The one piece of career advice I always tell young people is this: You can be spectacularly brilliant but a miserable failure if you don’t put as much energy into your people skills as you do into your actual expertise.
The world revolves around relationships. You need to know how to network and leverage your network. You need to know how to assess the culture of your office environment and find a way to fit in without being high maintenance.
There is a cliché, “It’s not what you know but who,” and there is a reason it is a cliché. It’s true.
People will drive your success more than the results you can deliver. You need to know the right people, but you need to know them in a way that makes them want to help you. Fortunately, this is pretty easy.
I have seen many people make the mistake of assuming that networking is a matter of shaking hands, swapping business cards and following up with appropriate e-mails. You do all of that, but make sure the exchange sparks something personal and memorable. It is far more important that you know that the person has to be home on Thursday night for Grey’s Anatomy or that they have an overweight Dacshund than it is to recite their title. Relationships are all about friendships. Make friends in high places.
You do that by consciously working on growing your exposure. When there are events that expose you to people who can influence your growth, show up. And, don’t just stand there. Work the room.
I know it is hard to talk to strangers, but it is much easier if you come prepared with a few subjects to talk about and a few questions you can ask.
Know something about the people you need to meet so you have someplace to go with your conversation. You always have a conversation entry point when you know that the person is from your hometown or went to your school or likes to surf or is an avid knitter or any other detail that will get the person to talk.
You do not have to focus your conversation on work, but you should be able – in thirty seconds – to summarize what you are doing and where you are heading. If it is going well and isn’t too much of a violation of chain of command, ask to have coffee or lunch, whatever. Just make sure you leave with contact information and tell the person you would like to stay in touch. Then, STAY IN TOUCH. You don’t have to be the person’s pen-pal, but you can forward interesting articles or just send a quick note once a month to stay on the radar.
The point is, your brain gets you your job and keeps you in the game. Your personality advances you. There will certainly be exceptions to this rule, but think of how much more you can do if you don’t count on an exception. Just be exceptionably personable.
Bestselling Oprah author Fawn Germer is defined by her hard won wisdom. To check availability for motivational speaking keynotes or workshops, or for information on life and executive coaching sessions, call (727) 467-0202 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
It is as it should be. It is perfect. It hurts, but this is the happiest ending to the most beautiful love story.
As my Mom was dying in January, I caught Daddy leaning into her and saying, “I’ll be with you shortly.”
“Daddy, we aren’t having a two-fer here,” I told him. But, I knew we were. This is the most inevitable crisis of my life. They had to die, and they had to die together. Daddy stayed for us for just under three months – long enough to make sure we were ready. Now Fred is dancing with his Betty, who is now healthy and strong. Dancing in a beautiful ballroom. Laughing.
I am so happy for them.
As a family, we faced unusual hardships. He was shot in a holdup at his drugstore. He later got caught in the midst of a huge robbery that involved a shootout. Mom took charge and moved us to Florida when they were just 50 years old. Most people wait to do that until they retire because that is when they plan to really live their lives. Thank God Mom and Dad didn’t wait for anything. They lived, they loved.
When Mom suffered her paralyzing stroke at age 66, Dad stood up and cared for her in a way that all of us want, but few of us get. Mom was always, always, always grateful. She never, ever complained.
Through her stroke recovery and then the Alzheimer’s, Daddy protected his Betty like a soldier guarding the Queen.
I cannot overstate the difficulty Daddy faced taking care of Mom at home. It was backbreaking work. Backbreaking. He was offended if it was suggested that he’d made great sacrifice to care for her. He always said, “It is an honor and a privilege.” To him, it was.
It crushed him when the day came that Mom could not help to lift herself and the doctor insisted that it was time to put her in a nursing home. Dad never wanted that for his Betty, but he’d already destroyed his back in the caregiving process. He had no choice but to let her go to Freedom Village. Once he did, he visited her every single day, at least three times, often four.
On the surface, Dad and Mom had an existence that was bleak and depressing. But, looking at it now, I realize how much more they had than most of us will ever have. They had raw, pure, love. Big love. Forever love. She’d wait for his visits and brighten up at the sight of him –as he did for her.
Daddy loved me, too. In that big way, without condition. With absolute support. He was always, always in my corner.
Dad’s work was not about pharmaceuticals, it was about people. He loved his customers. He mentored so many young people to enter the profession.
I once acknowledged Dad in the audience at a large event where I was speaking in Tampa. Afterwards, Walmart’s senior vice president in charge of all their pharmacies came over. “Fred, I don’t know if you remember me,” he said. “But I worked for you when I was in college and you convinced me to become a pharmacist.”
Dad worked at Vanguard Advanced Pharmacy Systems until December of 2012, when a heart issue quickly robbed him of his independence. He was beloved to those people and I would take him back to visit. There was always a chorus of “Mr. Fred! Mr. Fred!” And people would hug and kiss him and cry. I swear, I could have walked in with Brad Pitt and gotten less attention.
After Mom passed, it was evident Daddy was consciously drinking in every precious moment he had with us.
Eleven days before he died, he held me in his arms and said every wonderful thing he had to say to me. My friend Lisa was there and videotaped a small piece of it for me. His voice was loud and strong. “Look how good you are to me! Look how wonderful you treat me! Dear God, thank you for letting me have these wonderful visits! Dear God, keep an eye on my Fawn. I love her, I need her, I care about her. Day after day, hour after hour. I’m so happy.” He kissed me on my head many times as I cried in his arms. “My daughter, my daughter, my daughter! You are so good to me. So kind to me. Thank you, thank you, thank you! Dear God, keep an eye on my Fawn. My wonderful Fawn. I need her, I love her, I care about her. She is so loyal, so faithful…”
I knew he was wrapping things up.
“Dad,” I said, “It’s like your bag is packed and you are waiting for the bus.”
“That is exactly right,” he said. “My bag is packed and I am waiting for the bus.”
After that, I started climbing into bed beside him and holding him.
I wondered if it was inappropriate. Daughters don’t climb in bed with their dads, but for goodness sakes, why not? He was 85 years old and was dying. What could be wrong about holding your father as he prepared to die? He melted into my embrace and said, “Oh, this feels so good. Sooo good.” It hit me how long it had been since anyone could have held him tight like that. Decades.
Rebecca took a photo of me holding him. It will forever be the image that best captures the depth of my father’s love for me, and mine for him.
Dad made the decision to cut his meds and decline IV fluids. It was the decision to leave. He refused to consider morphine, which would have made the transition easy. He chose clarity over comfort. He savored every single moment with us.
I reminded him to watch over me.
“I am always in your corner,” he said. “Remember that. I am always in your corner. Always.”
At one point I asked, “What are you going to say to Mom when you see her?”
“Betty, I’m home!” he said.
That’s what he’d always say when he would come in through the garage after a long day at work.
My phone rang at 5:45 a.m. on Tuesday and Jim told me that the nurse at Freedom Village had called and said there was a change in Dad’s condition. I jumped in the shower and rushed down to Bradenton. Over the last sixteen years, I’ve driven that route at least once a week. My car drives itself.
When I got there, I climbed in bed beside him and pulled him to me again. He was barely coherent. I thought I had several days, that it would unfold like it had for Mom.
“Daddy, I am going to be with you until the end,” I told him. “I will only leave you to eat or go to the bathroom. But, I will be here for you until the end.”
He could barely talk. He mumbled, “I love you.”
I just held Daddy and kissed his head and cherished the warmth of his skin. I must have told him I loved him at least a hundred times.
After a couple of hours, he coughed up a little blood. That happened to Mom six days before she died, so I thought I had six more days.
I looked right at him and said very firmly, “Daddy, I want you to know that you are free to go whenever you are ready. You don’t have to be strong for us. We are ready. We are prepared. We will get through this. You can leave right now, right this minute if you want. We are ready.”
Two aides came to take his vitals and were trying to figure out how to get the blood pressure cuff on over the lines still in his arms when I said, “Is he even breathing?” I put my hand on his chest. “I don’t feel him breathing,” I said. They searched for a pulse. Someone brought a stethoscope and placed it on Daddy’s heart.
Mom, Daddy is home, I thought.
I stayed with him for quite awhile, but the time came to leave. I put my head to his chest and, through my tears, said the words he’d said to us so many times.
“I love you, I care about you, I appreciate you. Sooooo much.”
I will tell you that, if you knew my father, you were loved. You were cared for. And, you were appreciated.
My heart is shattered.
But, I had this larger-than-life father for fifty-two years! And I had the strong, resilient mother who raised me to carry on, regardless.
I will miss them with every breath I take, but I am so happy for them. They are together.