A Humble Brag, Mentoring and Some Things I Learned From the Military

When life hands you lemons, humble brag. At least that’s what I was taught. Hey, blame the Texas State Board of Education. We’re ranked #39 in the nation, y’all! (Just be happy I can write words is what I’m trying to get across here.)

Clearly, in what is about to turn out to be the world’s worst analogy, the lemons are the pandemic. You know the one currently preventing me (fine, I suppose it’s preventing you, too) from having grand adventures and sharing them. Which in turn prevents me from having material to write about. (Aside: Really, does no one want to drive to Colorado in two weeks?!?! I have two weeks off! C’mon! We’ll have a great time. We’ll stay in a lovely Air BnB in the Rockies. You’ll remain mostly unseen and unheard so I can zen out properly in the cool mountain air, and we’ll do it together yet separately! How can you resist? Seriously? No one is on board? Bring a book. You’ll be fine.) So, back to the lemon logic trail where I offer my services as your humble, yet extremely knowledgeable guide – a Willy Wonka of lemonade adventures, if you will (please don’t drink from the stream and mind the Oompa Loompas – they’re rather fussy as it’s kind of hot outside). Basically, I’m saying that I’ve been forced to humble brag. You see that logic, right? The “if p, then q” of it all. Look, I don’t like it any more than you do. Ok, I lied, I’m the one humble bragging (or about to). So, who are we kidding here? I’m about to enjoy the heck out of it. Also, I’m kind of loving this stream-of-conscious rambling I’m doing. I wasn’t sure where I was going and suddenly, I found myself here with you. Hooray!

Story Time

Let’s start with storytime where we reach back into the past – a past where I was much shorter, thinner, arguably quieter, and much more studious.

I started tutoring/mentoring in 4th grade when I was paired with my first student – a 1st grader struggling with math. By 7th grade I had Tabitha, a fellow 7th grader, who struggled with reading comprehension. (By year’s end she had gone up from a 4th-grade level to a 7th-grade reading level. Go team us!!)

I dropped mentoring for a long while until a couple of years ago when I mentored this wonderful young 3rd grader (who grew into a wonderful young 4th grader) as part of a program to help kids who had at least one parent who was incarcerated. She was absolutely delightful, and we spent a good portion of our time together elbow deep in science projects (she had mentioned to me she wanted to be a scientist). I introduced her to the scientific method-lite – “Here’s what we’re going to do – what do you think will happen?” FYI – she was almost always correct when she’d hypothesize about an outcome, and let me just say I shouldn’t have doubted her when she sent up all sorts of warning that my water balloon project was going to fail. It actually failed so badly that a custodian had to get involved (whoops).

Each week we’d almost always had a collection of other kids around us as we worked and made gloriously fun messes. For the record, I’m now an expert on slime – I can make at least three different types (who knew there were so many), and I make the best ghetto volcano out of a paper bag, water, red dye, and a little baking soda (THE go-to kitchen ingredient for almost all at-home science projects – pro tip there).

(Complete aside: I’m suddenly wondering if “ghetto” is not ok to say anymore. Huge apologies if I just blew it.)

In looking back, I’ve always been fairly successful (humble brag) with students, and I credit my soft skills – my lightheartedness, my approachability (John, what are some other adjectives to describe my awesome? Humbleness? Humility?). I can project a certain warmth, and truly I get this from my mom’s family and from my Dad – each one of us has this to some degree, and in truth, I’m not the best of the family, but I hang in there.

Over the past few months, I’ve had an intern assigned to me at work – a young frat guy, former HS president, former all-state goalie named Elijah. A wonderful young man with a big heart, a big smile, and this wonderful staccato laugh – and very much a 20-year-old “dude.” My job, as outlined, was to get him used to working in an office environment. On day one, I explained my role, and every week thereafter we got together to talk about his projects, his challenges, and go over the best parts of his week.

Fast forward to last week, which was an awful week – just terrible in so many ways, and I received a message from John (the Tank Commander – former boss – you’ve heard about him once or twice – see two paragraphs above – oh trust me, he likes being called out – gets all giddy and tingly – yes, in that way) letting me know that Elijah was about to give his final presentation to our CIO and the entire department. I hop on the call and within minutes he’s up – grinning from ear to ear while wearing a suit (awesome – he got props for that from the CIO, too – he looked sharp – and he made his bed, too 🙂 ). I watched with my own matching goofy grin as he talked about his experience over the Summer, and then he flipped to a slide devoted just to me. Elijah smiled his big smile (he’s a charming guy) and basically gushed about how I was the most amazing person at the agency – that I was the person he could count on – that he felt comfortable coming to me for anything whether it was about work or personal issues, and that the highlight of his week was our meetings. I was so proud of our collaboration. You know that moment where you punch yourself in the shoulder and count it as a win. My team lead teased me relentlessly through our IM chats. I think it was jealousy.

The week prior I had told Elijah that I was so lucky to have had him as my intern – my mentee and that I wasn’t sure I would have paired as well with anyone else. Elijah thought about that a second and said, “No, you would have – you make people feel comfortable good – you would have done that for anyone – I’m just lucky to have had you.” Awww.

And my true humble brag, though not quite so humble, is that I am actually good at mentoring. My approach, which is fairly light-hearted, works well and I’m really proud – I’m proud of me, I’m proud of Elijah, and of all the people I’ve worked with over the years. (And thankful for my own mentors, who probably helped in there somewhere, but this isn’t about them, John. Stop trying to get praise. FYI, Elijah also did gush about John, too. John and I air high-fived in chat and then bragged about it later – in case anyone had failed to hear the praise. John is very smart, by the way – Elijah said so, AND Elijah mentioned John’s colorful analogies. Knowing John got a little concerned that Elijah would share, made that moment priceless.)

I’m going to change subjects real quick, but I’ll tie it all back in.

This is a bit of a random thought, but I put it in the title and we all know that backspace doesn’t work in titles.

I work in a field with a lot of ex-military folks, and a thing I’ve had drilled in my head is that my failure is their failure. By that I mean, if someone came to our unit and said, “Beth dropped the ball.” My team lead would get in front of me and say, “This is on me, not her” and then his boss would get in front of him and say, “This is on me, not him or her.” Then they will take all those lumps while you watch because they have failed you as a leader.

There’s absolutely nothing more horrific than seeing someone take a flogging over something you did. If you’re a normal human being, and you’ve seen that happen, and it was preventable, it will make you feel sick knowing they are standing there, barely flinching with each hit, and you caused that. Also, knowing someone will take that beating engenders loyalty. I know with absolute certainty that they will go to the mats for me, and they know I will go to the mats for them (though they would never let me). And the truth is that right now, in my current job, I don’t have a management structure, I have a command structure, and I love my leaders. It’s why I followed them to a new agency.

I also happen to know my team well enough that when they suddenly begin to embody their former ranks – transitioning from boss to “CPT” or “SFC,” I sit very quietly and attentively.

I’ve known this awhile and hadn’t realized I embraced it until this week with Elijah. I had received some feedback from some other employees that we needed to discuss and after considering his response, I found myself saying, “No, this isn’t your fault – this is our fault for not training you – it’s our job, and we let you down,” and in return Elijah said those magic words, “Beth, thank you for always having my back.”

In the broadest strokes, it’s what a mentor does. We teach, we lead by example, and we always have your back; it’s our job.

I Love Tacos

We’re two days away from National Suicide Prevention Month – a month where I stress the importance of both suicide awareness and prevention, and then hopefully convince you to support my team. However, it’s still August, and that means you get a Beth story instead. Not that the other posts won’t include a healthy dose of Beth-ness, but this one is more like a typical post – one featuring a story about me tripping along through life – you know, like I do.

I’d been wanting to volunteer for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention for awhile. I know, I know, I said this post wasn’t about that, and it’s not – just roll with it a bit. Then an opportunity finally presented itself that matched up with my schedule: Pride Austin! Fantastic, support my friends, support a great cause, and I’d get to go to a festival. All wins! Of course, I signed up. My good friend Anna hopped on board as well as her son, Adam, and we had the makings of a plan – of a fun weekend adventure. Off we went!

We arrived in the heat of the day, and when I say “heat of the day,” it’s not a polite way of saying, “Golly, it sure is hot.” I mean it was, “Let’s buy a case of water each, haul it around in a wagon that will get lighter and lighter by the minute, and still hope we don’t die of heatstroke” hot. The kind of hot where you look at syrupy drinks or snow cones and your stomach and brain chime in with a huge, “Nope!” because all of that just sounds gross. It was so hot, I heard more than one person start a sentence with, “It’s hotter than the devil’s…” (The noun and the description of the aforementioned noun changed depending on the person. Some easily fell into the “Eww, that was really specific and colorful” category, but all descriptions let you know that any Satanic body part was still not as hot as an August day in Texas.) My favorite nephew, aka friend’s son, aka Adam, immediately headed for the fan vendor where he purchased this gigantic “Clack” fan – both a brand name and a descriptor. Personally, I don’t recall ever wanting a fan from a festival as a souvenir; however, at that moment, I wanted it more than anything (other than maybe more water). Forget those sad little pieces of flimsy cardboard stapled to a stick, this thing was amazing and produced focused gale-force winds. Also, it happened to be quite stylish. The boy has taste. He became quite the accomplished aunt-fanner that day.

We had some time before our volunteer assignment, so we walked around, checked out the booths, picked up all sorts of free items – stickers, buttons, bracelets, temporary tattoos. We even scored t-shirts, towels, and sunglasses. It was fantastic! There were a ton of things to look at and buy, and that’s when I found a place selling t-shirts.

I can’t tell you much about the actual shop, I can only tell you that they had a shirt on display declaring its appreciation for tacos with a big, “I LOVE TACOS!” on the front. This made complete sense because tacos, as we all can agree, are pretty great. Who doesn’t love tacos? As a Texan, my love for them is right behind my love for my state, Molly Ivins, a field of bluebonnets, armadillos, and Shiner Bock. Ok, I’m not really a beer person, but if I’m ordering beer, I order Shiner Bock and then feel Texas proud. Corona? Oh, please. Don’t insult me with your near-Coors.

I think I may have pointed at the shirt, and whether I pointed or not, I do know I said quite loudly, “I LOVE TACOS!!” Again, because of all of those reasons (Tacos, Texas, Armadillos, etc. – keep up!).

A look of maybe what could be described as “confused alarm” went across both Anna and Adam’s faces, while I carried on about the shirt and my commitment to my adoration of tacos. Finally, one of them, then both of them tried to shut down my jubilant loud celebration of tacos and my desire to own the shirt, which really fueled the “I want to scream it from the roofs” fire. Adam implored, “Aunt Beth, stop saying that!” I feel he also may have implied I might be having a heat stroke, but nonetheless my response was a firm “No!” I mean, Tacos! LOVE ‘EM!!! I won’t be shamed for my Tex-Mex food love!!

I moved off the taco topic as we moved further away from the object of my culinary desire. I’m easily distracted.

After we finished volunteering, which went really well despite the heat, and we left behind our puddles of sweat, we went to find dinner. Nothing quite “beats the heat” like AC, fluids, and ice cream. Then we decided to do some shopping. Needless to say, in one of the stores was another shirt professing taco adoration. This one had pictures of tacos – corn shells filled with meats, cheese, lettuce, and tomatoes. I exposed it on the rack by shoving the less worthy shirts around, and made it so the logo and wording could be clearly seen, then I turned to Anna and Adam. The need to declare my taco love was rekindled. And here’s how that conversation played out. It’s not an actual transcript, because my memory isn’t that great, but it captures the spirit. It’s how I “felt” it went, so yeah… take it with a huge grain of salt, too.

Me: Look! Another shirt! I love tacos!

Anna/Adam: (synchronized exhausted sighs)

Me: You won’t repress my love now. (I’m sure I didn’t say “repressed,” but in my stories, I’m quite clever and well-spoken. In reality, I kind of just grunt and gesture emphatically to convey what I want/need.)

Anna/Adam: (more synchronized exhausted sighing combined with maybe a hint of an eye roll)

Anna: What do you think tacos are?

Me: (duh look on my face) Crunchy-shelled OR soft-tortilla goodness stuffed with lettuce, cheese, and some kind of meat.

Anna: That’s not what they mean. Where were you today?

Me: Pride.

Anna: (just waiting – giving me the look of “Go on Beth’s brain, please catch up.”)

LONG PAUSE

Me: OHHH!!! OH NO!!!! No! I don’t like tacos. I mean, tacos are fine, but umm… 

Anna then burst out laughing as she watched all of that play out across my face.

It reminded me of the time I had to explain a “beavers” reference to my aunt after visiting a Bucc-ee’s while thinking, “Your mother would not be very happy with the words coming out of your face right now.” Only I was my aunt in this scenario.

So, let me say that I do still love tacos; however, the idea of buying the shirt is now off the table. Let me also be very specific and state the kind of tacos I happen to love are the kind listed on menus in local Tex-Mex restaurants. You’re free to love tacos any way you choose, and I’ll support your taco affection. Just make sure the enjoyment of all tacos is consensual.

Anyway, now that I’ll be the butt of many jokes to come, I will say that I’m looking forward to cooler weather and Oktoberfest. I hear several events will host Sausage Fests in celebration! Probst! Cheers to Fall!

Don’t Let the Door…

I’m a Texan – 5th Generation, which puts part of my family here some 30 years after the state gained its independence – an independence hard won through the sacrifice of some of my family (if you really stretch the term “relative” and ignore some basic genealogical truths, but I digress (or I rant, one of those)).  I grew up Texan.  I will die a Texan.  And the truth is I don’t understand how not to be a Texan.  I can’t throw on your Idahoan shoes to see things through your Idahoan eyes, and in truth, as a Texan, I imagine there’s not much of a perspective there.  (And that my friends, is what it’s like being in a Texan’s brain – that pride or arrogance or that hubris, if you prefer.)

And it’s not that Texas doesn’t deeply embarrass me on occasion.  There are times now and again where I’m not actually bursting with pride.  For example, anytime Texas makes the news, I know it’s going to be cringe worthy. When Brian Williams comes out and begins with, “In Texas today…” it’s not going to be because we did something awe inspiring.  In fact, those words often herald some announcement that at best will place us barely above Arkansas or West Virginia in some awful competition for “worst” in something and at worst, well… let’s just say it can get ugly.  Then there’s those wonderful times when one of us escapes the borders to find a microphone and a national listening ear.  That’s usually time to grab a maple leaf pin and say, “what buffoons, ay?”  But by and large, despite the headlines, my Texas soul remains intact, even if it’s a bit dinged around the edges.

Plus, there can be those moments that make me proud – where we as Texans surprise even me and I can take pride that we did something better – something right:  Any time we can say, “in your face, NYC!” is a good (albeit rare) day.

Now we as Texans are all different.  We hail from different regions with distinctly different cultures. We’re not exactly a hive mind unless you’re talking about our pride.  And despite our difference, the truth is if you’re going after a Texan for a Texas thing and you’re not from here, well I’ll stand with the Texan every time.  We “get” that you don’t get it, but we’re not joking when it comes to our feelings about our state. We’re not playing. Make a light-hearted jab about our pride and you’ll hear a room go very still.  You probably know about Texans and their notorious love for football.  Well, swap out “football” for “state pride,” and you might begin to understand where we’re coming from.

We also take small (and by “small” I mean “gigantic”) exception to the idea that we’re a gigantic pack of bumpkins, especially when you talk about how great it would be to do a bumpkin study on us to measure just how deep our bucolic bumpkiness goes.  Always keep in mind, we have urban areas, too – some with more than two major streets. Many of us grew up away from livestock and have never ridden a horse. Heck, did you know we even have some of them schools fer book learnin’?  And there’s a pack of us who made it through all of the grades and have us-selves one of them fancy de-grees. I heard tell that some even have advanced de-grees from them prestigious schools that y’all are so proud of.  Our men don’t always swagger and our women aren’t always politely demure. If you want to see a Texan get all Texan on you, make the generalization that we’re all backwards idiots stuck in a 1950’s mentality.  Save that for your friends in your other state that you can’t say you’re even proud to be from.

All of this started rattling around my head recently when I was sitting outside at a local pub daydreaming (I mean, paying close attention) while some non-natives were mocking Texas in some way.  Well, my go-to reaction whenever this comes up is “leave,” but I suppose curiosity won out and well, I do like them despite their obvious poor breeding, so I listened.  The gist of it was “even when Texans take a crap, they think it’s better.” My knee-jerk reactions to that: 1) Do you kiss your out-of-state mother with that mouth? and 2) Ummm… is there a question in there? Despite the crassness, I would say we don’t “think” it’s better, without any doubt we “know” it’s better. As I thought those words, and may have even lent them a voice, I knew I believed in the truth of that statement 100%.  We have no doubt that everything is better, even when it’s not. Call it a “faith” of sorts. The conversation continued and danced around my statement being a perfect example of the sheer obnoxiousness of our state’s natives, so I had to follow with, “it’s not my fault your state didn’t raise you with any sense of pride.”  It’s not my fault that you don’t have anything to be proud about. Hell, if I came from Ohio, I wouldn’t mention it either. They don’t even have a proper flag.

I don’t know why we have that pride.  Maybe it’s all of the classes we have to take on Texas history and Texas government as we work our way through the one room school system.  Maybe it’s subliminal messages from some insidious Texas PR firm, or it could be something in the sweet tea or possibly the BBQ, but it seeps in at some point and it grows (no, it doesn’t “fester”, it “grows” – sheesh).

I saw a movie the other day depicting the door to a Navy Seal’s room who was from Texas.  On the door hung the state flag.  That one small attention to detail rang so true to me,  Texans I’ve known away from home displayed the Texas flag, wore their Texas shirts, and donned their cowboy hat as a way to let everyone know, “I’m a Texan”  We wear our pride.

It’s a way we let you know that despite its flaws and sometimes its history, we stand proud – Texas proud.  And so I’m just here to say that…

I’m a Texan, from the best state in the country! (Especially if you steer away from studies and the news and such.)  If you don’t like our state, you’re welcome to leave – ain’t nobody stoppin’ ya.  Don’t let the door…

Oh, and let’s end this with a song from a Texas boy who they just announced would be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along with his band, Double Trouble