Continuing with my 30 Days of Gratitude, I can look back throughout my life and see people who have had a positive impact on me in one way or another, some small and others fairly large:
Day #24 – The People Who Didn’t Need to Help
When I was mentoring a young woman on another project last week, I was thinking of a former colleague I saw at a conference last month for the first time in more than 20 years, and the lasting impact he had in my life. He and I worked in different groups but he saw my interest and aptitude for statistics and data analysis and it changed the course of my life.
But he is far from the only one – I can think of people who helped me out with advice, suggestions, friendship, and more … for no apparent reason other than to be a good person. Obviously it starts at home – my parents provided guidance and opportunity and my brother blazed the path as oldest child.
Sure there are co-workers and bosses and others who were basically assigned to help me out – but typically they are not ‘mentors’ in my opinion. For me Mentoring involves more than just task-based instruction … it actually means that you have taken an interest in a person beyond helping them navigate a new job position or handle a new task.
I feel I have been blessed throughout my life with people who have taken time beyond what was required:
– Teachers: seriously teachers are SO undervalued in our society. As I entered my senior year in high school I had teachers pushing my guidance counselor for me to go into math, physics, English and music. Not just pushing me – taking time and working with external schools and my guidance counselor.
– Paper Route: My Boston Herald route took me through the low income housing … and let me just say that you can learn more about generosity when it comes from people with absolutely nothing to give. I had one guy – who might very well have been a drug dealer – who greeted me with a smile and a quick hello chat at least once a week, tipped reasonably well, and gave me a $20 Christmas tip each year in person. He taught me a lot about how wrong it is to just make snap judgments based on housing, skin color and income.
– Bradlees: I think back to working in high school, and vacations during college – I worked at the Bradlee’s Department Store. I could name a ton of people there who left significant positive memories and impacts – Steve R, Ginny B, Jim G, Leslie H, and many more. But there are a few that really stood out for me – Mike S, George L, (one guy whose name I totally blanked on), and most of all Richard LaPointe. I always bristle at the ‘child he never had’ description, but he clearly took me under his wing – he’d gone to school for physics but never finished and ended up as a retail department manager – and simultaneously wanted to make sure that didn’t happen to me, and appreciated the discussions we had. I worked at Bradlee’s over the course of 7 years, between 16 and 23, and it remains a cornerstone part of my growing up process.
– Administrative Assistants: at my first two ‘real’ engineering jobs (Bruker Instruments and Lambda Physik lasers), both were small companies where much teamwork was needed. Each had a single main administrative assistant, and they were totally taken for granted. Yet they were absolutely key to the day to day operations of the entire place. My experience at Bradlees had taught me to never under-value anyone, and getting to know these two (Karen at Bruker, Barbara at Lambda) reminded me that everyone deserves to be treated with respect. This continued on with ever person at every level in my companies since then. You can learn SO MUCH from those who are responsible for the daily success of a company but are treated as invisible by much of its management.
– Co-workers: as an engineer, scientist and statistician through the years, many of my tasks have been self-focused and directed … but always in a team context. Yet there were always people who I worked with or near outside of the project and team who were willing to help, actively sought to make my life easier – and they are the inspiration as I try to help younger engineers today. From Paul and Paul and Ron and Brian at Bruker to a few folks at Lambda to countless people (Chas, Phil, Wenyan, Kira, Liz, Mary Tedd, Ron, Rob, Chuck, Jim, and on and on) at Shipley, to an incredible cast of folks at Corning (Casey, Jess, Dave, Scott, Karen, Jason, Bethany, Susan, and so many more) … I have always had someone I could ask a question, make a joke, ask about my kids, or whatever.
– Friends – good and bad: Not everyone who is a mentor is a positive influence, nor is every mentoring a positive experience. I look at some of my friendships as exercises in learning my self value – because of the realization that they acted as if I had none. Most of my good friends are good friends – and with that comes the normal ups and downs of the decades. But there are also others – and for this one I single out Hemant, a co-worker from Shipley who called me the day I got laid off (he had been laid off before) to talk about his experiences and help put mine into context. It didn’t take away the sting or shock, but it was a critical moment for me that I really think helped me a great deal as I went forward.
– Lisa and the boys: It should come as no shock that they will get their own ‘Gratitude days’ … but I put them here to say – never underestimate what you can learn from your children and that wonderful person who married you.
Have you had people who have helped you ?
And well, I can’t NOT use this song … can I?