazing teacher that she was.

Appreciate Nature

My siblings and I would ask my grandma the name of flowers we came across while hiking. We would try to stump her by finding the smallest flowers we could find, but she seemed to always know the name of the flower and often what made it special. She was a pinnacle of the Santa Fe gardening club and spent endless hours planting, gardening, and spreading her love for flowers around the community and to her family. I always appreciated this about my grandma, she was so “cool” in the way she loved nature and appreciated what it had to offer. I am still in awe that she was backpacking and camping through her 70’s! My grandparents spent much of their retirement exploring the country in their RV - a goal my husband and I have for our retirement as well. I will forever remember the camping trips we went on as a family and all the lessons my grandma taught me on these.

Prepare for the Future

My mom showed me a huge stack of letters and albums my grandma wrote and created over her life. I haven’t had a chance to read all of them yet but what I have read demonstrated her will and her dedication to create a life she dreamed of as a child. She was determined to have a career and knew that the only person she could count on to reach this goal was herself. It didn’t matter what women were culturally expected to do at the time, it only mattered what she wanted to do. I learned from my grandma that you need to take ownership of your future. You don’t always have to know exactly what you want your future to look like, you just need to work to move forward from where you are now.  She saw the importance of how you present yourself to others and knew that you needed to constantly improve yourself to stay relevant. My grandma spent her life teaching the importance of education and consistent learning, a lesson I take to heart in my own career.