Earlier this week, I spent a day in San Francisco with my former (and current long-distance) boss, who is also quite possibly my #1 professional and personal cheerleader. While she’s a sophisticated lady, rather than a “girl” gone rad, “Woman Gone Rad” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, so the title of this post stays. Anyway, Ann and I met years ago, when I was just starting out at a park and recreation trade association in Michigan. It was my first “real” job – a full-time gig as the organization’s only communications employee. I was young, inexperienced, and terrified.
Ann was a member of the association when we first met – a power player in the industry who oversaw a multi-million dollar parks budget and had a reputation for results. Early in my career, I interviewed her as an expert in the field, hoping she didn’t notice as I fumbled questions and tried to sound like I knew what I was talking about.
It wasn’t until she joined the staff of the non-profit, years later, that I really got to know Ann – first as my boss, and soon after as a mentor and friend. It’s been more than five years since I first met Ann, and it’s a time when I’ve grown a ton personally, but have also made what I consider to be huge strides career-wise.
As a 20-something professional, you constantly hear mention of the importance of having a mentor (or two, or ten!). I consider myself incredibly lucky to have found a mentor (I'm actually fortunate enough to have a few) who genuinely cares about my well-being and future. She's shown me the ropes, served as a sounding board for a range of hair-brained ideas, and believes in me and my work enough to continue hiring me for projects, despite the more than 2,000 miles (and two time zones) that currently sit between us.
Ann dreams big and sets high expectations – but in doing so, she helps those around her to accomplish some pretty great things. She herself has pulled off an incredible number of success stories with a shoestring budget, as far as non-profits and associations can go, and has the ability to encourage and motivate (and when the occasion calls for it, demand) the best work possible from her employees and peers. She’s certainly helped me grow professionally, and shown me what can be accomplished when you find your cause worth fighting for.
Ann was in San Francisco this week for the Greater Greener conference, hosted by the City Parks Alliance and SF Recreation and Parks. We took advantage of her last day in the City by visiting some of the area’s parks and recreation areas she hadn’t yet toured – Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Sutro Baths, Golden Gate Park – and since she’s a bit camera shy, I’ve included a few of my favorite photos from the day instead.
I’m not huge on doling out advice on the professional (or really even the personal) front. I’ve got a long way to go on my own path, and an expert in living I am certainly not. I will say, however, that having professional and overall life mentors has had a profound impact in my life thus far. Whether it’s finding someone who inspires you, lights a fire under your rear, listens and helps you sort out issues, or encourages you to take necessary (but sometimes terrifying) risks, finding a mentor is an exercise that's definitely worth your time.
I was lucky in that an employer became a supporter, whose influence has continued despite my moving on professionally. Perhaps this is a rare scenario, however I also think that life sometimes throws us supporters and influencers who, at the time, we may not identify as “mentors,” at least not in the traditional sense. So whatever you call 'em - cheerleader, friend, bosslady or bossman, or mentor - share a note of thanks! I'll be attempting to start following my own advice, starting now.
Main room inside the Conservatory of Flowers, located in Golden Gate Park
Sutro Baths and a view of the Pacific Ocean, Golden Gate National Recreation Area
Hanging giant flower (Orchid?) inside the Conservatory of Flowers