When’s the last time you checked in with a former boss?

Sadly this year, I’ve lost not one but two former bosses: Linda and Bruce. Looking back, I’ve had some incredible leaders who breathed life into my career, and I have more than one “favorite” boss. I think it’s because one of my strengths is Individualization (Clifton Strengthsfinder test). So I can easily pinpoint admirable qualities from each boss I’ve had that I choose to take on as my own.

I’m completely heartbroken for these families. They each lost two truly dedicated and gifted people. On a personal level, I’m sad because I hadn’t made contact with these two in years. And folks, this is my thing. I’m proud of the fact that I speak my mind and readily share appreciation when the mood strikes. I can dig deep and vulnerably share how much the person impacted me. I’d even thought of these two earlier this year, when I got that little familiar itch at the back of my mind saying, Say hi, check in, see how they’re doing. Share how your career is going and how much you appreciate that they helped get you there. But then the phone rang, the dog barked, the family sent a funny group text, and SQUIRREL, I forgot all about it. Big, heavy sigh.

I want to make amends, somehow. I’m not trying to beat myself up here – I’m human after all – and any friend would tell me that in spite of our intentions, this happens to the best of us. But I want to hold myself accountable for letting life (work, ironically) get away from me and ignoring that tiny yet mighty voice – my inner conscience, my God – telling me to slow down and not forget about people. With all the strife, division, sickness, loss, and chaos that the pandemic has brought, the one thing that I appreciated most was that it forced me to slow down in the early days of quarantine.

So in a small act of honor, I’ve decided to write to each former boss, even the ones I lost. If anything, their families should know how impactful they were outside of the home. For the ones still alive, this is my calling to send them a note of encouragement. I trust God’s timing on this one, and I trust that the recipients of my letters will be exactly who and exactly when He wants.

Dear Linda,

You hired me for my first “real” job. I can never forget you. You were a tireless powerhouse and taught me more about business development in 9 months than I could have ever learned in 9 years. You knew exactly how to coach me from writing section of resumes to whole proposals. I always loved laughing in the office with you, whether it was about your dogs (Einstein and Sport), or my 4″ heels – ballerina shoes! – that I gave up years ago, or sharing stories of Colorado and our common alma mater.

I will never forget when you wrote me a letter of recommendation for grad school, printed it out, and told me to save it for a hard day on the job a decade later. I still have that letter. In it, you spoke life into a shy girl who has turned into a confident construction manager. You believed in me before I believed in myself as an engineer. And you taught me how important it was to have a confidante, a network of women, and an ally on the job to build a foundation outside of my resume.

After my internship, you helped me get a job where I wanted to live, even though you believed in me enough to tell me I could move anywhere and be on the fast track to project management. If it weren’t for you, I wouldn’t have gotten my first job at a stable company when the recession hit in the Fall of 2008. No one would hire me, but you opened a door in a bleak time that jumpstarted my career, when it could’ve been otherwise delayed or nonexistent.

I’ll always remember your tenacity, dedication, intelligence, quick wit, and capacity for excellence in the industry. I know I share the memory of your legacy with many others that you lifted up, too. You were taken too soon and will be so missed in this life.

Dear Bruce,

You hired me at a pivotal point in my career when I almost gave up on engineering. I didn’t share this with you, but the manager I had before you gave me serious doubts in my abilities and my purpose. Had you not hired me into your small group, I would not be where I am today. I know that coming into your group, I didn’t have the specific technical skills you were looking for. But you saw potential and drive in me and chose to see that the rest could be taught.

I will never forget when a few months after I started working with you, you looked me dead in the eye and said, “You could run this group one day.” You were so clear and confident, and while those plans did not come to fruition, you left a mark on me. I think of your statement often when I feel overwhelmed or incapable as a new manager on a multi-million dollar project right now.

You gave the best life advice to us. The one I remember most is when you told us that the only free time we had for ourselves was early in the morning, over lunch, or late at night. That’s it. And we should use those moments wisely to rest or exercise or grow, while the remaining hours were dedicated to others: work, family, “adulting”, etc. But you made sure we had FUN at work, too. Coming from larger companies who thought pizza lunch every 6 months was sufficient to express employee appreciation, we all felt spoiled after you stocked the kitchen with cabinets full of snacks, took us on an afternoon off for bowling, or treated us to an epic Italian dinner with management at Barolo’s Italian.

My time working with you was too short, and giving you my resignation letter after 9 months was one of the toughest career decisions I’ve made. I appreciated your heart-wrenching honesty when you asked me to give you more time to grow the group and build up your portfolio. Looking back, I don’t regret my decision to go to a “right now” opportunity at a new company, but it’s one of those times when I wish I could’ve had it both ways. You were sincere, sharp, wise, caring, and intentional. I know your legacy will be cherished by many, many engineers you impacted along with me.

Now it’s your turn. Shared or silent answers always welcome. When’s the last time you checked in with a former boss?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s