In the spirit of “keep(ing) it real’ (one of the Rules in “@Sophie Takes a #Selfie”), and because I am a dedicated non-stop, always-thinking kind of person, I thought I would share a bit of self-reflection on past mistakes which has everything to do with the way this little book took shape. It struck me, startlingly, that some of the biggest messages I am attempting to convey are the direct result of lessons learned during a specific five year period of time between 1993 – 1998. Some were tough, but I am grateful for a million reasons (which I will not bore you with here), but mostly because I have not forgotten.
In the book I write about how I feel it is important for parents and/or adults with any kind of influence over young people to have open and honest discussions about future colleges, bosses, roommates, etc., who are more likely to Google a name first and ask questions later. I talk about “keep(ing) it classy” with references to Audrey Hepburn and My Fair Lady, and ask readers to sharpen their listening skills. The lessons I am referring to revolve around these three things. Let me again take a moment to thank the techno-gods that social media was not alive when I was twenty-five.
In 1998 I was the Executive Assistant to the brilliant (now billionaire), Jack Dangermond, Founder and President of a private software developing and manufacturing company, ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute) headquartered in Redlands, CA. It was one of the best, most challenging jobs I’ve ever had (note: super brilliant guys sometimes throw pencils and yell a lot). It is the gold star on my resume. It was where I honed my connecting and communication skills with people from all over the world, helping them and my co-workers extract the answers they wanted from a man who was often difficult to get answers from- a man who had his own, unique style of communication which involved a lot of pencil scrawled messages and boxes for checking ‘yes’ or ‘no’ to the various questions.
1998. It was a big year. The Bill and Monica scandal was in full cringe-worthy swing, I bought my first house, was slightly distraught about turning thirty…and then I got fired. Note: The firing part was the most shocking, embarrassing, humiliating, heart-wrenching experience of my entire work-life- like a blindside on Survivor. It was also a lot of my own fault (to be clear, I said ‘a lot’ not totally). This is on my look-back list of worst-best-things-that-could-have-ever-happened-to-me kind of thing you hear people talk about, like after they’ve gone to jail. I feel very fortunate to have never gone to jail.
I promise to get to the point – I like to paint a picture, you know? Hemingway, I will never be.
I was hired at ESRI in 1993 as a temp and was fortunate to work along side a woman named Karen who became a dear friend, surrogate mom and mentor to me. Lord knows what I might have been talking about the day she asked, “Jennifer, have you ever seen the movie My Fair Lady?”, and I replied, “No, I haven’t.”, but I am sure it was not appropriate “corporate office” talk. When my three month evaluation ended and my status officially changed to permanent, Karen took us out for a celebratory dinner and presented me with a VHS tape of My Fair Lady. I watched it twice and from then on “My Fair Lady” was code in our office for zip it. Clearly, this made an impression on me.
Another profound memory I have of those days is attending a communications workshop that had been organized for the company. I wound up sitting nervously next to Jack during a “listening for” exercise which required us to look each other in the eyes and compliment one another- the recipient not allowed to say anything, just listen- for one full minute each. It was a really long two minutes. I had heard the tale of the “beady blues”, Jack’s eyes which, once locked on yours were like a powerful Jedi mind trick truth serum able to extract information that you don’t mean to give, but which just pours out of you. Jack knows how to listen… but he’s thinking light years ahead. The lessons from that workshop have stayed with me.
Today, it is more important than ever for me to be truly present when I am with family and friends – not half-listening while looking at my phone. I believe the ‘do unto others’ philosophy also applies to listening – we could all make a better effort to ‘listen unto others’.
So, in addition to the obvious, I hope the underlying messages of “@Sophie” will encourage people to embrace and enjoy today’s technology, while incorporating a few good, old-fashioned values.
Looking forward to announcing the availability of the print version of the book this week!
Thanks for stopping by,