Today I received the sad news that a former colleague passed away. It’s been a long time since I worked with her. She would have said I was a mentor, but I would have said the same about her. Shawn was – I don’t even know how to describe her and what she did at the busy construction company where we met. If you’ve ever worked in a highly entrepreneurial company that’s growing way faster than anyone could have predicted, you’ll know that there’s no job title that could describe one’s function. I came to consult at that company during a peak growth time. What I didn’t know was that I was also going to be charged with the Human Resources function of this company as it transitioned from a place where communication happened by osmosis to a company that needed processes and standards but that desperately wanted to retain all the best of the cowboy entrepreneurial younger company.
My experiences at that company changed me profoundly in ways that permanently changed the trajectory of my life. And all the people I worked with during that time were part of it. I grew up – actually grew into a completely different person -- there. And when you grow up in a company, sometimes you want to escape from the people who knew you at your ugly caterpillar stage. I also knew I had to take steps to achieve my dream of becoming a coach and consultant, and I couldn’t do it from the safety of the nest. But Shawn and others during that time made up what can only be called a family. So many of us at that time in our career were in the same boat; filled with more raw potential and ambition than much else – especially patience.
I think back to those days and what I remember most is how freaking passionate we were about the company. We all felt we belonged to something bigger than ourselves, and we were willing to step outside our comfort zones to do what it took to make it happen.
Most of the people I worked with at that time became my family away from home. They saw me at my worst and loved me through some of the hardest personal challenges I’ve ever faced. I wasn’t the only one.
I almost didn’t work there.
I had agreed to come down for a year to help them with OBM. I was horrified when I arrived on my first day and saw one of their vision/mission posters that had the word God in it. I was a very angry atheist from a socialist/liberal country and was pretty sure this God stuff boded ill for me. I hadn’t spent much time around people who called themselves Christians and I was prepared to write them all off as bigots and hypocrites (and this was 20 years ago! How much worse would my reaction be today).
Instead, I met a group of people who practiced what they preached. They were the first team I’d ever encountered that displayed a covenantal bond. They prized relationship and unity over winning. Not to say they weren’t competitive. They did have a management team sports challenge and relegated me to ‘secret weapon’ (ie stand far away and don’t touch the ball) most of the time.
But their commitment to something bigger than themselves worked its way through the company so that even self-destructive, angry, non-believing up-and-comers just knew something was different. Something was special.
Work is not just work. The relationships and experiences we have there are life changing. Or they can be. The environment at this company meant we had a lot of experiences where we talked about more than just the bottom line. We sacrificed for each other and were gut honest with one another.
I had a lot of those conversations with Shawn. She was one of the few people at the company with whom I shared some very personal details. Shawn was also one of those people who cared enough to be real and honest even when it meant telling people things they might not want to hear. She was passionate about growing and becoming the best version of herself.
Life is hard. We all stumble sometimes and sometimes it can feel like we’re all alone in the struggle. We work so hard on our facades that we start to believe they ARE us and become terrified of people seeing beneath them.
I was lucky enough to work in a place where people cared enough to look beyond the façade. I had some mentors there who saw gold in me that I no idea was there and they taught me that discernment. Shawn was part of that time, as were some key others and the bond that grows from that never goes away. When I heard the news today it hit me as hard as if I just saw her yesterday.
We have the opportunity – all of us – to look past others’ facades. We can look for the bad, or look for the good. I guarantee both are there. But I also guarantee that if you make it a habit to look for the good and help the other person live in that, you will change their life.
Like anytime someone passes, we all reflect on the impact they had on us. I know this is happening today as so many people reflect on their time with Shawn. When you have people in your life who are part of that something bigger, it builds a bond.
I encourage you today to look at your workplace, company, practice, or LIFE as what it really is – absolutely FILLED with opportunities to make a difference. And equally filled with opportunities to let others in and let them make a difference in you. It’s not as easy as the once-stock recipe of compartmentalizing work and other for sure. It’s messy, painful, and embarrassing sometimes. Growth hurts. But having the opportunity for people to be stamped forever in our hearts…isn’t that what it’s all about?