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  • Alyse Gray

Meeting Your Heroes

Keeping with the theme of the last post, I wanted to share some additional advice on meeting people you look up to.

I've connected and talked to a variety of experts in death-related fields for my upcoming book, and I will be honest, it was scary at first. I totally embarrassed myself more than a few times, but you know what? It's not so scary anymore. I learned to embrace failure in order to do things better. Everybody fails. It's ok to fail. You grow when you learn from your failures, get back up, figure out how to do things better, and continue to try.

When it comes to meeting people, I have definitely failed. Some people don't experience the same anxiety I do when meeting people. But for those who do, this is for you. My anxiety stems from a place of low self esteem. Yes, I admit this fully. I don't feel like I am all that great. My inner monologue goes like this, "I'm a weirdo and I've never done anything notable with my life, I'm nobody, why would anyone want to talk to me?"

That dialogue is changing. I tell myself to shut up now when I begin thinking those things.

The 2015 American Academy of Forensic Science Conference in Orlando is where things started to change. I absolutely love this conference. I'm a student of life-I truly enjoy learning. No one pays for me to go to the conference and I don't get continuing education credits for my certification, so I have no professional reason to be there. I actually volunteer for it so I can attend the pathology/biology section lectures. They are that interesting!

I was especially excited to attend this particular year because I knew Dr. Jan Garavaglia, better known as Dr. G. Medical Examiner, would be attending. For those unfamiliar with Dr. G, she is best known for a TV show of the same name, which aired from 2008-2012. Reruns can currently be viewed in the daytime on the Justice Network.

Dr. G helped inspire me to do what it is that I do today. The same can be said for so many other young people who are in the field of pathology. I count her as one of my heroes. I might have been a bit of a fangirl at one point in time, frequenting the Dr. G. Medical Examiner message board, and writing to her office to get a signed promotional postcard. Receiving that in the mail from the District 9 Medical Examiner's Office was the Best. Thing. Ever! I treasured the card so much that I put it on my fridge(it's actually still there).

During one of the lectures at the conference, I noticed Dr. G, also in attendance. I was so thrilled, it was all I could think about. On a break between lectures, I went over to meet her. Awkwardly and breathlessly, I introduced myself, told her she inspired me, and that her picture was on my fridge. Not knowing what to make of this, she responded, "Oh ok, do you want to take a picture?" While a friend took the photo, she made an observation, "hey, you're shaking."

Embarrassed, and still quivering, I thanked her, and quickly ran off to another lecture.

I encountered Dr. G again later, after another lecture. This time, some friends were with me. I pointed out that Dr. G was in the room, and they expressed wanting to take selfies with her in the background, too shy to go up to her. I insisted that they meet her, dragging them across the room. I approached Dr. G again, this time introducing my friends, and shaking a lot less. They exchanged pleasantries, and I took photos of everyone.

I felt slightly better about that encounter.

I met Dr. G a third time, on the last day of the conference, as she was walking to her car. I was with a medical student friend, who really wanted to meet her, having also been inspired by the show. My friend was shy and reluctant to bother her, but I insisted we do it do it, since this was the last chance she would have to meet her, as it was the final day of the conference. I again approached Dr. G. This time, I asked if I could buy her a shot(I'd heard other medical examiners mention that she enjoyed drinking). She laughed and explained that she had to get home because her husband was flying in from Washington state and she hadn't seen him in a month. Apparently he has a potato farm there. I introduced her to my friend, who she encouraged to become an ME and told some stories about how her work helped people. At the end of the conversation, she asked me, "Where are you from again? Do I have to worry about you showing up at my door?"

Yep, Dr. G thinks I'm a stalker. Not the best first impression, but I guess it could be worse. She'll certainly remember me.

Me and Dr. G. I was so nervous that I was literally shaking when this photo was taken.

After that fail, I met another medical examiner named Judy Melinek. She had recently written a book called "Working Stiff," about her experiences as a medical examiner in training, which later became a New York Times bestseller(it's really good, you should check it out). I hadn't heard of her previously, but some of the medical examiners and fellows I was with were talking about her, with mixed reviews. One medical examiner-in-training had nothing but bad things to say, despite not knowing her well. It made me curious. I wondered what she was actually like, so I bought several books from her before a lecture and had them signed. A fairly normal interaction. But I didn't get to know her by doing this.

After the lecture, I caught her alone and decided to ask a question, "Do you think that you have to have high self esteem to be successful?" She smiled and explained that, "You can develop a hard turtle shell but remain soft on the inside", then shared with me that she had a difficult family situation growing up. She surrounded herself with people who encouraged her, and said this is the most important thing you can do in order to overcome bad stuff and succeed. She told me she was rooting for me, then gave me a hug and her business card and told me to contact her any time.

I was completely shocked and blown away by this response. I might have cried a little. I kept her card, and two years later, true to her word, she helped me with the book I am writing. I am forever grateful for her help in starting me down the path I am on today.

I tell you this story to encourage you to meet your heroes or people who seem out of your league that you can't imagine talking to them.

Be courageous and be genuine. Ask insightful questions, offer assistance with something they are working on that you may know about, or find a way to add value or interest to their lives.

Sometimes it might not go well, but other times, you may end up making an amazing new friend.


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