What hard work looks like: Wisdom from my grandmother

Zora Gonsalves

Zora Gonsalves

//Meet Zora Gonsalves//

This weekend I celebrated my grandmother’s 80th birthday. On the plane ride home I couldn’t help but recount the many ways this woman has impacted my life. You see, what’s even more remarkable than her turning this milestone age and looking the way she does, is that when I went through my post archive, I realized I’ve talked very little about her since starting this blog. This of course is unacceptable not simply because she is my grandmother, but because she is the epitome of what Job Offers & Bad Boyfriends is all about: an undisputed, fully empowered, bad ass career woman.

Let me tell you about this grandmother of mine. At 80 years old, she wakes up at the ungodly hour of 4am, puts on a beautifully coordinated outfit, and drives herself to the office she’s called home for the last 35 years. Over three decades ago, with no formal training or schooling, my grandmother was recruited to lead the operations of one of the leading beer distributors in Western Massachusetts. She has since grown to become the most respected and admired employee and manager in the company.

Growing up when I would visit my grandparents, I remember waking up early to kiss her goodbye when she left for work, and then asking her a million questions about her workday at dinner that night. I would visit her at the office and watch her delegate work and take control. I listened to her employees talk about her like she was the guardian angel of the company – that no one could do her job the way she did it, and how by hiring them, she changed their lives.

And then, when my grandfather retired from his job at 65 I watched her take on the head of the household. I remember asking her when she would retire and move to Florida (mainly so I could visit!), and she would always respond with “Oh pumpkin, eventually!” or “Someday…when I want to.”

That was almost 15 years ago.

That’s what’s so beautiful about my grandmother’s career. In all these years, she never truly wanted to stop. She doesn’t work because she has to. My grandmother has built a comfortable life for herself. She works because she wants to. Because it gives her purpose and because she genuinely loves what she does.

And isn’t that what we strive for every day ladies? To build a career built on purpose and passion? My grandmother did just that, and all of us could benefit from taking a line or two out her playbook.

So here are a few pellets of wisdom from the career of my grandmother, 80 years in the making:

Loyalty goes a long way. 

My grandmother is without a doubt the most loyal person I know. This of course is evident in her 30 year run at the same company, but even more so with the team she’s built and mentored over the last couple decades. Everyone working for her loves and respects her – a kind of loyalty many mangers only dream about nowadays. She demonstrates an unwavering professionalism and precision as the captain steering that ship. But with all her power and control in the organization, she’s never once taken advantage of it. Everything she’s done, she’s done with the best interest of the company and her employees in mind. She’s 80 years old with a 30+ year tenure, and she’s still the first one in the office every single morning. There’s nothing she wouldn’t do for her team or her boss. The respect and admiration she receives is not something that happens over night. It takes years of loyal work and dedication.

Don’t underestimate a rule follower. 

Speaking from a lifetime of trying to get away with stuff, I’m the first one to tell you – my grandmother is rule follower and rule enforcer (don’t know how that didn’t rub off on me!). As her granddaughter this is terrifying, but as the president of her company, I know he thanks his lucky stars every day for my grandmother. She runs a tight ship and has a very low tolerance for bullshit. I kid you not, this woman barely clears 5’ and could put even the largest testosterone-filled man in his place.

I’m fully convinced it is this attitude and methodology that’s made her career so successful. For her, there’s no easy way out or work-around. From day one she’s done what she’s been told and has expected the same from her employees.

Save. And then save more.

One of my biggest fears is that 50 years from now, hell even 30 years from now, I’ll be working because I have to be working. I want choices. But having a choice means having a certain level of wealth. My grandmother has worked a modest middle class job her entire life, but could leave that job and live incredibly comfortable at any time. How, you may wonder? Because ever since she started her career, she saved every. single. penny. There is no get rich quick trick here. My grandmother is the best example of “slow and steady wins the race” I’ve ever seen. Her diligence and patience when it came to saving money should be written about in Economics textbooks. She never live above her means, saved everything, and invested wisely.

Every time I think about buying something frivolous or planning a trip that will stretch my bank account, I think about how that money can be better used. How saving that money now could mean wealth and freedom later on. So thank you to my grandmother for the reminder that I don’t need that pair of boots.

Hard work prevails over anything else.

I was afforded the opportunity to attend an incredible university for both my bachelors and masters degrees. I consider myself extremely lucky for the education I received, and know that I owe a lot of my success to those years I spent at school. As most of us know, in order to compete in this job market, a college degree is critical if not absolutely necessary. You can imagine people’s surprise then when I talk about my grandmother’s career and say, “Oh yea, and she never went to college.”

She is a perfect example of how good ol’ fashion work ethic can actually trump a fancy degree. She is completely self-taught and has managed to evolve with the new technologies of the 21st century with no formal training. Her secret? Work your ass off.

I find these days that simple ingredient is a little lost on us. We’re always looking for an easier way to do something. Our first instinct is not to put our heads down and get shit done. Maybe it’s because we have the options and choices my grandmother didn’t. We have degrees and education to fall back on, she didn’t. She just had to work hard and pray that was enough. But guess what? It was more than enough.

So hopefully this post makes up for the many others that didn’t mention my grandmother, but probably should have. For her birthday I want the world (aka my readers) to know what an inspiring woman she is. If you ever want to know what hard work looks like – come back to this post and take a look at the picture at the top. THAT’s what hard work looks like. It’s also what an incredible well-dressed woman looks like.


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