Updated: Jan 29, 2021
I woke up with the song People by Barbra Streisand in my head, and it inspired me to write about an influential group of people in my life.
I was born in a very small town on the island of Jamaica. It will always have a very special place in my heart. We are a vibrant, colorful people with a certain musicality in our style of speech and how we move and groove and as a young child I was socialized to the fact that “it takes a village" to raise a child. My mom, like other parents in our town, looked to neighbors to watch out for us kids while they worked.
I have benefited from a host of powerful mentoring relationships throughout my childhood and my professional career. Some were up close and personal while others were from afar. As I reflected on these defining relationships I immediately thought of going back to where it all started for me with one of the very first encounters with informal mentoring which undoubtedly helped mold the person I am today.
I was fresh out of high school and my parents could not afford to send me to college right out of high school but they made darn sure I got a job. I interviewed with Myrtle Dwyer, Assistant Manager at the The Half Moon Club and landed a job as a Front Desk agent in the resort town of Montego Bay. This was my first job and I had no idea how hard the work was to be. It was here that I first understood the deeper meaning of “people needing people” and the power of having people invest in you. Here is where my destiny began to be written.
I soon was introduced to the larger than life Heinz Simonitsch, then Managing Director of the hotel, and one of the most respected hoteliers on the island, and with whom I was going to have many face to face conversations and phone calls. These interactions ranged from planning for a VIP guest visit to me being held to account for why there was trash on the golf course. I was perplexed at the time wondering why I would have knowledge about the trash on the golf course. Heinz was known to be an early riser and he would ride his scooter around the 300-acre property to see if everything was in its place. I learned from that behavior to "inspect what you expect". An "aha" moment for me which served me well throughout my career. My curiosity and desire to constantly test the status quo gave me a lot of face time with both these leaders, and, in an organic way, they became my teachers and advisors.
Heinz, the larger than life visionary, connector and developer of people, and Ms. Dwyer, in whom he had a great partner, were superb at their craft. Ms. Dwyer was the diplomatic people person gifted at building relationships with employees in a way that allowed her to dole out tough assignments, stretching me beyond where I thought I could go. And, she was quick to hold me accountable when I messed up. Of all her personality traits the most powerful was how she made herself available as a compassionate sounding board during the times that my teenage self was about to fall off a cliff. That's when I knew I wanted to be like her.
In my first year of work I never thought for a moment that this would be my career of choice, I was simply in a place that I enjoyed and which gave me the opportunity to embrace a world I hadn’t dreamed about. I signed up for free German language classes offered to all interested employees. At the time it was purely to help me converse with the high volume of German guests. However I would soon realize just how fortuitous that decision was to have been.
Ending up in Hotel and Tourism was more luck than design. My life changed all of a sudden when I received a full scholarship to study Hotel and Tourism Management in Germany. Myrtle and Heinz encouraged me to apply for a scholarship to study abroad. These two leaders saw my potential and gave me the necessary push to take action. Off I went on a new journey, in a new land, with a new language, far away from family and friends. A huge leap of faith and an experience that transformed me in many ways. Living and studying abroad were some of the best years of my life, expanding my worldview and broadening my cultural awareness. My love affair with travel and discovery came from this once in a lifetime experience and in hindsight this too was a defining mentoring experience.
And so with the song in my head I was reminded of how much we all need people. I have done a lot of trendy things while "sheltering in place" during COVID19 but the most meaningful has been reaching out to family, friends and mentors to check-in on how they are doing, to share stories, seek encouragement and validation that how I am behaving is okay. This time is important to me as I am accustomed to making myself super busy with work and now I have no reason not to get on the connect and reconnect.
My sincere thanks to all my mentors for whom I am eternally grateful, and to whom I continue to look for support and guidance. During this abundance of time, where we are a bit anxious and possibly fearful, I encourage you to reach out to a mentor. And if you don't already have one, start with someone you know and admire. It surely helps to have a touchstone, someone (or multiple persons) who one can turn to in search of solace, guidance and validation. No need to start with an ask, no pressure. Have a virtual coffee and chat and see how things evolve. Spending quality time with people is more valuable than money. Time is the greatest gift of all.