Something I aspire to be.
Last week I went to my stepfather Al’s memorial. Al, almost 94 when he died, was a lifelong academic and my mother planned a funeral with speakers who could talk about that realm of his life.
All three speakers shared how intellectually generous Al had been. A former Ph.D. student talked about how Al never put his name on abstracts that she submitted even though he was supervising her experiments. “I didn’t do much work on these,” he’d say, “you did.” Another colleague recalled how much integrity Al had in his work. He didn’t chase multiple grants if he just needed one.
A few days after I got home we had a staff meeting welcoming a new staff member. I planned an exercise, “flash bonding” that my friend Kate invented. I cut up little slips of paper with questions about our life history and put them into bowls. Then, in pairs, we answered different questions about our lives for three minutes then switched to another person.
One of my partner's questions to me was, “what do you want to be remembered for?” I shared about my recent time at Al’s memorial and how struck I was by the memories of his generosity. “I don’t know if I am generous,” I said, “but I want to be. I want to be remembered that way.”
The next day, I attended the second part of a two-day training called Leadership for Leads. All of us are in leadership roles and the two-day workshop was meant to help us find our grounding in our positions. When asked about our definitions of leadership one participant said, “being a good leader is helping others rise through the ranks, even if they rise above you.” The facilitator invited us all to think about that idea. Would I be that generous? I had to think about it; it was hard to imagine what that would look like in my current role.
Yesterday afternoon I introduced our new staff person to their role as lead of an intergenerational writing program I started. I hired them to take my place so that I had time to support the other programs I manage. This new hire, literally half my age, was amazing. They were natural, capable, likable, and creative. I thought I would have to handhold them for a few months, but after seeing them in action I think I can set them free to lead on their own in a few weeks.
It was a great feeling to go to sleep last night and know that this program I love will be in good hands. I could step away now and support this young person to learn and grow and develop both the program and their skills. This morning I wrote an email to them sharing how well I thought they’d done and scheduled a meeting for debriefing and planning the next steps.
I have a feeling they are going to grow this program, take it places I might not have thought to take it and I look forward to watching this process unfold. I’m 53 years old. I’ve had a long, full, professional life. The person taking on the program is 24, at the very beginning of their career. It feels right to sit on the sidelines and cheer them on. I wonder if that’s what Al’s student was feeling when she described him as “intellectually generous.” I really hope so.