The path to success is rarely easy or direct, and good mentors are hard to find.
I was on yet another conference call dealing with whatever intricacies my job tends to take me when something stopped me in my tracks. My boss, who I have worked under for five years suddenly made an off the cuff comment about his soon-to-be retirement. There was a little laughter, those on the call not knowing if he was serious or not…but I knew. Our time together at work would soon come to an end and while I knew in my heart it was coming, I forced the notion of it actually happening down deep in the pit of my stomach for months. That place where things go when they are too hard for me to digest at that particular moment, but when the call was done and I hung up, it all came gushing out. The tears flowed, unashamed, and my eyes felt like they would never dry and I let my ugly cry out.
He wasn’t just leaving the office, he was leaving ME. How selfish, I know, because he has had many years in service, his health has been up and down, and he admittedly wasn’t feeling like himself these days. I’ve seen this before, when another good friend and colleague I had come to rely on was in the midst of his second struggle with cancer, and we both knew his time at work was coming to an end. While he didn’t accept it (so neither did I until it was too late), my boss’s a different sort of feeling. His leaving was more of an acknowledgement that life was more than work and it was time for him to move on and enjoy his life without the stress of the workforce while he still has the time to do it. It is good for him, and I was happy for him – but I felt hurt, sad, confused. He has been like a shield to me, a person who took me under his wing and taught me to be better, smarter, and stronger. But, now, I didn’t feel so strong. Buck up! I said to myself. And, I’m still trying. After all, I believe people pass through your life for a reason and now it was my turn to step out of the mentee position and forge the path I would continue to take in my life and career. I will always cherish the time we had together, but it would never feel the same. And, maybe that has been my greatest lesson in life. Good mentors are hard to find, but they always leave a lasting impression for the better.
Feeling a little down, I picked up and dusted off a book I had read before when I was going through time of reflection. Getting There: A Book of Mentors was something I read almost a year ago that dealt with thirty major leaders in diverse fields that shared their secrets to navigating the rocky road to the top. To be quite direct, the road is never easy for any of us. There is no magical Oz, just a man behind the curtain trying to figure out what buttons to push to make things happen and hoping they don’t get caught screwing things up. Role models face obstacles, setbacks, difficulties and when things get really rough, they get through it and learn the vital lessons to not only help themselves achieve wisdom, but to have the knowledge and foresight to pass it on. What is our potential? Well, that’s only a question you can answer yourself…and if I’m being honest, it’s hopefully a question that I never stop asking. Life is about facing challenges again and again, each time different, sometimes easier, but we can always rise to the occasion until the end.
You don’t have to be a leader or a boss to be a mentor to someone. I have found that those who show honesty when it is needed, direction when it is warranted, and advice when it is vital are the people that I gravitate to and make my life better. They don’t tell me what I need to do, they tell me what they think or what they did or what someone else has done to make things work and then give me a moment to pause to think things through myself. They allow me to make mistakes and guide me in directions I never thought were possible. I was a small town girl from Appalachia who had hoped to escape an area of poverty and have a small cabin on an acre of land as my dream, and I have seen and done things I never even thought were possible except through books. The more I listened, the more I read, the more I learned, the more I tried. I’m not done trying yet and even when the wind knocks me off course, I know now it’s only temporary. I take time to mourn and then take the time to move on to the next event. If life and my mentors have taught me anything, it’s to be resilient, even when you feel battered and broken. It always gets better. Slowly and surely, stay the course and you will find your way.
I’m writing this for two reasons. The first is to tell you to read this awesome book called Getting There. “There” is a place in your mind that is constantly changing and when you achieve your ‘there’ you will usually find another mountain you want to climb. However, you never climb alone. You shouldn’t pretend and it’s good to show your vulnerabilities and thank those who have helped you along the way. I have so many people who have showed me great compassion and guidance that I could probably write an entire book about it. Hey, maybe I will! The second reason I am writing this is because while I often have a hard time saying what I mean in a thoughtful and succinct way, I do have a lot of gratitude and foresight to tell my mentor that I am glad that I have spent five years at work with him. The difficulties and struggles we went through, me especially, were much easier because I knew him. For whatever that is worth, I do want to tell him that I went farther, faster, and better than I ever thought I could in some very difficult situations because I trusted myself; because he trusted me. I hope that I can pass on that trust to someone else, maybe to many people, in my life as I continue in this world and I owe a little piece of that to him. Thank you, R. I will miss having you as a beacon at work, but you will never be far from my heart or my life. I will keep on ‘getting there’ until getting ‘there’ means it is enough. I hope for the same foresight and thoughtfulness to know when to quit and to know when to forge on and enough insight to know that there will be other mentors and mentees who will join me on our journey and that I will never be lost even when I feel like I am wandering aimlessly. My ship is always steered.
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