Thursday, May 13, 2010


I spoke a few days ago with one of my professional mentors. He was my coach and teacher back in my undergraduate years and went on to become my colleague after college during the years when I was coaching professionally. It was a delightful conversation on so many levels. We caught up a bit on our personal lives, I gave him grief for not having a Facebook page yet, and we talked about our current careers and their respective pluses and minuses.

My main motive in calling, other than to connect, was to get information. We've hired someone new on our campus with whom he has worked in the past. I've actually known this new hire in the past also, but haven't seen or interacted with him in probably 15 years. I think my actual question came out as "Is he as nice and decent and I remember him to be, or has he turned into a troll?" Perhaps not the most careful wording of a question, but it accurately reflects the information I was seeking. The answer was reassuring.

While I was pleased with the answer to the question, in retrospect that turned out to be the least important part of the conversation. What was most important was all the things I was reminded of. Certainly a conversation like this brings up memories of times past and, quite frankly, the large majority of those memories are good ones. There was laughter, lots of laughter, adventure, achievement, and camaraderie. There was winning and losing. There was supporting and being supported. Those were good times.

One of the things our conversation made clear to me is how much I learned from that time and that relationship. As my mentor talked, I was struck by several things. One in particular was his ability to see and articulate clearly a person's strengths. He didn't rely on platitudes - "Oh he's a great guy - you'll love him." He very specifically spoke to the abilities of this person and how his strengths make him suited to the position he will be holding on our campus. He didn't gush - but he clearly saw and appreciated elements of this individual's personality and skills and was quick to point them out.

I remember clearly that this was the way my mentor spoke about most people he encountered. He spoke to people's strengths, being quick to point out what they did well and how they were effective. What is significant about that for me, is that I came to realize it was more than just his tendency to do this - it was his decision. Faced with the choice of tearing down or building up, he chose the latter. That example has stayed with me. I haven't done it nearly as well as he has or as consistently, but the longer I am in my career the more that example comes back to me as the one to emulate.

I'm not trying to make him out to be a saint. He wasn't and isn't as he would be the first to admit. But mentors aren't saints and that's what makes them so valuable to us. They are human, with shortcomings and failings. But they have a unique ability to move beyond those and to show us how to move beyond ours. And those lessons stay with us - when I am faced with a work situation and am unsure of how to handle it, I do stop and ask myself what my mentor would do in this situation.

I can honestly say that without my mentor's influence I would not be where I am today. I wouldn't have the career I do, I wouldn't hold the position I do - and I wouldn't be the person I am. It illustrates clearly the fact that we are all an influence on others, for better or worse and whether we intend to be or not. It also speaks to the power of relationship. By giving of ourselves, we impact others and make our world a better place. We may not see the impact but it is there.

So to my mentor, my unfailing gratitude, appreciation and love. And the promise that I am doing my best to be the person that you saw in me and also to be a mentor for someone else - to pass on the lessons that you so graciously and lovingly shared with me. Lessons learned. Now, get a Facebook page!

Today's photo was snatched from:
The Elbert County Democrats don't credit the image on their website, so I'm thinking they snatched it from somewhere else!

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