In this month of gratitude, I cannot help but feel grateful for all of the great mentors I have had in my life. Most of us have a teacher, friend, aunt, uncle, dentist … someone who taught us something that made us better in our careers, or in life, in general.
It’s funny; now that I am a little older, I realize that some of my greatest lessons came from people who were not actually trying to teach me anything; they were just living examples. Unfortunately, I often did not appreciate these walking textbooks until long after school was out.
In the early days of my professional life, I was too full of ego to even allow myself to consider someone else’s take on life. It did not even matter how much experience these wise agents had; I always somehow thought I knew better. At my worst, I was so focused on other people having or achieving what I thought I deserved, that it never occurred to me to try to find out how they succeeded in the first place.
So, here I sit, 26 years into my career, realizing that the greatest lesson I’ve learned is that I was too full of myself to learn anything from anyone, at least not at the time. At the age of 27, I had all of the answers; at 47, not so much.
People tried to explain to me the value of staying out of gossip and non-work related nonsense, and saving for retirement or inevitable unemployment.
Stay out of workplace gossip and nonsense? How anti-social can you be? I wondered. Unemployed? Never going to happen. Not to me. Retirement? That is like FOREVER from now.
I remember thinking all of these things as if the conversations happened yesterday. Yes, the time really does pass that quickly.
I have come to realize that my greatest lesson may be that every day, I overlook great teachers. This is where my ego has (and sometimes still does) inflicted the greatest damage. One woman in particular comes to mind.
When I worked in Detroit TV news, I shared the weekend set with an amazing journalist named Cynthia Canty. Cyndi really knew her stuff, and put her heart and soul into every single story she wrote or even read on-air at the desk. She was worldly wise and full of passion for life. She did not bother with petty workplace jealousies and competition. And I resented her for it: her happiness … her success. It wasn’t fair.
So, rather than tapping into this fountain of journalistic and life knowledge, I was angry because I didn’t have what she had. Never mind all the work she did to get there. I was sure that life was somehow cheating me. I am certain I was a jerk to her many times.
For all the lessons I missed, I can say that Cyndi was and still is an example. That means she is teaching without even thinking about it, just by being here and living a good life. So, thank you, Cynthia – and all of you other great examples out there.
How many wise agents do I overlook every day? What is more, what “lesson” am I teaching others? Words of gratitude are not enough. I have to pass on what I’ve learned, even if just by being a joyful example.