Sophia. Relationships, Mentors, Role Models and Heroes

posted May 27th, 2009 by Janet Graham - Leave a Comment

I asked Sophia to tell me about the experiences in her early life which she believes had the greatest impact on her work life and career. She replied it was her parents who had the most significant impact on her work life and career. She explained that she believes that she is successful because she works very hard and she thinks she got her work ethic from her parents.

I asked her to tell me about the milestones and roadblocks in her career which stand out when she looks back and what she learned from them.

Sophia said when she graduated with her MBA in 1982, it was the time of the last major recession and prior to that time when you graduated with an MBA you got multiple job offers. In her year, half the class didn’t get a single job offer. This compares to a close friend of Sophia’s who graduated with her MBA from Dalhousie in 1980 and had five job offers. Sophia says she graduated from U of T two years later and got no job offers.

She says she started her working career thinking “what the —- have I done.” She had left a job at a CA firm to go to MBA school. She felt if she had stayed with the CA firm rather than go to MBA school, she could have been a CA by the time she graduated with her MBA. In her mind, she gave that up and went and did her MBA and came out and couldn’t get a job. She did get a job eventually at a Schedule B bank in Mississauga making $19,000 a year. She says she felt like she had “totally screwed up her life”. For Sophia, this was one of her first great lessons because she came to realize that “you never really screw up your life instead you just work through whatever it is.”

It took her a year to get a better job and she felt like she was a year behind but when she finally left her first job she discovered it didn’t really matter. She believes it was great to learn early in her career that nothing is devastating; nothing is going to impact the rest of your life. And it made her really appreciate everything that came after and despite her initial disappointment with her first placement, she says she appreciated many things at the Schedule B bank.

And then she talked about one of the good things that happened in her first job, her first mentor. Sophia says she has been really, really lucky in terms of having mentors and at the Schedule B bank the woman she worked for loved her. Sophia described her first mentor as being a real dame like a character who might appear in a movie, “nails out to here, platinum blonde hair, totally made up, smoking like a chimney and a little bit older” but this dame loved Sophia and she loved her right back. They got along great and this woman was fantastic to Sophia. Sophia says although she was stuck in Mississauga doing the small deals she was doing, her mentor was always there and always helpful, always wonderful, so despite feeling like she was in purgatory, there was a silver lining around it and that was good.

She says in terms of milestones she knows others would expect her to say making Vice President at a Schedule A Bank but she doesn’t actually feel that way. And in the end, she couldn’t think of any career milestones. It is interesting to me that a woman who has been hugely successful could not identify a single milestone in her career which I take the liberty of interpreting to mean, she didn’t celebrate her many accomplishments either. And it is my observation that many of us share this inability to acknowledge and celebrate our achievements.

I asked Sophia to tell me about the relationships in her life which she believes had the greatest impact on her life and in particular her work life and career. And again, she mentioned her mentors. She mentioned several others at various firms, at the Schedule A bank she went to after her first job in Mississauga and at the securities firm she joined after her job at the Schedule A bank. And she says, she feels that she has always had a mentor or mentors. In fact, she says every place she worked she had a mentor and she thinks that was amazingly beneficial. She says she always felt protected and respected and she always felt that she could be heard. She says feeling this way gave her a lot of confidence. And she says it made her work harder because she wanted to prove to her mentors that she was worthy of their support and attention.

A senior person at the securities firm where she worked was Sophia’s mentor for a long time. And she says she felt he was a mentor even though he was a selfish person in terms of really only caring about what was in it for him. Regardless, in what could be a challenging environment, she says she felt protected because of her relationship with him.

And she says her personal relationships during that time also impacted her career because she was involved romantically with people that she thought were very smart and so she always had sounding boards, positive sounding boards who gave her positive feedback so she never felt isolated even though she might have felt isolated in a particular situation with a client or a deal or something. And in a couple of cases, her partners were in the same business so they could understand it; they weren’t chemical engineers at Monsanto or involved in another industry.

However, she says partners who didn’t work in the business or know anything about it have also helped her a great deal even though they didn’t know the people or the personalities or the deals. In her experience, having a partner who listens to you and understands the situation and circumstances based on their ability to understand human nature and ego can also be beneficial. In essence, for Sophia having these people in her life meant she felt a little bit less like she was out there on her own.

Sophia believes her mentors and partners had a tremendous impact on her career because she thinks the whole thing is about not feeling isolated in the work environment. Also, feeling like you have someone in your corner at work allows you to really grow and flourish because these people tend to give you more and more responsibility and as a result you rise to the challenge. In fact, Sophia says she doesn’t see how you can be a success without a mentor, regardless of whether they are your intellectual equal or otherwise. Based on her observation and personal experience, she believes mentors are enormously influential in the careers of those they have relationships with and she says these relationships are often a mutually beneficial thing, where each participant draws something from the other.

I asked Sophia whether she had role models and heroes and if so, what she saw in how they behaved that she found admirable and/or influential.

She says she thinks her heroes and the people she looks up to all have similar traits which she doesn’t have which she described as the ability to really go against the grain or convention or to really be out there and not care what other people think. They are prepared to take a stand that’s difficult and shout it up to the rafters or whatever. She says her Dad, one of her heroes never cared if anybody laughed at him or made fun of him or disagreed with him. He had the courage of his convictions. He did things because they were important to him or for his family or just because it was the right thing to do and in Sophia’s mind that is rare. She says most people don’t do that. In fact, she says she doesn’t think she does it. And she says she wishes she could do that more and so she appreciates and values those traits because she thinks they are rare and she thinks they are important. In fact, she says she thinks if more people did that we’d have a better place to live.

I asked Sophia whether she sees herself as a role model, mentor, hero or leader? And she said she hoped so. She says she is not certain because she doesn’t believe you ever know your real impact on others. And she says if she was still working full time, she believes she would have a greater impact because she would be around more people and her sphere of influence would be larger. In her life today, she says it is only the people that are the very closest to her that might consider her to be a role model and she gave the example of her nieces or her partner’s nieces or younger women that know her well but she says her sphere of influence has gotten smaller. Based on my observation, I say Sophia you underestimate yourself!!!

What Strikes Me?

What makes it so difficult to acknowledge our triumphs?

Having someone in our corner allows us to feel confident and protected and as a consequence to really grow and flourish

The importance of not being isolated in your work environment

A mentor in the workplace can mean opportunities which allow us to strive to be the best we can be

The mentor relationship is often mutually beneficial

Relationships in our personal lives can offer tremendous support in terms of our work life and career; in simple terms they mean we are not isolated and on our own

What Strikes You?

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