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Magic in Being a Mentee or Mentor
An over-worn cliché has it that something really boring is “like watching paint dry.”
While I have never felt obliged to test the truth of this adage, I do know that watching someone paint can be quite the opposite. An artist working on a canvas, or a craftsman painting a wall with a hand so steady he doesn’t need painter’s tape to protect the ceiling, can be entertaining and even enthralling.
Indeed, if a person paints with passion and mastery, I can sit for a long spell watching. And if an experienced artist is teaching another person – showing and instructing and encouraging – I become spellbound. I feel vicariously like a lucky mentee myself. This is true viewing a master in any endeavor.
I once watched, totally engrossed for more than an hour, a master bricklayer and an apprentice build a wall. At first, the master did most of the work; by the end, the apprentice was working solo. As it should be.
So it was a great pleasure recently when I got to be a fly on the wall, so to speak, and eavesdrop on a grandly successful business owner enthusiastically sharing his knowledge with a college student.
The business owner, nearly three times the age of the student, is nearing the end of his career. The student, meanwhile, started his own business a year ago and it has become a growing success already.
“The Kid” is entering his senior year at Pepperdine majoring in Integrated Marketing and Communications. He reached out to “The Master” in hopes of gaining a dose of wisdom that is not readily offered in the classroom or lecture hall.
It seems to me The Kid is already on a winning path because few things are as instrumental to success as finding worthy mentors and role models. Eric Greitens, a former Rhodes Scholar and Navy Seal and humanitarian, agrees. In his best-selling book, “Resilience: Hard-Won Wisdom for Living a Better Life”, he writes:
“If I sat down in your living room and placed a giant bag of a jigsaw puzzle pieces on a table in front of you and asked you to put all the pieces together, what’s the first thing you’d ask for?
“I’m guessing you’d ask for a picture. You’d want to know how all of the pieces fit together. You’d want to know what you’re trying to make. Here’s the thing: life only hands you pieces. You have to figure out how to put them together.
“Your life doesn’t come with a picture of what it’s supposed to look like on a box. You have to – you get to – choose that picture for yourself. And you choose it by looking for a model of a life well lived. That’s your picture.”
The Kid has chosen The Master as one of the pictures for how his own puzzle pieces might best fit together.
It is not important for me to share the specifics The Master shared with The Kid during their hour-and-a-half restaurant visit. Suffice to say, The Kid listened raptly, asked insightful questions, and listened some more.
Here is what really struck me: The Master also asked insightful questions and listened fully. The Master is a master, it seems to me, because he knows he doesn’t know it all and wants to learn what he can from the younger generation.
What began as a nervous ask-and-listen session quickly became a comfortable two-way conversation. Afterward, The Kid said it was one of the most informative experiences he has ever had.
I dare say The Master enjoyed it equally. He has kindly offered more of his time and wisdom since. A mentorship was born.
I guess the point of sharing this story is simply to encourage more people to knock down any metaphorical brick walls that are preventing them from reaching out to a potential mentor.
Also, to encourage more of us to be mentors.
After all, it is one thing to be the picture of a completed puzzle – it is even more rewarding to help someone learn how to actually put the pieces together.
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Woody Woodburn writes a weekly column for The Ventura County Star and can be contacted at WoodyWriter@gmail.com.
Check out my memoir WOODEN & ME: Life Lessons from My Two-Decade Friendship with the Legendary Coach and Humanitarian to Help “Make Each Day Your Masterpiece” and my essay collection “Strawberries in Wintertime: Essays on Life, Love, and Laughter” …
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