I spent six days in Southern California for an intense and busy professional meeting. But before I got busy with that meeting, I paid homage to…
…two people who profoundly influenced my career.
One is a woman who took me under her wing and “showed me the ropes” about my career field. She met me at an annual conference of a not-for-profit organization with which I was a volunteer leader at the time. She was impressed that I was only 25 and yet the Vice Chair of the Board of Directors of the local chapter of my organization. She introduced me to powerful people and explained the organization’s internal politics.
I did not know for the first three days of this conference quite who she was. Turned out that she was a member of the national organization’s Board of Directors, having been elected by thousands of others.
A few years after we met, I went to work for that organization as a member of the staff. My friend remained a member of the national Board and also served as a volunteer leader of the division of the organization where I worked.
Right about then, I had to do a residency for my doctorate at a university in Southern California. That meant living in Los Angeles for six months. Even then, short-term housing was very expensive. My friend had the solution: “come stay with me! My kids have moved out, I have lots of room.” So I lived with her and commuted to school and the L.A. local office of my employer to keep working. (She even loaned me a car so I did not have to rent one.)
I have retained a close bond of friendship with the woman who I call my “West Coast Mom.” While I speak with her on the phone regularly and keep up via social media, it’s not the same as visiting in person. I had not been to L.A. in 13 years, so a visit was well past due.
As soon as I arrived at the airport, I rented a car and drove to her house. The freeways did not disappoint — stop, go, stop, stop, go, stop, stop, stop… uggghhh. L.A. traffic is a nightmare all days of the week.
My friend’s birthday was coming up. Rather than bring her more bobbles that she does not need, I cooked for her. It is hard for an older person to cook meals for themselves. So all afternoon, I cooked away and loved catching up.
Booted in comfy Luccheses, my friend said, “always have your boots on, don’t you?” Yep.
The second person to whom I owe much gratitude lives in the town where my conference was held. She worked at the local office of the organization I worked with. I got to learn at her side and actually observe and conduct activities with her while I was living and working in L.A. Doing that gave me “instant street cred” among others in our national organization.
A few years later when the earthquake happened in Northern California, I worked again with this colleague (now close friend) when she was the Director of a long-term follow-on activity for five years after that quake. I lived in the Bay Area for five years (about three weeks/month for the first 3-1/2 years, then my visits tapered off to two weeks/month.)
I got to work with this outstanding professional on this post-quake project and learned a LOT. I carry those skills to this very day and use them in my current job.
Through years following, this friend and I traveled throughout the U.S. to teach leadership courses. We were pretty much glued-at-the-hip for about 20 years. In fact, she was the last person I spoke with when I was leaving that job. We have always remained in touch ever since (mostly by email. My friend has retired and travels for fun around the world a great deal.)
Anyway, on the Sunday of my SoCal visit, I met this friend and we had hours to catch up. Booted again in Luccheses, my friend said, “still wearing boots, huh?” Yep.
The rest of my trip was good and successful. I received a major award and was appointed to lead a standing committee. Just another day’s work in the life of an old fart, I guess.
But what is most important is to remember and to thank those who guided my career in its early days, and taught me through practice and trials how to be successful. I will never forget and will always honor these two very influential women who mean the world to me.
Life is short: remember those who taught you, Grasshopper.