Thank You Notes: A Letter to My Mentors
Posted on 27 November 2017
Thankfulness is the most reliable indicator of maturity. The older I get, the more people I realize I need to give thanks for because, without them, I wouldn't be who I am today. Heck, I’m even able to give thanks for the bad ones too! There are four strings of words that have profoundly impacted my life. Some were meant to encourage, others to correct. But in each instance, I can still hear the same dialogue as if it was happening now. In each case, it was only a single sentence, but its brevity did not diminish its power.
During my days as a cadet at the Air Force Academy, I remember an upperclassman uttering the following words to me as a doolie (freshman), "You haven't earned the right to act like you do." What that meant was to not get too big for your britches. Just because you have a seat at the table doesn't indicate you have earned the right to be heard. Humility takes time to develop and the more of it you have, the less you need to draw attention to yourself. Seasoning takes seasons, so stop acting foolish and realize you need to grow up. The cool kid table doesn’t exist in adulthood.
During my days as a second lieutenant, I was tasked with putting together a team for a project. I went directly to one of the required contributors instead of using his chain of command. I’ll never forget his Squadron Commander whose call sign was “Viking” saying, "Did you task my personnel to do something without letting me know?" It was not a rhetorical question. That was the last time I "jumped the chain" and always made sure supervisors were aware of any requests for their resources. This brief correction taught me to respect organizational boundaries and why it is always better to ask for permission rather than forgiveness.
During one of my trips back home from living overseas in the 90's, my mother made a life-changing comment to me. For us ladies who are coded for leadership at an early age, we sometimes wonder why we are the way we are and if other women view us as an anomaly. My mother and I pursued lifepaths that were diametrically opposed. However, she uttered these words to me when I was in my 30’s, “If I had it to do all over again, I would love to have chosen your path.” Wow! I couldn’t believe it. It wasn’t a message of one path being superior to another, but rather a genuine respect for something completely different than what you chose.
During my father’s succumbing to cancer in 2008, I made sure I came home every weekend while he was in hospice care. We had many discussions but not much about succession planning. That is until one of our final conversations where I let him know I would be honored to come home and carry on the legacy of what he started. He squeezed my hand, had a few tears come out of his eyes and said these words, "I know you'll take it places I never could have." That was it, nothing more. But that was all I needed to hear.
This past week as I was driving home from a wonderful dinner with a close friend, I heard a Hank Williams, Jr. song titled Standing in the Shadows. The lyrics were so poignant that I had to pull over to the side of the road and weep.
I know that I'm not great and some say I imitate
Anymore I don't know I'm just doing the best I can
After all, I'm standing in the shadows of a very famous man
As I travel around from town to town
I have a lot of dad's fans, and friends come around
They say I know Charlie would be proud of you if he were here today
I've spoken a great deal lately about the inner journey I've been on to reclaim my joy. And I do believe it was as simple, and as hard, as making a conscious decision to abound in thankfulness. Believing is a knowing thing; receiving is a personal thing. I stopped focusing on what I wanted to hear and was quiet enough to listen. I was open to receive. So, to those who have spoken life-changing words into my life, I thank you. And for the rest of us, may we never forget to take time and speak into the lives of those we love, even if it’s for correction. Because by correcting me in the here and now, it may hurt my feelings, but it may save me a lifetime of regret. And by letting me know that whatever life course I've chosen, you admire and respect me, you have given me all the encouragement I need to succeed. Thank you.