My mother was a therapist. Well, technically she was a hairdresser, but in reality she was a therapist. I grew up in the salon -- siting on the swivel chairs after school in front of mirrors that spanned the entire length of the wall, listening to the ladies talk about their problems, watching my mother tease, comb and listen. She gave every one of her clients her undivided attention. When they were in that chair, she was theirs. She listened to stories of infidelity, cancer, marriages, divorces and everything in between. As a child, I found it odd that these women would talk so openly to my mother about such deeply personal matters. I mean, she was only their hairdresser, after all.
By the time I was a teenager, I was in the salon on weekends as an assistant. I answered phones, swept the floors and laundered hundreds of towels every day. I would stand beside my mother, handing her perm rods, brushes and combs, and I would listen. I remember once listening to one of my mother's clients talking to her about some financial problems she and her husband were having. In the break room later that afternoon, I made some comment about it to my mother. I do not remember what I said but I clearly remember her response: "When people share their lives with you, it means they trust you. Trust is more important than money." At the time, I had no idea what she meant.
My mother died on February 14th, 1999. It was a simple graveside burial. To be honest, a lot of that time is a blur. I remember bits and pieces, but there is one image that stands crystal-clear in my mind's eye: the sea of faces at the service. The bank manager who gave my mother an extra few weeks to make a late payment because of the long-standing relationship they had. My ex-boyfriends who became friends with my mother because she listened to their problems long after they were no longer part of my life. The husband of one of my mother's clients who came because of the kindness she showed his wife when she was dying of cancer. I did not find out until years later that my mother went to the hospital every morning for months to wash her, do her makeup and get her ready to face another day. No one was allowed to see her, not even her husband, until my mother had worked her magic. There must have been over a hundred people at the service and as many notes and cards expressing condolences in the days that followed.
My mother was a hairdresser. She had a 4th grade education. In her lifetime, she didn't amass millions of dollars and was not successful by today's standards. But in my mind, she is one of most successful women I know because in the end, they came to pay their respects because of the relationship they had with her; one that was based simply on trust.
This post is part of a series produced by The Huffington Post in conjunction with our women's conference, "The Third Metric: Redefining Success Beyond Money & Power" which will take place in New York on June 6, 2013. To read all of the posts in the series and learn more about the conference, click here. Join the conversation on Twitter #ThirdMetric.