Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Give Thanks for Your Mentors

"Oh no," you're thinking. "Not another cheesy Thanksgiving-themed blog post!" But really, there's a relevant message here about how mentors can help shape your career (and your life), if you will bear with me through my self-indulgent little trip back in time.

I've been thinking a lot over the past few weeks about the people who helped me figure out where I belonged and find the work I was meant to do. I wonder how I got so lucky to have literally fallen into so much good advice from so many caring people. Although I owe a lot to my parents (insisting that I go to college, and instilling in me their entrepreneurial spirit and "git-'er-done" work ethic), they were very young and naive about careers and education.

The first concerned outsider to step in was my third-grade teacher, the late Charlotte Petkovsek, who told me bluntly that just because I was a girl, it didn't mean I had to be a teacher. She told me to think bigger. (Not that being a teacher is bad, but it wouldn't have fit well with my introverted nature, anyway.)

Then there was the late Don Weil, the middle-school band director at my school. After I took his required music aptitude test but declined to join the program, he went directly to my parents (not hard, since he lived next door) to convince them to let me join the band. I shudder to think what my life would have been like without the camaraderie and joy of being a musician. It brought me out of my shell and helped me make so many later connections that propelled me to my career destiny.

As a high-school freshman, a band friend's dad, who happened to be the dean of arts and sciences at the University of Evansville, locked in on me and said, "You will be an English major at UE." Sam Longmire ended up being my advisor and confidant for many years. I still remember him trying to pry from me an idea of my dream career. "What do you see yourself doing?" he asked. When I gave a vague idea (working with words in an office, mostly by myself, but with moderate interaction with others), he steered me toward taking communications courses along with my literature (much as it pained him as a literary purist).

One summer I had an internship in the promotions department at the Evansville Courier. It was quasi- journalism--writing ads disguised as newspaper articles. But our supervisor Ann Ennis made it worthwhile, drilling us on our writing and our reporting techniques until they were strong. She lined up informational interviews to help us with our career choices. And she left us with an indelible piece of advice: "If you ever stop learning and growing in your job, no matter how comfortable you are, force yourself to move on."

After a couple of rocky post-grad jobs and a move to Indianapolis, Joe Wikert plucked me from obscurity and hired me as a copy editor at Macmillan Computer Publishing. What was special about working with Joe was how he took the time to educate everyone about the big picture of publishing, instead of just expecting us to focus on the little picture of editing. Sometimes I still find myself asking, "What would Joe do?" And I usually make the right choice. Recently, he's also the one who pushed me to post to this blog daily, and provided the "spark" that started getting it noticed by mentioning it on his own very popular blog.

And I'd like to thank my JIST mentors (Sue Pines, Janet Banks, and Mike Farr) for teaching me about the careers business and giving me the freedom to do my own thing here. Especially important was their support of my three years as a two-day telecommuter while my little girl was young. It helped balance things out better and got me a few steps closer to "having it all."

I've left off lots of people, no doubt. But I think I've made my point. Mentors are everywhere--they're your teachers, your next-door neighbors, and your bosses and coworkers. You never know when you'll run across that one person who will make a huge difference in your life. During this week when we pause about 30 seconds from eating to think about what we're thankful for, think of your mentors. And someday, you can pay it forward.


Krisan said...

What a great post, Lori! I have to say that you are definitely paying it forward...I am very appreciative of all of the advice and encouragement you've given to me recently with my career (and also with starting a blog of my own)! Thanks! I hope you and your family have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Joe Wikert said...

Lori, you really made my day! I'm so honored to be included in this post and without sounding too sappy, I'm so proud of everything you've accomplished (so far!) in your career. Keep up the great work, including this excellent blog!