Warning: This is not my typical blog post. It has nothing to do with databases, nor IT, nor even technology. However, it has everything to do with you, with your career, and with your success. I’ve decided to turn this exercise into a public blog post, but it is a deeply personal, raw blog post. I don’t expect others to share their thoughts publicly, but I encourage everyone to take some time and do this same exercise privately.
I’m writing this blog post on my flight home from SQLGLA…I was planning on writing about that experience, but before I pulled out my laptop, I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, a documentary about Fred Rogers. If you grew up in the US or Canada, you grew up watching Mr Roger’s Neighborhood. If you don’t know who Fred is, take a moment to watch a scene or two on YouTube. Today (Tomorrow by the time this posts) also happens to be Fred Roger’s birthday–March 20, 1928.
The documentary ends with a very interesting, and very poignant moment: Fred is speaking at a university commencement, and he says this to the graduates:
“From the time you were very little, you have had people who smiled you into smiling, people who have talked you into talking, sung you into singing, loved you into loving…Lets just take some time to think of those extra special people. Some of them might be right here. Some may be far away. Some may even be in heaven. No matter where they are, deep down, you know they have always wanted what is best for you. They have always cared about you beyond measure, and have encouraged you to be true to the best within you.”
Let’s think about that for one minute. I’m going to time you.
There are many people that come to mind. For me, there are people in the SQL Server community, there are friends, there are family members, and even people I don’t know personally, like Fred Rogers. Today though, I am going to share something about a different Fred.
Brother Fred Eid
I attended Malden Catholic High School (MC), in Malden, MA, USA. There, I met Brother Fred Eid (pronounced “eyed”). Fred’s impact on shaping who I am may be greater than any other single person–even my parents.
I had Brother Eid for two years of math class: Geometry, and Calculus. Fred was also the faculty advisor for the intramural & interscholastic math leagues (yes, we had enough math geeks to have an intramural math league, and yes, I was a team captain). Fred was the faculty advisor for the school newspaper (I was Layout Editor). Fred was a true hacker, having established and maintained a Mac computer lab before the school had an official budget for a computer lab. Fred was also an artist in nearly every way possible–drawing, painting, sculpting, and he was a badass guitarist.
Its rare that anyone truly excels in so many different areas. Theologian, mathematician, writer, artist, musician…oh, and he was an athlete, too. Even at my physical peak, 40-something Brother Fred could run circles around me. He is likely the only true polymath that I’ve ever met.
Brother Eid, teacher
In high school, we called him Brother Eid. As a teacher, he pushed us hard, but also nurtured us. He was focused on ensuring we learned what we needed to learn, and went out of his way to be fair. He treated us like adults when we were capable of it, and he taught us how to be adults when we weren’t capable. It was clear that he loved every student that came through his classroom, and was passionate about helping us learn, and giving us the tools to go out into the world and make it a better place.
On the newspaper, Brother Eid was a savage editor. I recall one day when he wrote in frustration on one submission, using his distinctive green Bic pen, “CRAP. Stop writing in clichés and platitudes.” Brother Eid was also a nurturing teacher. That same day, he apologized for being so blunt, and explained why he was so frustrated and how to make it better. His frustration was rooted in disappointment that the author was not writing to the best of his ability. It wasn’t my article submission, but the moment stuck with me.
When I am speaking at a conference, doing a webinar, or writing a blog post, I go into “teacher mode”– a mode that is 100% inspired by Brother Eid. My goal is to give people the tools they need to go out and make things better. I’m often just helping people improve their databases or their career, not necessarily heady topics. But Brother Eid taught me the importance of teaching, and instilled in me an approach that aspires to treat people fairly, recognize their accomplishment with praise & respect, while also recognizing weakness with encouragement and assistance.
Brother Fred, mentor
After graduating high school, I kept in touch with Brother Eid, and switched to using his first name: he was now Brother Fred.
I came out as gay to Brother Fred before I came out to some of my friends & family. I talked to him about my volunteering for organizations that promoted gay rights & marriage equality. Brother Fred was genuinely interested, and genuinely supportive–despite the fact that as a Xaverian Brother, marriage equality was at odds with the official stance of the church & brotherhood. He approached me to write an editorial for the school newspaper in support of marriage equality. He couldn’t find any students willing to take that position, and he felt it was too important of a position for the school newspaper to remain silent.
When I chose to drop out of school, Brother Fred laughed heartily. It was not the reaction I was expecting. “Andy,” he said, “When you walked into my classroom for the first time, you had the worst case of senioritis I’ve ever seen. I didn’t think you’d make it through high school. Every day you showed up was a pleasant surprise to me.” Fred encouraged me to use my knowledge, and my gift to be successful, college or not.
Fred’s encouragement went a long way. When I dropped out, it wasn’t because I had a plan–I just knew university wasn’t right for me. Eventually, I landed a job at a software company. I started to learn about databases. I studied hard, and learned new things that I might not have learned in a classroom.
In 2004, I went to visit Fred in his classroom. That day, Brother Fred told me he was leaving the Brotherhood. He was no longer going to be Brother Fred–at the end of the school year, he would just be Fred. Most of the faculty didn’t yet know he was leaving, so it was still hush-hush. I was just a 21 year old kid, but Fred and I had a surprisingly frank discussion about why he was leaving and what he was going to do with his life.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the tables had turned. Fred had “come out” to me, and was “dropping out” of the Xaverian Brothers. I had the opportunity to support Fred in his decision, and encourage him to use his knowledge, and his gift of teaching to continue on outside the Brotherhood. I like to think Fred found my advice to be particularly sage, because it was his own advice being given back to him.
Soon after leaving MC & the Xaverian Brothers, Fred met and married Kathleen, the love of his life. Sadly, soon after, he was diagnosed with cancer. In 2007, he passed away. The massive crowd at his funeral proved just how many lives Fred had touched over his 37 years as an educator, and as a mentor.
Fred Eid was truly one of those extra special people that Fred Rogers is talking about. Fred Eid smiled us into smiling, talked us into talking, sung us into singing, and loved us into loving.
Extra special people help our careers
The things we learn from these “extra special people” can truly help us do well in life–both professionally and personally. They teach us to be tolerant, and patient. They teach us how to deal with situations when we aren’t tolerant and patient. They teach us to be driven, and to succeed. They teach us to be role models as well.
Most importantly, they help us find our passion. They encourage us to follow that passion. Sometimes, they might even help rope us back to reality when our passion leads us astray.
My challenge for you
Set aside some alone time, and think about that quote from Fred Rogers at the top of this article. Who are the extra special people in your life? Think about what made them special. Think about how they have inspired you and encouraged you. What can you do to better live up to the lessons they have taught you? What can you do to ensure you’re being a role model to others?
If you can, thank them for being extra special. Then, go try to be extra special for someone else.