This post is dedicated to my dear friend Tracey, whose life was unexpectedly taken in a few short months to pancreatic cancer.
In an effort to figure out how to do life, we learn, we plan, and we work, and slowly, we try and put the pieces together. But sometimes, a surprise drops in our lap; something we didn’t expect at all, and it has a bigger impact on who we are, where we go, and what we become than all our preparation combined.
I first met Tracey in 2014 when I was 23 year-old. I was at the front of this ambiguous thing called adulthood. I don’t know what I’m meant to be doing yet, and I’m struggling with anxiety and too-high-standards. I’m going at it alone (like we all do), but then one day, life introduces an unexpected companion: Tracey Kaufman, who becomes my friend, my mentor, and my support system.
I have no idea how I was so lucky. If you think about it, there are a lot of stray animals out there: people who feel alone, lost, and abandoned. Only a few are ever noticed, nurtured, loved and saved. I was one of the fortunate ones.
I had one year under Tracey’s warm wing, and in that year I learned so much. In addition to being a badass VP who’s seen it, done it, and ready to preach it, Tracey was also training to become an executive coach. This made us a perfect match: she shared her experience and wisdom, and I offered her a youthful outlook on life and a mentee she could really invest in. It took little time to develop a close and trusting relationship; she was one of the people I could be most vulnerable around.
In honor of Tracey, I felt it most appropriate to try and capture some of the biggest lessons she’s taught me, so that others can benefit from her wisdom as well.
- Tracey’s mantra: “seek first to understand, and then be understood.”
- My observation: what was powerful for me wasn’t actually her mantra, but rather observing the active practice of it. Tracey actually wasn’t good at this, so the lesson for me was watching her put the effort in every day to get better at it. At times she got excited and wanted to talk over me, but then I’d watch her stop, bite her tongue, and let me finish. I observed how validated I felt by her simply letting me finish, and realized why this lesson matters.
- Don’t take sides
- It’s not my opinion versus yours, it’s us working together to find a middle ground
- When people are upset, hear their concerns, but don’t let them stick to you like Velcro; offer a resolution.
- My observation: Tracey handled difficult conversations exceptionally well, which made her a great VP of Customer Success. Tracey grew the pie instead of quibbling over slices. She’d always come alongside people in conflict and offer to figure it out together.
- Always be working on yourself and trying to be better
- If you keep working on yourself, you will soften your edges and become a more stable, grounded, and wise person
- Keep your mind open and your library stocked
- My observation: Tracey consumed so much information and was always reaching for another level of understanding in everything she did, which made her exceptionally talented. I believe the reason Tracey was great at difficult conversations is partly from experience, but also because she read every book on the topic.
- The biggest gift you can give to someone is to believe in them, be there for them, and give wholeheartedly
- My experience: It’s really hard to be really “known.” So many of us suffer in silence because nobody understands.
- When someone starts to know a lot of secrets about you, and you feel like you can trust them, it’s a cathartic experience: you feel seen, understood, comforted, and incredibly incredibly grateful.
- Tracey gave this to me. She gave me her time, her advice, her mentorship, her friendship, her love. When she asked if I wanted her to coach me I was so excited – it’s such a rare offering.
- She poured herself into it – looking up resources to help me move past my anxiety, offered frameworks for different ways to think about things, and took meticulous notes on our progress.
- I felt incredibly invested in, and it made such a difference to have someone to share my challenges with, reframe them in the right mindset, and take actions towards growing beyond them.
- Doesn’t take things so seriously
- My observation: Tracey always found the levity in a situation: “Oh, there’s a problem? Hahaha, let’s solve it!” She didn’t get caught up in the stress, the frustration, the ‘what should we do?’ but rather got everyone rallied around the bright side, and the fun in problem solving.
- Don’t need to be perfect
- If something you’re working on is good enough, ship it (stop editing this post Adelle!)
- Don’t over research, just do it
- Seek templates, borrow them shamelessly
- Coping ahead
- What do you need to take care of yourself? How do you ensure you plan ahead to meet these needs before you are in a stressful situation
- My experience: I used to overstay my Sunday with my boyfriend and get anxious I wasn’t having an efficient weekend. Cope ahead said Tracey. You know you get anxious by 11am. Plan to leave then. Let him know the night before. That way, you have a plan that will steer you away from the anxiety and you can enjoy your time with him.
- There are tradeoffs in life – accept them, move past them
- Tracey accepted her life as a middle-aged and single woman. She said, yes it would be nice sometimes to have a partner, but I’m not unhappy. I love the people in my life, I’m happy with myself, and I can find other sources of family without needing to crate one myself.
- My observation: this was such a lovely perspective that said, “Just love the hand you have, be grateful for it, and don’t get fixated on your neighbor’s side of the fence.”
This list isn’t exhaustive, but it captures the big rocks that I know I will continue to think about and work on in my life. If you know Tracey, you know she always talked about leaving a legacy, and I can definitively say she’s left a permanent handprint on my life.
You will always be remembered Tracey, thank you for your impact on me. I will be mindful every day to honor you by adopting the mindset and making the choices that unlock my fullest potential.
I love you truly and always,