While waiting for my computer to catch up with something or other yesterday, I spent a few minutes tooling around on the Internet. I discovered, to my surprise, that an old friend had died last month, and the memorial service was just last week, in California.
It hit me hard; harder than maybe it should have since he was 86. But I soon came to realize why. Not only was he my first boss at Stanford, and my best boss ever, but he was also a mentor, and I hadn't realized that.
This past month, for two different reasons, I had to write a profile of myself. That got me thinking about my strengths, where I've come from (in terms of work and experience), and where I'm headed. It became evident that copyediting is my best skill, and it's what I enjoy most. (It's also what I spend the least time doing, but we're working on that.)
The news of my friend and mentor's death hit me right between the eyes: the reason I'm good at copyediting is because this guy made me good. He had a manner that terrified many (not me, for some reason), and he was a stickler for spelling, grammar, and clear writing. "Stickler" could be the understatement of the century. His red pen was a sword he brandished often and well. He would explain his edits, though, and I learned a lot from him. To this day, whenever I wield my red pen, I think fondly of Dr. Sandberg.
I was really sad that he had died. And my mind and heart were flooded with dozens of memories, both general and specific. Like how he'd stand at my desk watching in awe as my fingers flew across the typewriter keyboard (yes, this was before computers were used in offices). Then he'd imitate the sounds of the typewriter.
We had our own little mutual-admiration society. I was perhaps the only secretary he'd had who understood and didn't mind, for instance, working with his complicated system of filing and crossfiling medical articles.
The more these memories flooded back, the more I realized two things: my beloved mentor encouraged the skills that have served me well all these years and, even more importantly, he also gave me confidence at a time I really needed it. For the first time, I believed it when he told me often that I could do anything I wanted to do. He also gave me plenty of examples of what I could reach for. And he was still encouraging the last time I saw him, just before we left California 10 years ago.
I had planned to write on another theme this week, but I felt compelled to share this. Not to share my grief. But to share the importance of mentors in our lives. There are two important messages:
1) Acknowledge and appreciate those who have taught you and led you in important directions. Do it now before you can't anymore.
2) Think of ways in which you can serve as a mentor to others. It doesn't need to be a life-long commitment, or even something monumental. But you can positively and forever impact someone else with something that may take minimal effort on your part. Do it now, too, before you can't anymore.
Thanks a million, Gene! You may be gone, but so long as I can still read, or write, or hold a red pen, you'll be with me forever.