Tag Archives: hero

Who is your hero? – PART II (the sequel)

2 May

Thanks to those who shared their thoughts and comments regarding this topic. It’s clear that we all feel pretty fortunate to have one or two people in our lives who inspire us, who we look to for support, who we admire despite their flaws. In fact, sometimes it’s the fact that they have flaws that make them the most appealing.

So as promised, I’ll reveal my own hero. I’m definitely no different in that I have several people – or parts of different people – that I depend upon for guidance in work, in play, in life in general. However, a few years ago I crossed paths with someone who really did change me in a bunch of ways. I don’t know if she knows this. I’m fairly certain that she didn’t set out to do such. Still, when I trace back over the time since we met, something shifted in my perspective and thinking and level of creativity that day.

Sally and Suzy

Suzy and me. (Thanks to Brandy King for taking this picture at the MAHSLIN Annual Meeting a couple years back.)

My friend, Suzy Becker, is a self-described authorstrator – an author, illustrator, cartoonist, humorist, teacher, mentor, speaker, entrepreneur, all-around creative soul AND a pretty darned good person in general. I met Suzy after my spouse, Lynn, sat next to her at an open house for upcoming classes at the Worcester Art Museum (they were both teaching that term), came home, gave me Suzy’s business card, and said, “I think you should take her class. I think that you’re from the same tree.” As it turned out, Lynn and I both took Suzy’s class that fall. It was a day-long workshop on writing/drawing your illustrated memoir. I loved it. That was November 2010 and I literally have not stopped drawing pictures, thinking about creativity, and seeing how all of those things fit into my work (and life) since. I was already a writer, so I’m not giving Suzy credit for that, but she did inspire me to write more and to write differently. In a good way.

There’s something else that happened when we met, though, that has also played an integral part in how I approach work (and again, life). Suzy was/is, by far, the most accomplished person that I have ever known. In particular, she’s the most accomplished person my age that I’ve ever known. That’s different than being one who has achieved a lot. She’s done both, but I’ve known plenty of achievers and it’s not the same as being accomplished. For me, achievers follow a certain trajectory. Accomplished people complete and/or fulfill certain aspects of their lives, whether or not they set out to do such. Perhaps it’s merely semantics, but for me the subtlety is significant. For me, accomplished people make the most out of situations. They may well set personal goals for themselves, but they truly embody the idea that the journey is as important as the destination.

To me, Suzy Becker is an incredibly accomplished person and taking Daniel Coyle’s advice, I stare at her to see who I want to become. I also take Jessica Hagy’s advice, admiring the real and imperfect, and noting what Suzy does well and what she doesn’t do well. And I learn from it. As I said to a group of librarians at the University of Rochester’s medical library during a workshop I led back in January, “Whenever I start to think that I’m really good at something, I look at Suzy. It keeps me humble, because never in a million years will I be accomplished like that.”

But you know, you never get any better at anything if you always look to those you’ve already surpassed. You don’t run faster by always picking races where you’re a lot faster than anyone else. You don’t get better at playing the mandolin if you stay in the beginner’s class. Heck, you don’t even get better at answering questions, teaching classes, giving presentations, or any of the many things we do in our work unless you challenge yourself to do so. And sometimes the best place to find that challenge is in another person.

The other interesting thing that happened when I met the accomplished Suzy Becker is that I realized a really accomplished person is a pretty regular human being. She knows and/or has met a lot of people that I admire tremendously. She moves and operates in a different world than I do, yet it’s just a regular world, too. Now what this realization did for me, you might find kind of odd, but it gave me an incredible amount of confidence to contact other accomplished people (as well as a bunch of over-achievers, people that you really need to know in our work). I met Rosanne Cash and Alison Brown. I shook the shaker egg onstage with Ruth Moody. I tweet regularly with Amy Dickinson. And I’ve found a place in the departments and projects of researchers that I admire and enjoy working with.

Knowing a really accomplished person also gave me confidence to accomplish my own dreams. I joined a band. I have a piece of sculpture in an art show that opens this Saturday. I’m standing up on the big stage at the Hynes Convention Center on Sunday morning and giving a grand “howdy do!” to everyone attending the international One Health conference. I write this blog every week and a bunch of people read it. I’m taking a class on how to be a rockstar scribe.

And none of it is much about achieving anything. Not a bit of it matters much on an annual review. It’s more about making work and life something that’s fulfilling. For me. And the funny thing that I’ve noticed is that when my life came to be about fulfilling more than achieving, a lot of other people that I know (and don’t know) have enjoyed it, too. And that’s been perhaps the best part.

So big thanks to Suzy for allowing me to stare at her – whether she knew it or not. (And I sure hope she’ll still answer my email!) And check out her books. You’ll enjoy them. I guarantee.



Who is your hero? – PART I

25 Apr


The very first tip in Daniel Coyle’s book, The Little Book of Talent: 52 Tips for Improving Your Skills, is “Stare at who you want to become.” In her new book, How to be Interesting (In 10 Simple Steps), Jessica Hagy writes, “Find yourself a hero. Seek someone who makes you smile. Someone who lives the way you want to. Someone you admire. Someone real and imperfect. Learn from them two thing: (1) What they do well, and (2) What they do not do so well.” A few years ago, when I was going through a difficult time trying to figure out who and what and how I wanted to be, a really wise person told me, “Find a mentor. Find someone who is like who you want to be.” There must be some truth to it. There must be something about mentors and mentoring, apprenticeship, and/or having someone to watch and model yourself after that helps you to become the person that you envision yourself being.

Do you have a mentor? Do you have someone that you look to – or stare at – so that you can notice those things that they do well and emulate them? When I was growing up, my hero was Billie Jean King. I loved the way she played tennis. I loved the way she spoke up for women’s tennis. I loved the way she beat Bobby Riggs. I must have checked out her autobiography from my public library dozens of times. I knew every part of her story from growing up in a middle class family, learning tennis on the public courts in California, how her brother played baseball in the major leagues. I knew about her struggles with weight, her knee surgeries, and her close companionship with another woman. When the story broke about their relationship, I remember my mom telling me that she was sorry my hero had let me down. I wasn’t of an age or mindset to understand or care about any of that stuff. I said it didn’t matter to me. She was my hero.

Years later, she still is. Whenever any magazine or network or other source attempts to generate a list of the most important sports figures in American history, I always look to see that Billie Jean King’s name is near the top. If it isn’t, then the list means little. She changed women’s sports – and sports in general – in ways few others have ever come close. She is on par with Jesse Owens, Jackie Robinson, Muhammad Ali – others who, simply by being themselves, changed their landscape. To me, what makes these people the most special (and the most admirable) is that while they each had flaws, they just could not be anyone other than who they were. Billie Jean King was going to be an outspoken individual who demanded fairness in her sport – equal pay for women – because she was a person who demanded fairness. The same characteristic emerged when she became a spokesperson for Title IX, for the Women’s Sports Foundation, and for the GLBTQ community. It’s always been about demanding fairness.

But how about in work? Particularly when you’re delving into a new area or just trying to survive in a profession that’s quickly changing all around you. Who do you look to for guidance and encouragement and some semblance of what “success” looks like for you? Who do you look to when the very institution that you prepared yourself to work in changes before you even get out of school?

I actually found a really good hero a couple of years ago. I want to write about it and share what I’ve learned and experienced since crossing paths with this person, but first I’d like to hear from others. I’m going to post this and wait for some comments – hoping to hear other’s stories before I tell my own. I hope you’ll share.