Tag Archives: Mentoring

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.

 

 

What does success look like?

15 Mar

In her memoir, The Mighty Queens of Freeville, author, columnist, and occasional panelist on NPR’s “Wait, Wait… Don’t Tell Me!,” Amy Dickinson, writes, “I am surrounded by people who are unimpressed with me.” It’s perhaps my favorite line in a book that I really liked. The self-deprecating humor of famous folks. It’s funny. As I was walking from the parking lot to the library this morning, I couldn’t help but think that it’s been a bit of a surreal week for me as I’ve had encounters with some incredibly successful people. To paraphrase Ms. Dickinson, “I am surrounded by impressive people… and I remain impressed by them.”

It’s a testament to the world we live in, the social media aspect of it in particular, that I had the week that I had…

Friday, March 8 - Brattleboro, VT

Friday, March 8 – Brattleboro, VT

Rosanne Cash

Last Friday, my spouse and I traveled to Vermont to see Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal in concert. This was not the first time I got to meet Rosanne. We became acquainted via Twitter about a year and a half ago. I followed her. We tweeted back and forth to one another a few times. She started following me. In November of 2011, I got tickets to see her perform in Fall River, MA and asked if she’d be so kind as to let me say hi to her after the show. Ever gracious, she did. The same happened last Friday. Kind and funny and smart and one of the greatest singer-songwriters of our time, she gave me a hug, joked about our mutual love of ironing (remembering this from our previous meeting), talked about librarians… it’s one of those moments I’ll cherish. And then, perhaps even more unreal, the next morning as Lynn and I were walking down Main Street, we heard from behind us, “Hello, ladies!” Turned around and there was Rosanne. We chatted for a minute on the sidewalk in Brattleboro, VT like some kind of old friends. Pinch me.

Sherry Pagoto

Bright research star here on our campus, #Plankaday Nation co-founder, author of the #1 health blog of 2011 (FUdiet), and one of my biggest advocates for the new work I’m doing on campus, Sherry Pagoto and I hung out in her office on Tuesday to work on the details of a proposal that will allow me to work on her President’s Award grant. She took me on a few years ago as an exercise physiologist for one of her studies and today is a fantastic champion of me as an informationist. We  have a Nobel Laureate on campus, a few Howard Hughes investigators, and some really outstanding leaders in biomedical and health sciences research. How I got lucky enough to have one of them in my corner… well, pretty lucky!

Facebook chatting with Amy, Wednesday, March 13.

Facebook chatting with Amy, Wednesday, March 13.

Amy Dickinson

As mentioned earlier, I’m also a fan of Amy Dickinson, the Amy of the syndicated advice column, “Ask Amy.” We also “met” through Twitter and I take part in the discussions she tosses out on her Facebook page. She’s promised to take part in my “Jam 51” birthday party, if she can. Maybe the folks in Freeville are unimpressed, but not me. I’m counting on the face-to-face meeting in the future. In the meantime, I’m working up some turmoil in my life so that I can call into her Thursday noontime webcast from the Chicago Tribune. And look! She’s hoping for the same. 🙂

Suzy Becker

I had lunch yesterday with my uber talented and brilliant friend, Suzy Becker. Suzy is an author and a cartoonist and a teacher and one of those people you’d hate if she weren’t so darned nice. We talk over chicken shawarma sandwiches about girl’s high school basketball, her next book, her latest class at the Worcester Art Museum, her innate aptitude for Twitter, Lynn’s and my trip to Brattleboro, the PBS documentary “Makers,” why no women have sports talk shows, and the fact that she’s been on the Diane Rehm Show three times (3 times?!). She gives me a lucky horse shoe as a belated birthday present. I’m going to hang it in my new studio. She leaves to get her kid to the dentist on time and I walk home, still thinking about talking to Diane Rehm and helping someone with a Ford Foundation grant and knowing someone who’s putting together a new radio show and… lunch with me?

So “Lean In” on This

As I think about my week and how it intersected in different ways with 4 unbelievably successful women, I notice how not a single one of them fits the mold of “success” that Sheryl Sandberg espouses in her book, “Lean In,” that coincidentally also had a big week. Sandberg has been all over the air waves, sharing her thoughts on why women have not achieved success equal to men, despite now years of “equality.” We need to lean in, be more aggressive, change our priorities. Maybe. If you want to be the CEO of a gazillion dollar enterprise. Me, I’m glad for the successful people that I know (or at least have had the chance to briefly meet) in my life. And incidentally, not a one of them fits Sandberg’s definition of success.

Tip #1 in Daniel Coyle’s, “The Little Book of Talent” is “Stare at Who You Want to Become.” These are some of the people that I stare at. Despite their respective success – and a few of them are darned successful! – I’m not star struck. (Well, maybe a little.) No, just grateful to see and know and have people in my life to stare at, so that I can model the things that they do that bring them success.

How about you? How was your week? Did you find inspiration from anyone? Do you look to certain people to be your models of success?

(As an aside, just as I was finishing this post, my friend and colleague, Lisa Palmer, showed me pictures of her trip to Italy – when Pope John Paul II blessed her in 1983. I think it may have been some divine message for me to stay humble. I am surrounded by people who are unimpressed with me.)