To my children, this is not news. I’m the older generation and they don’t hesitate to remind me.
This hit hard when I recently lost a friend who was in her early 90’s. Sandwiched in age between my parents (who would be in the triple digits now) and my own (late 60’s), she always seemed ageless. Mary Ann was someone you’d want your children to work with and be mentored by. She loved youth, had the most infectious laugh, and always lent a little bit of mischief to every encounter.
We met when I worked in Washington, D.C. She not only included me in gatherings that exposed me to people I needed to know --- she introduced me and made me look smarter than I felt. She challenged and encouraged me and we had a great run together. When we’d meet at one another’s offices, we’d close the doors, put our feet up, drink our Diet Cokes, and joke about how we wished it was wine while we talked about how to solve problems or stir the pot a bit.
Thinking about Mary Ann got me wondering who my children’s mentors and influencers are and if they have Mary Anns in their lives. As a single parent, I tried to be a Mary Ann to my sons, but parents aren't equipped to be the only Mary Anns in our children's lives. We have too much invested, lack objectivity, and our children benefit from the experience of finding their own Mary Anns.
We need a Mary Ann or two to bounce things off of, to tell us when we’ve mis stepped, and help us find the next steps. Mary Anns give us encouragement without strings attached.
Mary Anns are pollinators. They spread their knowledge widely, seemingly effortlessly, and with gusto. They encourage us to gain experience and discourage taking the easy way. They know that without hard work you are denied growth opportunities. Mary Anns remind you that spending more time talking than listening ensures you’ll miss something and that recognizing the contributions of others makes you look like a star.
Mary Anns also want you to strive to take their jobs someday – when you deserve it. Mary Anns challenge others to do more, by being great examples and pushing those with potential to do the hard stuff.
More of us older generation people need to keep being Mary Anns because the younger ones really need us now. There is just no way that the skills of a Mary Ann can be obtained from a website, working from home, or by watching YouTube videos. Humor and grace, exemplified by a Mary Ann, are impossible to learn without seeing her in action.
I’m fortunate to still be surrounded by Mary Anns who continue to educate me. Some are older, and some younger, but all care about others, help them learn by showing and letting them do (and sometimes fail), and never take anything or anyone for granted. Perhaps most importantly, my Mary Anns show me when I have made a mistake or need to step back and cool off before taking the next step.
Mary Anns remind us that we never stop learning from others and always need them, even after they've gone on to heaven. They count on us to keep up the pollinating.