Before becoming a freelance editor, I worked in grant development for over 15 years at our school district. I was a nonprofit girl previously, a child advocate on an altruistic, fight-the-power perch. I’d never navigated a government bureaucracy from the inside. I honestly thought I’d do the new job for 2, maybe 3, years tops.
I actually told my manager that very thing. Wet behind the ears, I declared, “Mrs. Newman (I hadn’t started calling her Carol yet), I’ll probably be here only a couple of years. I’m a nonprofit girl. You know, working from the outside?”
And Carol – who quickly became my true friend and mentor – smiled and simply replied, “We’ll see, my dear. We’ll see.”
Almost 9 years later, I was still working with Carol.
Carol often said that we were joined at the hip, and we were. We clicked. Co-workers usually found us in her office, heads leaning toward the computer screen, producing work together. And having a whole lot of fun in the process.
She – a petite teacher-at-heart, who believed in the best in people. She taught me Yiddish words like mishegas (which I still use when life is bonkers), cooked like a champ (and “from the jump,” as my Granny Sykes would say), and fought like a mama bear to ensure our highest quality work.
I – an equally petite child-advocate-at-heart, who also believes in the best in people. I taught Carol family phrases that she used regularly, couldn’t cook much when we met (Granny Sykes just shook her head), and loved her insistence on highest quality work.
When she decided to retire, Carol strongly recommended that leadership hire me as the next director. But, I was perfectly content being a team member – zero interest in leadership. I, the introvert, loathed the idea of having to be in the limelight – a necessary aspect of management. “Ugh!,” I’d protest. And she’d laugh, replying through smiles, “We’ll see, my dear. We’ll see.”
At times, she’d get serious. “Karin,” she began, “just do it. You’re already managing things when I’m out of the office. You’re a natural.” My response? “Yeah, yeah. Thanks. But that doesn’t mean I like it.”
See, more than once, the bureaucratic nature of the work would get to me. Folks might refuse to collaborate across departments. Or a decision would take what felt like 100 years because of required procedures. Those were among the moments the red tape became too thick for my palette.
And it ticked me off.
I’d rant to Carol, who listened patiently. I whined to her, and she’d nod her head, understanding my frustration. I’d suck my teeth, completely annoyed.
And most often, she would say, “Karin, life is with people.”
Uh, come again?!?
The first time she used that phrase on me, I was stunned. Mostly because I didn’t understand her point.
It seemed like such an obvious statement, a no-brainer that would make a person think, “Duuuh!”and skip right by it.
But, over time, I caught on. Carol’s little phrase packed a punch. And not a baby kangaroo-sized punch, either. More like Mike Tyson power.
Her words reminded me that we can grow on our own, but we grow way more in relationship with others. When we interact with others, we can learn so much about ourselves. The folks we encounter on our life’s journey – whether for a moment or for a lifetime – all have a purpose.
Perhaps to challenge our thinking and strengthen our weaknesses.
To help us practice patience, forgiveness and courage until they become habits.
To learn the importance of acceptance and of letting go.
To stretch and to grow us, from the inside out.
I landed the management job after Carol retired. Stayed in the role for about 7 years, leading an incredible team. And I’m so thankful they didn’t jump ship each time I screwed up because I resisted that Life Is With People. When our tiny team was barraged with deadlines, I’d avoid burdening them further by editing my own work. Of course, they would have been happy to help edit if asked. But, the introverted perfectionist in me would surface. The all-too human-me would run ahead, alone, “just to get it done.” The usual result? A couple of typos and frustration with myself.
On the contrary, some of my best memories are when team members sat with me to edit my work. I was in heaven, so grateful for their time and expertise. Plus, we’d always find something that tickled our funny bones in the process. Those moments showed me that working with others is way more effective. And, as my children said as preschoolers, it’s way “more funner.”
Life really does tend to bring us what we need most, and it’s usually in the form of our relationships with others. So, whether we’re introverts who prefer our own company, or extroverts who charge forward like The Lone Ranger at times, let’s embrace Carol’s wisdom: Life is with people. The good, the bad, the easy and the hard parts of us all. And, together, we can grow so much more rather than navigating life alone.
Besides, life’s way more funner together.
How do you know that Life Is With People? Share your comments below.