Saturday, March 8, 2008

Curious Turn of Events

It's performance review season down at the Mill, and this week they let my mentor go. We are supposed to say her "position was eliminated," as in her position of sitting at that desk over there. Her "program was cut," as mine once was too, but she went with it.

Let me synopsize how this relationship came about, what it came to mean, the confusion this turn of events brings about, and what I think the next steps are. Or... let me just free-write on and on about it until you click over to some other website featuring video of the President tap-dancing.

For the purposes of our discussion, we will call her Sully, in tribute to the greatest, most-devoted mentor of all time, pictured above. [cue Jay: "you are obsessed with blind people."]

I no longer remember how Sully and I met, and I have had to sit here a few minutes trying to conjure it up. When I first started at the Mill, my team sat in the midst of her team. We had no relationship other than the convenience of 4 cubes placed together, and my team and hers became neighborly work-friends in the way you do in these giant veal farms.

I've discovered I make a friend like this in every job environment: salt-of-the-earth "real people," New England bahn, natural-smart, who through hard work and hand-built connections have brought themselves to the place where they are. They ground me, as I tend to wander through life, stumbling through doors and oozing my way up ladders of success.

As I got to know Sully, we opened up to each other about our work-life experiences, our histories, our imagined futures. She had (has) experience and training I do not, and was in a position to influence management (albeit covertly and at glacial speed) if we organized ourselves like little French Resistance fighters.

Then this happened: The Boss tells me that as part of our professional development for 2007, we must each select a mentor, and meet monthly with him or her. I mentally cocked an eyebrow. (I can't actually do that, which is one of my life-regrets. I can wiggle my ears, but this does not have the same effect.)

"May martinis be involved?" I asked.
The Boss, who can cock her eyebrow (as well as her fist,) returned, "Whatever you gotta do."

Understand Sully is not a Mentor who phones it in. I knew that when I asked her to formalize our relationship, it would actually change; and it did so just at the time I needed it, because some crazy-ass mayhem went down in 2007. So it was on, and through it I managed to keep my sanity and my job. You've been reading this far; I don't need to re-cap.

Sully became part of my day-to-day survival. When I fell off the wagon May-July, and threw my summer in the trash, I had her to go to about it. She met me in a place most mentors don't get to -- I suppose because I don't take them there.

When the Boss went on leave, it was Sully who simultaneously coached me through a job interview at another company and encouraged me to make a go with Rock Star (rather than spend the 4th quarter hiding from her, as I was inclined to do). It was Sully who helped me to the breakthrough (Sully, and Rock Star, and Bryan Robinson, and Microsoft Outlook. And the most amazing workmates ever imagined).

Sully's world came crashing down in 2007 too, personally as well as professionally, and I was completely humbled when she apologized to me for missing a lunch due to a horrifying family crisis. "So how are you doing, though, are you all right?" she says to me over the phone, as my mouth is still hanging open. She actually waits for me to answer.

I was not shocked, I am not panicked, by her departure. I am actually glad for her. She needs and deserves this drastic change, though one always hopes it will be on one's own terms. She needs an alteration that allows more space for her personal life, and a workplace that makes her feel good at the end of the day.

For me, I am only saddened. But ready, I think, for a program without a sponsor.

2008. The Boss is back, and things are good. Just told me yesterday I am excellent at everything I do. I worked 39 hours this week, and even though I know I need to pull some time on Sunday, I also know better now how to practice moderation (and have nearly learned how to enjoy it). I talked to Sully the night she carried her box out the door and let her do all the talking for a while. I never once suggested that she should ask how I am doing.

I am doing just fine, Sully. And so will you. And know this, my friend. I will toootttaally take you with me on my vaudeville lecture tour.



  1. A very nice tribute to an amazing mutual friend!

  2. Ms. Bender, you are a bit obsessed with the blind but you put your obsession to good use! One thing about a good mentor is that they travel with you--while you may have worked at the same mill for a period of time a true mentor will transcend and you'll be connected forever. Think about how the relationship will change one she's moved on and will have a completly different perspctive. The other thing that happens in ture menotr/mentee relationships is that over time they become friendships and that is the best we can hope for!


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