This week, while on vacation in South Florida, I received an e-mail from one of my managers notifying me that I needed to be present at a meeting in Florida and needed to extend my stay.
And since the high in Chicago this winter resembles the polar ice caps, I was more than happy to oblige.
It had already been an awesome stay.
I reunion-ed with my former roommates, beached it until we needed aloe, partied like it was 2007, had conversations I can’t remember, and made life plans that included first and foremost retiring on the beach (soon).
I took my vacation glow on the road, knowing that I would have little sleep over the next few days, but that seeing my co-workers would bring some necessary (and fun) team bonding.
Friday it occurred to me that I was exhausted.
Wednesday had been an 18-hour day, with dinner and drinks. Thursday’s schedule wasn’t any less busy and long and I found myself dragging my feet on my way to a large work dinner with people I largely did not know.
And then I was seated next to Mary.
Mary has had a long incredible career. The kind of career most dream of.
She’s retired now and carries herself like someone who’s lived a lot, loved a lot, seen a shit load, and my guess is made some fabulous friends. I didn’t know her 20 or 30 years ago, but I’m betting she’s now just as glamorous. Her laugh is contagious and she drinks like she knows how to indulge in life.
I felt excited to meet this incredibly accomplished woman who was appointed by three different presidents to serve overseas in a multitude of roles. Someone who has lived in more countries than I’ve probably travelled to, who’s brushed shoulders with influential policy-makers, and who somehow had time to be married for 29 years and raise five children.
I didn’t waste my chance to get to know her. I immediately notified her that I was going to ask her a thousand questions.
Lucky for me, her gregarious personality lit up. She took a sip of wine and said, “well, what do you want to know?”
I asked about her career and how she navigated from one role to another. I asked about her work for diplomats with strong personalities. I asked about choosing the right person and making a marriage work for that long.
She told me about the 10 years she spent in her first job before applying to work overseas on a whim, setting herself up for a life she couldn’t imagine. She told me about the characters she’s worked for/with and the trials and triumphs she’s managed through the years. She told me that she believes the most important thing in a relationship is integrity.
What struck me most was her honesty. She talked about her career with humor and humility and discussed her family life with passion and a tone that shed light on its importance.
I love meeting people that inspire me. I love it even more when it takes me completely by surprise.
You can find Mary’s bio here.
Here’s to unexpectedly meeting heroes.