“Be a sign of life.”
My journalism professor, Stephen Bloom, said this to me when I was a freshman in college. You may have heard of him. He wrote “Observations From 20 Years of Iowa Life” which was published in The Atlantic back in December. (Not everything he says is bad.)
The details of our conversation have blurred over time, but I think I had expressed to him that I wasn’t sure how much I liked being a journalist because everyone seemed so “cut throat.” People appeared far too willing to stomp on each other to get ahead. I didn’t like that and didn’t know if I wanted to be part of the “journalism world” if that’s how it was going to be.
He said that not everybody in journalism was like that. He told me what I needed to do was, “look for signs of life.”
I jotted those words down in my little red notebook:
“Look for signs of life.”
I have never forgotten these words, because the lesson unstated by Professor Bloom was then, to in turn:
“Be a sign of life.”
This is not always easy to be.
It is so much easier to walk around like you have horse blinkers on, than it is to smile and say “Good morning!” Especially if the coffee you had on your drive to work hasn’t kicked in yet. It’s much easier to look at your own stack of papers to grade or lessons to prepare and say, “I don’t have time.”
Looking for Signs of Life
Signs of life are easy to spot. They are the people who smile at you as you walk past them in the halls or the office. They are the ones who pop in to say hello. They are the people you go to for help because you know they’ll help you.
They are the ones, no matter how busy they are, take time for you.
Signs of life can be mentors, people on the street, people behind the cash register, a neighbor…and you.
You can be a sign of life for someone.
My Sign of Life
Two days after getting married, my husband and I moved to San Antonio, Texas for his work. I got a job teaching at a local high school. My sign of life was the family consumer sciences (FCS) department head.
I taught English, but my classroom was in the FCS wing. It seemed like every morning she would pop her head into my classroom and ask, “Do you need help with anything?”
She would, without asking, bring me little things here and there I could use in my class—markers, pencils, bins to store them in, paper, etc.—materials that can actually be quite difficult to get ahold of in a school.
Starting over at a new job is like being a first year teacher all over again, and she picked up on that. She would send me happy face reminders to submit something we were supposed to submit. She’d pick up my mail on the way to pick up hers. The morning after a tough day—I was homesick and cried a lot that first year—she would bring me the sweetest of treats.
She was just so thoughtful and kind. It made being new in a state I had never even been to before I moved there, feel less scary.
This teacher could have easily went about her business and let me hack it out alone. She wasn’t even my department head, but she adopted me.
There have been several encounters with signs of life, this is only one of them.
She was my sign of life that first year in Texas.
Pick up someone’s mail or printing on the way to get yours. Say “Good morning!” Smile at people. Ask someone how they are and then actually listen to the response. Give someone a break that could really use one.
Start being a sign of life today.
Question: Who has been your “sign of life”?
5 AM update: I was up yesterday and worked on my story. This morning I wrote to you. Woohoo!