Search icon Looking for something?

Because of You
2008, Q2 (September 25, 2008)
By Ann-Marie Grissino, Carolina Chapter Associate Fellow

Note from Editor: The following text is excerpted from a speech that Ann-Marie gave at the STC Carolina 2007-08 Awards Banquet in February 2008. The text is intended to be spoken rather than read and as such, the language is informal.

Ann-Marie Grissino
Ann-Marie Grissino
Usually at the Awards Banquet, I show you scores and statistics. Instead, tonight I’m going to tell you a story. I’m going to talk about surrounding yourself with mentors and with people who believe in you.

I have met and learned from so many people, but tonight I’ll talk about four mentors in my life.
I started out as a Documentation Specialist for Wang Labs. It’s there that I met my husband to be, Hank. He was training some people on a new process and I was going to be the next trainee in a series of people who couldn’t really do the job effectively. I bounced down the hallway in my usual excited mode — excited for the new opportunity, can’t-wait-to-do-this attitude. He looked over a cubicle wall to see me coming towards him and thought — oh, no. Not another one.

We worked together as a team and soon found out that we enjoyed the challenges of figuring something out. It was surely exciting for me. And, maybe it wasn’t so bad after all for him — since we did eventually marry.

This was my first big corporate job and I loved it. I had three or so managers who were terrific. I was always ferreting for better ways of doing something, looking for cool technology (are you surprised?), while at the same time churning through the work. I thought that piles on my mgrs’ desks from me were better than their piles on my desk, so I was always returning things quickly to them. They saw that note written on the diagonal (if you’ve ever gotten a hand written note from me, it’s most likely written on the diagonal — the lines just don’t seem to fit what I need or want to do — so I’m always writing outside the lines). Well, if they saw that note on the diagonal, they groaned. It was another incoming item from me. Keep the mgrs busy, is my strategy.

I had been part of two large layoffs, one was a whole team and another was a company buyout, where the majority of the employees were let go. After that, I had enough of other people running my life. I had begun freelancing on the side. I was drawn to the variety and to where I could really make a contribution.

I started on PageMaker on a Mac with my first mentor: Lori Kenney from Kenney & Company. She taught me the business of being on your own. She taught me self-reliance, how to solve the problems yourself, how to be creative in your writing approaches. The clients loved her and her work. I loved the craziness of the hours, working from your own office in your home and visiting clients, new buildings, new faces, and new challenges. I ate it up.

She decided to have children and wanted just a little work. So, she gave me all her clients. And, told me I could do it. Yes, create a business. I didn’t even know what that that meant.

But, she believed in me. Whole heartedly. And, said I’d make a perfect business owner. That I was technical, always looking for different and better ways, and good with people, a good combination for your own business. Her belief in me made me try.

So, I needed a company name. Hmm. We worked with a consortium of consultants, writers, editors, graphics artists, trainers. We all shared work with each other. It was fast and hard, but we did it. So, the tech writing field, Hmm. Key Point. Consortium of people. Keypoint Consultants. Has a ring to it. That was it.

Lori suggested a graphics artist firm (Sonora Design) that created several logos for us. We chose the pen nib and the red swirl. It was beautiful.
I begged her to do it for me. I cannot do this. She looked at me carefully and said,” You can do it.” It just takes practice. The more you get in front of a crowd, the easier it will be.” I died a slow death, knowing she was not to be swayed.

My second mentor was someone who ran two very successful businesses: Cape Ann TV, where he built four stores, and North Shore Security Alarms, where he and his business partner had alarms in many hotels, schools, mansions on the coast, and public works locations. This mentor was my father. I guess being your own person is in my blood. When I was starting MY business, I asked my Dad, “How do I organize financial books? How do you categorize expenses? How does this whole petty cash thing work?” He taught me all that. (Of course, the petty cash receipts are still in a shoebox, just like he told me to do.) He believed that I could start and run my own business.

My business first as a sole proprietor began. I had a logo. I had business checks. I started with a huge gift of clients. I had my shoebox ready for petty cash receipts. I was off and running.

My third mentor. I met this one sometime around 1997-98 when my husband and I moved here from Boston. I didn’t know a soul. So, I called up the STC Carolina president and joined the Competition committee with Lisa Pappas and Diane Feldman. If you know me at all, you know that I’m never one to sit on the sidelines. I had judged at several of the Boston competitions and had been on the tech writing conference committee there, but never helped organize a competition. The competition was new here.

Although she is much shorter than I am, I look up to her all the same. Diane Feldman. You all smile. Who wouldn’t look up to Diane?

Diane was so organized, could run a project efficiently and with grace, could speak in front of a crowd with ease, and always had memorable things to contribute. She also believed in me. Diane taught me about confidence. Diane or the chapter president usually spoke at our awards banquets. One year she suggested that I MC the banquet. Oh, please. I would rather lie on a bed of nails than to stand up in front of people. And, speak?

I begged her to do it for me. I cannot do this. She looked at me carefully and said,” You can do it.” It just takes practice. The more you get in front of a crowd, the easier it will be.” I died a slow death, knowing she was not to be swayed.

Before speaking in front of an audience, I would almost throw up. I wouldn’t have coffee, I’d walk around fast before my entrance time trying to get rid of the jitters. My palms would be sweaty and my voice shaky. It was hard to breathe.

Diane believed in me. She was another of my mentors. If you get a chance, get to know Diane. She’ll enhance your life. (By the way, she was right. Speaking has gotten much easier.)

My fourth mentor. Someone who has been by my side through the ups and downs. Who has listened to me complain that I have too much work or complain that I have too little work? Who calmed my nerves when I was getting ready for a WebEx training session for 110 sites worldwide? Who has been my loyal IT department for many, many years. I need a machine set up with a switchbox for this company by tomorrow. Or, another box with a different OS by Friday and oh, can you run these reports for me as well? My husband, Hank.

Where would I be without him? I don’t remember him ever saying once that I could not do something. He was just the opposite. Always egging me on, telling me to go for it. He would tell me how this or that client was so happy with our work when I was feeling like I couldn’t do anything right.

One year one of the recruiting firms was having a contest for their company’s new byline. This was during the dot com bust and we were having a lean year, too. We could do it and get that $500. I chased my husband around with a notebook. I know we can think of more. Let’s brainstorm more. I chased him at night. More. While he was getting ready in the morning. More. I sat on the bathtub while he was shaving. More, I said. We came up with two or three pages of bylines, some good, some not so good. During a conference when they announced the winner and read the byline, I thought, hey, that sounds familiar. Sure enough, we won. I called my husband right away and told him that I knew we could do it.

Look around you tonight and you’ll see the people who are at the top of their fields. These should be YOUR mentors.
He’s been there through my tears, my frustration, and my impatience. He has always been there. How can you go wrong with someone who believes in you as much as he does about me?

These are my mentors. These are the people I surround myself with.

Look around you tonight and you’ll see the people who are at the top of their fields. These should be YOUR mentors. Seeing all these mentors in this room is one of the many reasons this competition means so much to me.

Because of you.

Ann-Marie Grissino can be reached at amgrissino at keypointconsultants dot com. End of article.

More articles like this...
Comments powered by Disqus.