When I decided I would study communication disorders in college, I thought I would pursue a career as a speech-language pathologist (SLP) in a public school setting. Just before student teaching, I took the required “Speech Therapy in the Public Schools” course. That may not have been the exact title, but you get the point. The course was taught by Joe, a gregarious and passionate SLP who clearly loved life and his work. As we left the class that first night, I told my friend Kara, “I want to be like him when I grow up.”
My desire to work in public schools lasted until the end of my first day of my student teaching practicum. After my car wheelchair carrier breaking, a fire drill, someone else eating my lunch and a six year old throwing a chair at me I decided perhaps I should rethink my career goals. I knew I wanted to be a SLP. The question then was if not in schools, where?
Joe helped me discover the answer. Joe was my supervisor for my clinical practicum the summer of 1995. He was one of the owners of a local company which held contracts to provide SLP services to a number of nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities. I was nervous about providing services to adults, but I knew this would be a great opportunity to learn from someone I admired. I had no idea it would be the start of a friendship which continues today.
I was to meet Joe on my first morning in the lobby near the nurse’s desk at a nursing home. As I wheeled down the hall, I heard someone singing “Almost like Being in Love” from Brigadoon. I turned the corner and saw Joe sitting at the desk singing, looking through some papers. When he paused to flip a page, I completed the lyric. It was the first time we sang together but definitely not the last. I knew I was in good hands with anyone who sang show tunes at work!
When I finished graduate school, Joe hired me for my first “real job.” He served as a mentor and guide while I gained clinical competence and confidence. We worked together for almost ten years. During that time I learned a great deal about what it means to be a professional, how to advocate for my clients and how to balance work and life. Important lessons, such as:
- Don’t take your work too seriously. Laugh often.
- People will look to you to be the expert so act like one even if you are nervous on the inside. Remember your skills and be confident in the knowledge you possess. You know your stuff.
- Sometimes a hug is the best way to communicate with someone else.
- Everyone needs a break or a vacation. Never apologize for taking yours.
- The measure of a professional is how much control you have over your work day.
- It doesn’t matter what your goals are for someone else; what matters are theirs. Find a way to make their goals a part of your clinical objectives.
Joe has a zest for life I find infectious. He is generous, fair and free with compliments to others. He has been one of my biggest cheerleaders, and I am happy to reciprocate. We have been there for each other through health crises, loss and joy. He has encouraged me to keep traveling when I was unsure the direction of the path was right for me. When I left his company in 2005 to take a job outside of the clinical world I delayed telling him for as long as possible for fear of disappointing him. Joe was happy for me, excited for the new advocacy opportunity I had and reassuring me it was time for me to do more with my personal story.
Twenty years after meeting Joe for the first time, I still admire him and I still want to be like him when I grow up. He continues to inspire me to live a life of purpose and love. I am thankful to have found a kindred spirit to help guide me on my life journey.