One of the things I wanted to tackle on my 30 before 30 list was acknowledging people who have had an outsize influence in my life. I chose 3 people, but of course, there are many.
My dad is the archetypal engineer. Task oriented, outcome focused, brusque, somewhat exacting. Nuggets like “Most of life is just showing up, ON TIME” would often march from his mouth, typically as I scurried into the car on a Sunday morning after he’d already started the engine. As a kid, my weekends were filled with one project or another my dad wanted to do and needed me and my siblings to help with. All the projects were carefully mapped out with seemingly interminable multi-page lists. Building a back porch. Stacking wood. Digging a hole to put in a pool. None of my other friend’s dads were so ambitious or orderly. Weekdays he would patiently suffer through crying algebra tutoring sessions, insisting that I “show my work” so he could improve my problem solving and decision making. In large part, my ability (and desire) to do big things was fostered by this environment, I was becoming a person with a strong sense of self-efficacy. Anything could be done, with the right amount of research, the correct process, and an ability to continue trying until it came out right.
Luckily, for me, it has turned out being an adult is basically the same as building a back porch. Determine what you can do with the environment you’ve got, research, make lists, and then just keep nailing one board in after the other.
High School English teacher:
Ms. English Teacher wore sweater sets, khaki skirts, and purple Doc Martens. She was in her mid-twenties, barely older than us, and corrected our papers in vibrant splashes of inimitable (though we tried) pink, green, and orange pen. She was nerdy-cool before I realized that was truly possible. I had her as a junior for English and chose her elective Creative Writing, where the phrase “skittered and bobbed” imprinted in my memory as an example of superlative prose. Her dictum on writing papers, “The beginning is important and the end is important, but the end is more important than the beginning” I repeated endlessly to struggling peers. It’s to her credit that I can recognize appeals to pathos, logos, and ethos. After I ended up reluctantly in college, it was to her influence that I chose English as my major. Freewriting, short stories, poetry. I attempted all these things in her creative writing class, learned that I loved to edit, and honed a skill I didn’t realize would go on to become my strongest tool, writing. Through her love of teaching and language, I received a gift and skill I can continue to use my entire life.
Toughest Coworker Ever (TCE):
TCE was my personality opposite, though we never compared Myers Briggs, alas, I’m sure she would have mirrored my own ENTJ. An older woman, nearly 60, she had been a military brat as a child, and experienced a difficult and traumatizing car accident as a young adult, which she referred to frequently. Widely read and curious, her forays down informational back roads, and insistence on endlessly seeking input from our clients irked me. She had a gentle interpersonal style and worked well in 1:1 situations. The multitasking and frequent interruptions in our work environment wore her down, flustered her. She wanted to process events at the end of the day, I wanted to finish paperwork. She wanted to determine the best course of action, I wanted to get things done. Our clashes were epic, not because of their volume, but because of the dwindling goodwill which eventually froze the room to an icy standstill. This was the real world initiation I had to topics like academic psychological topics like motivation and personality.
If not for TCE, I would be at the mercy of all the flaws of the ENTJ personality. Likely, I would still be a steamroller, barrelling down the hallways of whatever work or volunteer situation I ended up in, convinced my way was not only right, but the only way to get things done. I would not have learned the value of seeking diverse opinions, nor would I have read the work of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. I would never want to return to the stress of the year and a half that we worked together, but then again, it would be impossible for me to return as the same person who caused those misunderstandings.
What about you? Are there people who have had an outsize influence on you? Taught you what it meant to be a responsible person? Given you tools and skills you use to this day? Caused you to reexamine how you saw the world and yourself?