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Everything My Mom And Dad Taught Me About Learning

Written by Kate Rotunno

I needed my parents when I was growing up. At first, anyway. Then I grew older, and in my teenage mind, I didn’t need them anymore. By the time I left for college, I saw my childhood as pretty much the story of two eras: a time when I had to learn from my parents, and a time when I’d already figured everything out.

Then I became an adult. New needs emerged, like making job decisions and picking overpriced apartments. It dawned on me that I had entered a third phase. Suddenly, I wanted to learn from my parents. As I began to understand them as people and not just family, I felt lucky to have them.

Today, I’m an Account Manager at Grovo. Every day I work with learning professionals who help their employees stay skilled, engaged, and motivated. My job is to help good people get better. And whenever I need inspiration, I look to my mom and dad: two people who have never stopped working to become their best selves.

On a family trip to New Orleans

Did I mention they’re party animals?

My parents have been married for 33 years. In that time they’ve raised 3 children, worked 15 different jobs, lived in 4 states, and cared for many, many animals. They’ve been promoted and passed over, mourned death and mended heartaches. They’ve been caretakers, Directors, and party animals. My parents have accomplished a lot, and they’re nowhere near done.

If anything, they might be speeding up. In the past few years, with us kids out of the house and living lives, both of my parents have leapt into new endeavors. My dad left a good, steady job—account management runs in the family, apparently—to try his hand at commercial real estate, a world in which he had no connections or experience. Seeing him pursuing new goals, my mom decided she wanted to make a bigger impact on the world. So she started looking for ways to do so.

Two parents, two late-career pivots, two success stories. A few months ago, my dad won a prestigious sales award (“Best New Team”!) after being in the sometimes-unfriendly world of real estate for just three years. Meanwhile, my mom became a certified Court Appointed Special Advocate in Newark, NJ. She volunteers her spare time, working with disenfranchised children stuck in the legal system and acting as their representation in court.

At a time when a lot of people are slowing down, my parents keep challenging themselves to grow.

I could not be more proud of my parents and everything they’re still accomplishing. Sure, they can get bored, angry, and frustrated like everyone else. What sets them apart—and what makes them so inspirational to me—is that they take extremely seriously the challenge of being the best versions of themselves.

My parents taught me learning is about having the confidence to gamble on yourself. My dad was burned out when he left the corporate world. He hadn’t taken a vacation in years and wanted to spend more time with my mom. So he stepped away from a good job and pursued a career that would earn him more flexibility in the long term. Now, that gamble is starting to pay off.

They taught me learning is about being open to unexpected avenues of growth. My mom didn’t plan on being an advocate for disadvantaged young people. But she realized she wasn’t happy unless she was doing all she could for others, so her choice was simple. She followed that feeling where it led.


Most of all, my parents have taught me that the best self-improvement happens when you’re surrounded by people you can lean on. No one is an island. We all need our families, friends, and teams to build us up when we can’t do it ourselves. My brothers and I encouraged our parents, and they do the same for us.

I love the fact that my professional life is dedicated to helping people transform their working lives. It makes every day in the office rewarding. But I’m even more grateful that when I head back home, I have two incredible examples of personal transformation in the form of my first, and best, teachers. At least now I know that I’ll never stop learning.