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Don’t Grow Up to be Like Me

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I was sending a text to a new yoga teacher who seems to want me as her mentor. I never have seen myself in that light. I look for the mentor: someone who can help me with my goals, my insecurities, my boundless fears on success and failure, someone to give me courage, confidence, assure me I have charisma. It was strange being asked for advice.

I stopped texting and asked to meet for a coffee. My fingers get so tired these days. I need thumbs as strong as my biceps. As I put the phone away, I remembered of one of my favorite bosses, one of my first bosses, back in my engineering days. I was working on a special project for her; the Highway Beautification Project and, because we were two of probably 8 women in the 500-person highway department, we had become close. It is always comforting to touch your culture and in those days when several of my colleagues still smoked cigars at the over sized drafting tables we shared, it was wonderful to consider her my culture. She had an appointed position and probably more connections than qualifications. But she was a fantastic manager, beautiful and dressed in elegant suits as she presided over meetings full of men in not so elegant suits, some of them in work overalls. But she had them in her hand. They respected her not only because she was the boss but because she was talented, smart and genuinely cared about them and the job. Jane Garvey was her name and she was my mentor.

Until one day, just before I left to start traveling, she said to me, “Joanne, don’t grow up to be like me”. I was surprised and smiled, not knowing how to answer. Sure, I knew she was in the middle of a divorce. There were rumors of an affair but I barely listened to them. She had a cool downtown apartment and I had visited her wonderful house in the country. She had children and a nice dog. She had everything that made the text book “happy life”. But she burst my bubble that day. If I didn’t want to be like her, who could I be like?

I was searching. I wanted to be someone cool. That had been my first professional job out of college. I had taken whatever I could get and I had no idea where I was going or what I would do. She seemed to have it all together until she let me see through the facade.

The memory came strolling into my mind from that way back machine I keep in my head. I couldn’t believe I remembered it and chuckled as I looked at my bare feet, fading yoga pants and sun spotted hands. I certainly had not grown up to be like her. I grew up to be myself. And if this young yoga teacher asks me for advice, I will tell her just that, “grow up to be yourself”. Because in the end it is really all you can do. There is no other way.

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