Positive impact: What you say, do can encourage, influence others

This past semester, faculty and staff at IUPUC and Ivy Tech Community College Columbus were able to participate in a community book read. We read "Callings: The Purpose and Passion of Work" by Dave Isay, which is a collection of StoryCorps interviews focusing on people’s work experiences and how they found their career path.

After reading the book we met to discuss our insights, particularly focusing on how those insights related to our work with students.

One common theme we discussed was the way a person can influence someone else’s career choice. In some cases, this influence was obvious. For example, Sharon Long, a single mom raising two daughters, recounts her experience: “When I was enrolling my oldest in college, I said, ‘Geez, I sure wish I could go to school.’ But I was 40, and I thought I was too old. The lady filling out my daughter’s financial aid paper said, ‘You can! I’ll help you.’ And I thought, Whoa—OK! So I started college, and enrolled for an art degree.” Sharon wouldn’t have started college without the encouragement of that college official.

Others found encouragement from their parents. At age 5, Anne Lucietto asked her father if a girl could be an engineer. He replied, “There is no question why they should not be.” After that, Anne’s father continued to answer her questions about what things were and how things worked, even if he had to search for the information. He also allowed her to take things apart and then watch him as he put them back together. They also took many trips to the Museum of Science and Industry, even though he said they had “to drive a good hour in order to get to it.”

For some, the influence took time to be apparent. Herman Heyn struggled with learning disabilities, but discovered that he could concentrate well on astronomy after his eighth-grade science teacher sparked his interest in astronomy by instructing her class to go find the Big Dipper in the night sky. As an adult, Herman worked a variety of jobs, never staying in one job for more than a few years. One night he decided to set up his telescope on the street and invite others to look at the stars. He took a tip hat with him and discovered he could make money sharing his passion. The impact of Herman’s science teacher on his profession took years to manifest itself and, happily, his teacher did learn of the result of her influence.

We also discussed the ways that people found meaning in jobs that might seem mundane. Sanitation worker Angelo Bruno talked to the people along his route. He took the children candy at Halloween, made sure to talk to the lonely 75-year old lady, and helped women with their baby carriages. People looked forward to seeing him and were sad when he retired. Angelo said of his job, “I didn’t look at it as going down the block to pick up garbage. I was going down the block to see my friends.” Angelo made his job into more than just collecting trash.

Other examples of finding meaning include Barbara Abelhauser, a bridgetender, and ironworkers Kerry Davis and Ken Hopper. Barbara spends her days sitting in a tiny space, but she enjoys seeing the passing of the seasons as animals come and go, the sunrises and sunsets, and the people that regularly pass by. Kerry and Ken maintain the Golden Gate Bridge. They, too, have great views from where they work high in the sky, including the chance to interrupt many individuals who want to end their lives by jumping from the bridge. Kerry and Ken go out to these people, talk to them and try to help them. These ironworkers take care of the bridge and also care for people.

As we discussed these themes, we agreed that we need to be hopeful, encouraging and supportive of our students. We can also help them realize that finding the right job may take time, and that they can find meaning in any job.

Even if you do not work in the education field, you, too, can have a positive influence on others. When I needed to take some classes to renew my teaching license, a friend suggested I go ahead and get a master’s degree, which would allow me to teach at the college level. I am grateful for her advice, because I now enjoy working with college students.

You can also apply these insights to your own situation. Look for ways to find meaning in your own job and thank those who have encouraged you along the way.

Susan Cox is one of The Republic’s community columnists, and all opinions expressed are those of the writer. She is a mother and an adjunct instructor of English at Ivy Tech Community College Columbus and Indiana University Purdue University Columbus. She can be reached at [email protected].