Careers and lives are complex and composed of lots of little experiences that, when pieced together, become uniquely you. This weekend the film was rolled back a few years and gave me a wonderful glimpse into who I am, and why my career has unfolded as it has. While a high school reunion isn’t a dramatic and defining event in one’s life, it sure gave me a moment to step back and reflect. I started to blog on the career lessons of the weekend (previous titles of this post were “Why my reunion is like your summer internship” and “Why my reunion is full of career lessons,” and it would have been easy to fall back on things like “the power of networking,” but all felt too trite, too forced. So, this post is just a reflection of what I saw in the “rewind” and a few lessons along the way.
The six high school teachers who profoundly affected me the most were at the reunion awards ceremony. While I chose engineering as my college major, the arts of communication and leadership are the ones I still use every day. The classes of the two English teachers (Mr. Vullo and Sister Grace Marie) and the hours on the field with the coaches (Pierce, McDaniel, Garvin, and Slocum) are the ones that I remember most vividly. Mr. McLachlan, the physics/chemistry teacher, the likely mentor for an engineer, taught me the hard stuff, but showed me more how to truly care for your students, how to think, and how to absolutely love what you do in life. Thanks to each of you for the early lessons is humility and grace.
One of my best friends in high school, Jim, received the Career Achievement Award at the awards ceremony. In his remarks he thanked me and my mom for his living with us his senior year, for the impact we had on his life, and for making his attending our high school possible. He didn’t mention his success as a US District Judge, as a faculty member at Duke, or as a community leader. He was humble and thankful and funny. Pretty good career lessons. In high school, he also taught me how to look beyond myself into the greater world around me. He even taught me to read the NY Times. Thanks, James.
The other “best friend” was a reunion “no show.” But I tracked him down anyway. I met his beautiful wife of seven months and great new step-son. Given his name is still Chip, I feel pretty comfortable still being a Bubba (see Once a Bubba).
I took a run Saturday morning with another best friend, Charyl: one of the few people in high school with whom I ever had a deep conversation. We have probably spoken only twice since graduation. It took about one hundred yards of the run for us to be deep into relationships and faith. We were quickly on the same page. What a gift!
If only we had video tapes of high school, I would play for you my lip-synching talent show performance of “The Cover of the Rolling Stone.” My group, Pork and the Beans, came back to me so vividly the moment I saw Chuck, the other “bean” (Pork didn’t make the reunion), at the party Friday night. He still beams with the same silly grin he did in high school. He taught me so much how to laugh and not take myself so seriously. I was also blown away by how fulfilled he is now as a seventh grade Life Sciences teacher. If my children could only have teachers this passionate about life and teaching, they would learn so much more.
I could go on and on. I underestimated my classmates for sure. But we’ve actually mostly turned into mature, responsible adults. Carol’s a lawyer, Jerry’s an entrepreneur, Steve’s a banker, Jeff’s a vet, Marie’s a doctor, Kent’s a dentist, Brian’s in technology, Glenn manages money, Regina sells real estate, Debbie and Chuck are teachers, and a couple are even retired. Yada, yada, yada.
But career wasn’t the focus. It was more about relationships, families, and passions. It was about being great moms and dads for the past thirty years (Pam comes to mind, as do others). It was about the impacts we’ve had on our communities (Steve, Chuck) and service to country (Steve didn’t come to the reunion, as he has been serving in the military in the Middle East this past year. Thanks, Steve, missed you) . It was about the passions we pursue (Sam, Charyl). Yes, we’ve had deaths, and divorces, and setbacks, and challenges. It was sad to hear about those things. But it was also encouraging. My classmates were happy with their lives. I return back to work today more thankful for my job and more optimistic about the future of America (wow, that’s pretty heavy). But seriously, from my little slice of America, at Mount de Sales High School, Class of 1980, in Macon, Georgia, life is good.
(By the way, I was runner up for one award this year: second longest marriage—26 years—to Sally. Thanks for coming with me for these 26 year. Pam and Dan, congrats. Sally and I plan to come in second in that award category at the 40th and 50th as well.)
The career lessons from the weekend are clearly the same as the lessons I muse on each week: careers are about passion, and people, and relationships. But one more lesson: life (and careers) are about investment. These folks I reconnected with over the weekend invested heavily into me and into who I am. In my career now, my friends and colleagues are still investing in me. I don’t want to ever stop growing, and learning, and being challenged. I encourage you to seek a life and career in which you are as well, where you have friends and mentors who invest in you.
(Okay, way too deep for me. Next week, I return to something much, much lighter—like fearlessness in your summer internship!)