After she immigrated to the U.S. from Greece with her three daughters, and her husband died, Maria Xenidou’s mother took a job at a factory. Shortly before she retired, the factory closed down, and almost everyone was laid off. The only job available was a cleaning position in the main office, Maria wrote on LinkedIn. But year after year, Maria and her two sisters excelled at school, more so than the children of Maria’s mom’s higher-ups.
“Every year, the company gave monetary awards to the employees’ children who were excelling at school,” Maria wrote. “My two sisters and I got all of them every year.”
Her mother made it clear that her title as a cleaning lady had no effect on her children’s capabilities. “She used to say that none of the bosses with the big titles had kids that did as well at school as her three daughters,” Maria continued. “I was raised to ignore titles and focus on the work. Because what matters the most is the impact we create.”
Maria wrote in a separate LinkedIn post that while her mother wasn’t around to make her and her sisters lunch, or help with homework, she instilled in them a strong sense of responsibility and resourcefulness. The first summer without their father, Maria and her sisters made four promises to their mom: to play safely, to make lunch and clean up after themselves, to finish their math exercises and to read all the library books their mom borrowed for them. “She did not allow her lack of time, money and skills to become constraints for our development. Instead, she converted them into a wonderful opportunity that taught us how to play and learn on our own without any supervision whatsoever.”
Her mom’s hard work paid off. In 1998, Maria earned her Ph.D. in Materials Science from UMass Amherst. By 2015, she became the Vice President of Global Marketing at Henkel, a company that specializes in sealants and also sells household cleaning products. Now, Maria is working independently as a senior advisor in tech and marketing.
She frequently looks back on the lessons her mom taught her that shaped her into the successful adult she is today. “We were the fruit of her most important labor. Her job was paying the bills. But her primary work was to raise good kids that would get higher education.”