In advance of Mother's Day, I'd like to share the best advice my mom ever gave me.

When I was a teenager, and even when I came home and spent time at my parent's house after college, my mom used to say a variation of the same thing every time I went out:

If I was heading to work in the summer as a lifeguard (I worked at a crazy and poorly run place in retrospect, where we had to rescue a lot of people), my mom did't want me taking unnecessary risks.

If I was going out with friends, well, she knew I didn't drink (much) and I was a careful driver. 

I shrugged it off most of the time back then. I was going to do what I was going to do. But probably after the 10,000th time she said something like that to me, I started to listen.

Eventually, I realized she meant more than just the literal caution. She also meant it figuratively: Control your destiny. Don't let other people make your choices.

And to step back and make it even more applicable now:

Don't let other people choose your career, or your friends, or your relationships. Don't do things just because they're what everyone else does.

We're social beings, and so this isn't always easy. Sometimes it seems we're hardwired to seek approval, to be insecure, and to follow the crowd. Nobody adheres to this advice all the time, but the more you do, the happier and more successful you'll be.

My mom wasn't telling us to be self-centered but reminding us that if you don't take care of yourself first, you're probably not going to be of much use to anyone else, either.

I think of this every time I'm on an airplane now, when the flight attendants say that if there's an emergency, you should put on your own pressurized air mask before helping someone else.

Sunday is Mother's Day, and so I'd like to take this opportunity to thank my mom for that advice. Without following it, I wouldn't have found most of the things that I have made me fulfilled.

I also don't know if I would have had the guts to approach my future wife -- who is now an amazing mom to our daughter, too.

Inc. has a special series of mom-related posts for Mother's Day, and I'll include them all in the links below. Happy Mother's Day to all the moms out there!