Shortly after starting graduate school, my father passed unexpectedly. Now, it was just my mother and me. Always loving unconditionally, my mother encouraged me to return and finish grad school even though it would have been easier for her if I returned home. You see my mother found herself, at 64 years of age, having to learn how to do all the things that my father had always done for her. As an only child, my mother and I had a special bond. Wanting to be close enough to her so that I could assist when needed, but not so close that she would transfer her dependence from my father to me became my priority. Upon graduation, I decided to seek employment nearby but not in my hometown. As it turned out, just the right opportunity presented itself in a community three hours away. The interview sealed it for me. I liked the man who would become my supervisor. There would be a diversity of clients providing me with diverse experiences, and an opportunity to put into practice my new knowledge. I loved that I would have an opportunity to build a program and collaborate with a variety of partners. So without hesitation I accepted the position. In my eagerness to be near my mother and find a professionally rewarding experience, I neglected to examine the location of the job and made assumptions which later proved to be all wrong.
Upon returning to start the job, to my surprise I found that my graduate school was larger than the community where I was now residing. The weekend sports excitement was the rivalry football game between the two local high schools. What a shock given my previous rivalry football games had been between Michigan State and the University of Michigan with over 100,000 fans and the “Big 10” experience. There were few young professionals and limited activities or events for me to participate. Initially I spent most of my weekends headed to my hometown. My college friends didn’t think I would last more than a year. But it turned out I was there for three. They would ask, “Why are you still in that small community?” It boiled down to the fact that being a “big fish” in a “small pond” had its benefits.
Being a progressive young professional in the community landed me as a regular talk show guest on the local radio show- gaining experience in media presence. My program at work grew in size, requiring more staff to be hired. At the beginning of my 2nd year, I was now the supervisor and with a new title “Head Speech-Language Pathologist”- gaining experience in managing others. Raising funds was key to our organization’s success and so I learned how to create partnerships and implement fundraising events. This particular part of the state was often left out of major state-wide appointments and activities because it was difficult to find people who met the requirements to serve. The Governor was being pressured to appoint someone just at a time when I was doing some work and had expertise in the particular appointment area. I landed the Governor’s appointment, joined the state commission and expanded my network. By winning the local beauty pageant, I ended up competing at the state level for Miss Black Georgia (became the first runner up) and the first African American from this location to compete in the Miss Georgia pageant.
Most importantly, I learned the value of relationships.
Whether it was the lady who provided me a room and opened her home to me until I could find an apartment; an old family friend who within hours found an apartment when things went awry with my initial contract; the young woman who reached out in the hallway of my office building to welcome me to the community and became my friend (she still remains a friend today and was among the first to host a “Be Your B.E.S.T.” book signing); the supervisor who treated me like a family member and was there to celebrate my marriage “at last”; and the many patients and their family members who made me an extension of their family who taught the importance of family in my professional work. This small place contributed so many invaluable experiences that influenced who I am today.
When I reflect back to these days, I am grateful that I didn’t give up on the place because of its size because it presented “big” opportunities! Remember your environment does play an integral role in you “being your B.E.S.T.”
Your B.E.S.T. thoughts and something to chat about….
How has your environment shaped you?
What about your environment has helped you to be your B.E.S.T.?
How does size of your space impact you?