Gone Way Too Soon

It’s been a little over a month since we celebrated the life of my aunt Jan and not a day has gone by where I haven’t thought about her. Everybody deserves an aunt Jan in their life, and I am so thankful my kids got the chance to know her. She is truly one of a kind and there will NEVER be another person like her.

“J- Mo!” is what she always called me as she hugged my neck.

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Aunt Jan and me

Sometimes people teach us things just by being themselves and sharing their generosity with others. Aunt Jan is one of those people. Below are some life lessons that I learned from her:

  • Celebrate! She was the best at throwing birthday parties and get-togethers, and these were the days before Pinterest. From the time I was a little girl I remember birthdays with my aunts, cousins, and grandparents all throughout the year at her house. I cherish the memories of tea parties, slumber parties, pinatas, carving pumpkins, bobbing for apples, hunting Easter eggs, and more. I love thinking about all the time she spent planning so that we could all be together and enjoy each other’s company.
  • Laugh often. I can still hear her laugh today, it is loud and infectious. There was never a dull moment with her around. She was always telling jokes, playing games,  picking on her boys, or playfully teasing the kids. You couldn’t help but feel lighter while being in her presence.
  • Stay Strong. She was a strong and independent woman who worked hard and wasn’t handed things in life. She was a planner and resourceful. She didn’t waste money and never asked anyone for anything. She stood up for what she believed in and she encouraged others to do so as well.
  • Create. She was always working on making something for someone else. I have things all over my house that she made and gave to me, and I immediately think of her and all her love as soon I see any of them. Every morning I see the board she painted of bunny rabbits sitting in baskets that I keep in my garage. I have bookmarks and hand towels that she cross-stitched. Wooden toy boxes she made for both Dylan and Ella, corn hole boards she painted. She spent so much time and energy creating gifts for everyone that she loved.
  • Be passionate. She was passionate about what she believed in. She was outspoken and was never too shy to let you know what was on her mind. She loved deeply and truly cared about her family, her friends, and her neighbors. She was the best story teller and always told stories about the people she cared about most. Listening to her stories with her vivid details, you would feel like you personally knew the people she was talking about and you could feel how much she loved them.
  • Accept people as they are. She didn’t judge others and never thought she was better than anyone else. She didn’t try to change people into something they weren’t. Instead, she fully embraced people and encouraged them to be their true selves.
  • Care for animals. She always had cats for as long as I can remember, and I even remember her having some ferrets at one point. She considered her pets like family and they loved her unconditionally. She deeply cared about the safety and health of all animals, which is why she went out of her way to care for them.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. She would be the first person to admit her mistakes and share the lessons she learned with others in hopes that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes she did. She would laugh at herself and poke fun at her own behavior. She knew there was no sense in worrying about something in the past, and would rather enjoy a glass of wine and talk about something else.
  • Be authentic. She knew she wasn’t perfect and never pretended to be anything she wasn’t. What you saw is what you got with her… and that was someone with the biggest heart who was always thinking of what she could do for someone else. She was genuine.
  • Time is precious. Don’t waste your time doing things that don’t make you happy. Jan surrounded herself with people that she adored and she spent her time doing things that brought joy to her soul. She was a lover of watching movies, reading books, spending quality time with family and friends, building things, enjoying the outdoors and fresh air, and helping animals thrive.
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Jan sitting on the beach with a smile on her face

I am forever grateful to have been blessed to know her fun, loving spirit. Because of her, I have cousins who feel more like siblings. My heart is broken, especially for them. She is missed terribly by everyone who ever got the chance to know her. She changed people’s lives for the better and she is gone way too soon. She left us unexpectedly at the age of 56, but she will remain in our hearts and fond memories forever.

Perception

silhouette photography of group of people jumping during golden time

Once you take that step into leadership, you accept the responsibility that other people will now depend on you. You have knowledge and experiences that people can learn from, and they will come to you at their most vulnerable times in need of your expertise. Unless, of course, you are one of those members of management that people avoid because their perception of you is that you are unapproachable.

“Perception is reality, ” they say.

Picture this: It is just another day at the office. You are slammed. You have emails to create and other emails to reply to. You have reports to run and results to trend. Your phone is ringing and associates are coming to your desk with questions. Your boss wants to know your ideas on how you are going to improve a certain metric and how you are going to strategically implement said ideas. You are being pulled in 8 different directions… but you can’t let that affect the way you treat people. Below are some simple ways to appear more approachable, even when you feel super busy:

  1. Stop what you are doing. When someone walks up to your desk, take your hands off your keyboard and mouse. That email can wait. Turn your body to them and make eye contact so that they know you are paying attention to them.
  2. Smile :). Greeting them with a smile shows them that you are kind and that you are genuinely interested in what they have to say.
  3. Be patient. Let them finish their thoughts. Don’t feel so rushed to immediately answer their question. Allowing them time to finish before you begin speaking shows them that what they have to say is important to you.
  4. Teach. Teach them where to locate the information they need so they will know how to utilize available resources to help them solve problems in the future. Have them walk you through their thought process to check for understanding.
  5. Follow up. Later on that day or the next day ask them how the situation turned out. This builds trust because that person will know that you cared enough to make sure their issue was resolved. When someone trusts that you have their best interest at heart, they will know you are someone they can count on.
  6. Get to know people. Learn people’s names and listen to their stories. Share a personal story about yourself every once in awhile so people can get to know your personality.
  7. Speak. Make eye contact and say “hello” to people in the hallway. Tell them “good morning” or ask them how they are doing. People are more likely to feel comfortable coming to you if you have taken the time to talk to them before.

Even if you are having a bad day or you just don’t feel well, remember that every interaction you have with someone is a chance to build their perception of you.  Treat everyone with respect at all times, and be aware of your facial expressions, tone of voice, and body language. Make a conscious effort to be the type of leader that associates want to follow and learn from. Be positive and supportive so that they feel empowered to treat others the same way. At every level of the organization we need others. You did not get to where you are today all by yourself. Share your knowledge and make it fun!