1. Do what you love
Agnes felt that God was calling her to the sisterhood to serve the poor. She consulted experts and the priests at her church to help understand her feelings. “If you are happy with the idea that God calls you to serve him and your neighbor,” Agnes recalled being told by a priest, “this will be the proof of your vocation. Profound joy of the heart is like a magnet that indicates the path of life.”
2. Read constantly
Reading helped Agnes understand the plight of India’s poor. Her constant efforts to learn gave her greater depth and wisdom.
3. Accept no limitations for your life
Sister Teresa had a desire to serve the poor more fully than the Catholic Church would permit. It seems certain she would have left the Church had she not been granted the privilege of exclaustration and permission to form a new order. “I again experienced a call to renounce everything and to follow Christ into the slums, to serve the poorest of the poor,” she wrote. “I understood that God wanted something from me…the message was quite clear: I was to leave the convent and help the poor whilst living among them. It was an order. I knew where I belonged.”
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you need.
Starting alone, Mother Teresa built the Missionaries of Charity into a worldwide organization through organization through persistent fund-raising efforts. She boldly asked for money and medical supplies to help the poor.
5. Clearly define what you want to accomplish
Mother Teresa added a fourth vow to be taken by the Missionaries of Charity: “To give wholehearted and free service to the poorest of the poor. . . . If you don’t have the zeal to help the poor, to take good care of the lepers, then [you] should pack up and go home. . . . no need to stay.”
6. Set an example
The most effective way to lead is by example. Mother Teresa asked her sisters to take their vow of poverty farther than those in the convent to help them understand the “poorest of the poor.” She said: “If we really want to know the poor, we must know what poverty is. . . . It is why in our society, poverty is our freedom and our strength.”
7. Be cheerful even if you don’t feel like it
Even if you have problems in your life that make you unhappy, present a cheerful demeanor to the outside world. That doesn’t mean you are ignoring your problems. Rather, you are putting yourself in the best possible frame of mind to solve them. One of Mother Teresa’s conditions in accepting a prospective sister into her order was that she have a “cheerful disposition.” Mother Teresa said, “A cheerful giver is a great giver.” Mother Teresa was known for her warm greeting and powerful smile that conveyed her great love and caring. “Let us always greet each other with a smile, for a smile is the beginning of love,” she said.
8. Care about those in need
Mother Teresa became, in the words of United Nations General Secretary Javier Perez de Cuellar, “the most powerful woman in the world,” because she cared for those in need. “The biggest disease today is not leprosy or cancer or tuberculosis,” Mother Teresa said, “but rather the feeling of being unwanted, uncared for, deserted by everybody. The greatest evil is the lack of love and charity, the terrible indifference towards one’s neighbor….”
9. Learn by experience
Mother Teresa said to her helpers and volunteers: “Discover … through direct contact. Go to Kalighat, the Home for the Dying, and learn your lessons, not out of a book, but in the rough and tumble of life, among real people….”
10. Write letters
Written communications, especially thank-you notes, are a powerful way to make a lasting impression. Florence Nightingale, Clara Barton, Eleanor Roosevelt and Margaret Thatcher were all great letter writers. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher said: “I have always believed in the impact of a personal handwritten letter—even from someone you barely know.”
11. Don’t let age slow you down
Mother Teresa had suffered three serious heart attacks by the time she was eighty-five and had a pacemaker, but she refused to slow down. “I’ve never said no to Jesus,” she said, “and I’m not going to begin now. Every day you have to say yes.”
12. Speak from your heart
“I make a little cross on my lips with my thumb; then I look straight forward above the audience and deliver my message,” Mother Teresa told Father Le Joly about her speaking style.
13. Stay humble
A world figure and the recipient of a Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa didn’t get carried away with herself. She credited God and Jesus for what she and the Missionaries of Charity accomplished, and saw herself as God’s vessel. “I am surer of this than of my own life,” she said.
Used with permission from Women of Influence by Pat & Ruth Williams with Michael Mink (Health Communications, Inc., 2003).