It's rare to come across someone who wants to help you succeed, it's even rarer to come across those that are willing to stay with you for the long haul.
I met Shawna over a decade ago as I was just starting off in my healthcare career. I was reading the company newsletter one day and saw an article that spoke about leadership with a group photo of about fifteen.
But Shawna stood out, immediately.
After seeing the group photo and reading the article, I was sold. It was at that moment that I decided that I wanted to find out more about her and what she did, so I reached out to her via email.
I couldn't tell you what I wrote about, but I remember it being long and telling her about my adopted hometown of Jacksonville, which I would later learn was close to her hometown. It was truly a shot in the dark, but a shot that I was willing to take. I figured that the worst thing that could happen was that she wouldn't respond like so many others I had tried to connect with before.
She responded back to my email about two days later, and I was shocked.
After we had spent time speaking over emails, we eventually met up for coffee. She was as warm and inviting as she had been over the phone and through her emails and she became the inspiration for pursuing my Health Informatics degree. Throughout the years, Shawna would play the role of a coach, mentor, and sponsor.
As a coach, Shawna would encourage me to set professional milestones for myself by having me think critically about the decisions I made before I made them and understand why they were important to my journey. She let me figure things out on my own as opposed to telling me the answers. She held me accountable only for the goals that I set for myself, not those that she set on my behalf.
As a mentor, she was always available when I needed expert advice. Anytime I had an issue that I needed to talk through, she was there to give me her thoughts and helped me maneuver my way through office politics.
As a sponsor, she used her influence to speak my name in rooms, temperature-checked my reputation within the HIM industry on my behalf, and opened the door for opportunities that aligned with my goals.
The respect that she earned on her own as an accomplished professional, trickled down to me as well. She believed in me so much that she put her name and reputation on the line for me on multiple occasions. When she told people that she vouched for me, it held weight.
When I made the decision to leave the corporate world and go off to my own, not only did she understand my reasoning based on knowing my professional experience, but she believed in my vision too and provided support for me. It's one thing to say that you believe in someone, it's something else altogether to put action behind your belief. Her belief in me helped me to further believe in myself.
We last met in person in September. It was one of the few times that she had been back to her office since the pandemic. She paid for my lunch and gifted me a candle, and showed me the placard that I purchased for her on her office desk where she could see it every day. We talked about the future, and she told me how proud of me she was.
We would text each other more often after that, shooting the breeze about more personal matters than professional ones, telling me about her family, and giving me advice based on her life experiences that she had never shared with me before.
The last time I text her, I didn't receive a response back. That day, I realized that her birthday was in September and I had forgotten. She treated me out to lunch and brought me a gift when I should've been the one doing that for her. And she never said anything about it or held it against me.
I got a message the next day that she had passed away.
I would not be where I am now, without Shawna's knowledge, experience, and network. The more days go by, the more I am starting to truly grasp the magnitude of her influence on my life and the lives of others. My story may be unique, but it is not the only one. There are hundreds of others who have positive experiences of their own who can attest to the selfless and loving person that Shawna was.
I can only hope that one day I can do for others what she was able to do for me.