Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Anti-Mentor

Totally off-topic:
This story isn't about me, but it begins with me.

I used to have another career. In an industry I didn't really fit into. I liked a lot of the work, but I never felt passionate about what I did, and never really felt like I fit in.

About 15 years ago, my paths crossed with Michael O'Connor Clarke. He hired me to do a job for which I had neither the experience nor the qualifications. I'm still not sure how it turned out for him, but it was terrific for me: I got some amazing experience, learned a whole load of new things, and found myself a mentor.

Michael was my mentor for a few years, helping me out as I muddled my way through, trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. And he listened to me and supported me when I went through a difficult time in my personal life.

And then at lunch a few years ago, he delivered his final and best act of mentorship: he told me to go away. We both knew that I was unhappy and hadn't really found my place in the tech world, but I didn't have the courage to get out.

He didn't want to be my mentor anymore because he didn't want me to be in the position of needing his help. He didn't want me to be in his industry anymore.

I'm not, and I'm happier and more fulfilled professionally than I ever was in my previous career. And Michael gets credit for helping me make that jump. I'll forever be grateful to him for that.

It was with shock and sadness that I learned yesterday of his illness. Michael has been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, a very aggressive and difficult to treat cancer. I'm still processing this, I'll be honest. There is a call for support that has been organized by his friends and colleagues.

And old and very dear friend lost his father to brain cancer recently, too. I just don't know what to say.

Actually, I take that back. I do know what to say: Fuck cancer.


Kathy N said...

AS someone recovering from cancer, I love this post. I hope your dear friend beats his cancer. And I agree, Fuck Cancer !!!

Bonnie said...

Fuck cancer indeed. I'm sending good vibes toward Michael.

cookalotje said...

My Dad died of cancer a year ago. It is one of the most unfair diseases I know. Michael needs his friends to stand by him so he can battle this disease. All the best and stay positive. Hugs!

Alexa Clark said...

I had no idea you were connected to Michael too. It's a tiny world for such a big influence.

curlysheep said...

I'm so sorry to hear about your friend and former mentor's diagnosis. It's always a shock to hear about someone having cancer...especially at such a young age. My friend and colleague died 7 months ago of cancer--she was only 34. Your friend will be in my thoughts as he battles this disease.

hpercy said...

Kate, I went looking for you today because of our mutual connections with @MOCC. I found lots of Kate's for knitting, but kept digging for tech. Then I read your blog. Wow! My path has such parallels with yours, except that I didn't give him a chance to send me packing from tech ;-) I muddled off on my own. What a wonderful influence he's had on us both, and on so many. Like you - I'm finding this very hard to accept.

Lisa Reed said...

It is truly a SMALL world. So nice to read this post and yes Michael is our connection to each other! We must catch up and have a drink one of these days!

michaelo said...

You have no idea how much this post means to me, Kate. Really.

Towards the end of the PC DOCS era, I'd come to realise that you, me and a whole bunch of the other people around us were just a ragtag assortment of misfit toys trapped on entirely the wrong island.

It sounds a bit grandiose to call this an epiphany or a mission, but I know I became determined to try to spin us all out of there one way or another. It was like we'd come unstuck in our time, some how, and we needed to figure out what we really wanted to be when we grew up.

I didn't want to be a big tech company exec any more than you wanted to be a product marketing wonk. We just didn't know how to let go of the little we thought we knew.

And yet look at us now! I think you've escaped more cleanly and fully than any of us - and I love that about you. But I've escaped too.

I can honestly say, for the very first time in my life, that I truly love my job these days (and they seem to love me); and the main reason is that the "version" of me they see at the office is pretty much exactly the same as the "version" of me I am when at home or with friends. It's so much more comfortable, more rewarding, and more enjoyable when there's no real transition between workfella and homefella.

So thanks for writing this, Kate. You help validate what I was already thinking. Now all I gotta do is beat this sodding cancer so that I can get back to doing my newfound lovething.

Lisa Collins said...

Kate great to find you online. I have just read Michael's comment and so agree with finding the real love. I wanted to get into real estate before I got into technology and it took me 7 years in tech to get out.