Memorial Day

Today is Memorial Day in the US; a day in which we remember those who died in military service for our country. I remember my father’s brother, who I never met, a young sailor who died in the South Pacific during World War II. I think of my father and many uncles, all veterans of various 20th century wars and military service, who lived lives punctuated by the constant echo of war.

I’m in a commemorative mood today, a mood that makes me look back at all kinds of people, particularly  those whose service in the professional world changed my life. The list is long, stretching from obvious choices to people whose impact I didn’t understand at first but whose reach was lasting. To avoid naming names and to show these workplace heroes in proper light, let me highlight a few of my most memorable:

  • The kind business manager of the Porsche-Audi dealer where I got my first real high school job. I entered the dealership on a whim one Saturday afternoon, looking for work that did not involve waiting on tables or tagging Blue Light specials. He called me to his office where we spent a half hour talking about my hopes for the future. He hired me on the spot, placing a level of faith in a 16 year-old kid that still touches me today.
  • The HR director who told me during an entry-level job interview that my resume, part-time work and skills were ill matched for the job I thought I wanted. He told me to aim higher. I didn’t listen and spent the first six years of my career drifting. Sometimes you need to trust the voice outside your head.
  • The co-worker who became my brother; sharp, urbane, side-splittingly funny and always ready to counter-balance the absurdity through which we had to wade with a clever bon mot. I would not have strengthened my writing skills, nor made the leap to my next big job, without him. Plus, he makes a perfect martini.
  • The communications chief that pulled me into PR, assuring me I could pick it up and do well. He was right, and for the next four years he was cheerleader and advocate as I expanded my responsibilities, took on a new role and eventually cycled back to PR with larger internal clients. He was a strong teacher, boss and professional mentor.
  • The leader who made me an offer I “couldn’t refuse” while my employer was being acquired. I am ever thankful for her persuasive skills! She was a fantastic boss; constantly looking for ways to develop me, to bring me to the attention of people I should know and to ask for my advice and perspective without reservation. In a career of great bosses, she stands tall above the crowd.
  • The former co-worker who heard I was going out on my own and offered me my first consulting role. While it felt like old times working together again, he really gave me a platform to start building my own company, exposing me to the realities of consulting from client management to working with other consulting firms to staying focused during project fits and starts. And this first role led to others at his company, proving the long-term value of good networks and even better professional friends.

I would be remiss if I didn’t draw special attention to my husband, who was instrumental in helping me redirect my early career from a period of drift to eventual growth. He saw I was not in the right line of work, and with research and enthusiasm, helped me find the right graduate program and new work to launch a career in corporate communications. It was the profession I plied through late 2011, when I decided I was ready, once again, for something new.

There are countless people I didn’t mention, people who were mentors, friends, peers, bosses. The majority of them were wonderful. Some of them were troublesome. A few were plain awful. But all of them are worth remembering, for a career is not created alone. It’s a culmination of hard-won advances and lucky breaks, of compassionate bosses and scary leaders, and of people who you share your work with and those who make your work something grand.





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