The Benefits of Mentoring: A Tribute to Mentors
You’ve probably heard the super-successful people say that they didn’t get there all by themselves. And you’re probably thinking that the words “super-successful” don’t apply to you, so why read this article? Because even you, a diligent climber of “Success Mountain,” have received the benefits of mentoring. And not always in the places where you think you’d find them.
Take, for example, school. When it comes to mentors, most of us think of teachers. As well we should. I was fortunate to attend a public high school that had a professional-grade commercial art program. These days, I make my living from what I learned there. However, the one experience that still stands out is what one of the teachers did for our class. He decided that our creativity needed expanding, and how better to do that than on a trip to New York City? Since we were in eastern Pennsylvania, New York was an easy day trip.
So, our parents drove us to the Paoli station, where we boarded a local train bound for Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station. From there, we headed north on America’s 1970s version of a really fast train, an Amtrak Metroliner.
Once in New York, we found that it was pouring down rain, but that didn’t stop our teacher. We slogged through the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Whitney Museum of Modern Art, and had vigorous discussions on what we saw; and these discussions lasted long after we left the museums. Warning: no one critiques the works of the masters like high school art students, and I mean nobody.
Being the photographic type, I trained my camera on the skyscrapers, my classmates, even scowling New Yorkers in the subway. (Only several years later, I learned that it was considered impolite to take pictures of one’s fellow subway passengers.) One of my fellow classmates took a movie camera and filmed us as we experienced New York City. It was shown at the film festival that our teacher organized after we were back in school.
Since we were art students, our teacher decided that we needed an affordable dinner together as a class. So, down into the subway for a trip to Chinatown. We ended up at an all-you-can eat place, and the teacher kept imploring us to have more. (He didn’t want us to get hungry during the train rides to Philadelphia and Paoli.) One of my classmates drew a quick cartoon of him saying, “Eat, eat, EAT!!!” It became an instant art class hit.
While we were changing trains in Philadelphia, our teacher spotted yet another Exciting Thing. It had been a lo-o-ong day and it was turning into a lo-o-ong evening, but this guy’s enthusiasm hadn’t waned a bit. He was calling our attention to a console video game called Pong. It’s primitive compared to what’s available now, but the notion of playing tennis against a computer was pretty cutting edge back in 1973. So, one of the boys gave it a go, and I’m pretty sure that the computer beat him.
We got back to Paoli well after nightfall, and, yes, we did have school the next day. The most important thing I took away from the New York Adventure was that you can find inspiration just about anywhere, and not just in museums. All you have to do is tune into what’s around you.
On to college. Where I planned to train for a career in journalism. Unfortunately, I discovered that my school didn’t have a good journalism department.
So, I joined the campus newspaper. Where the editors made no secret of their disdain for the journalism department. To the point of telling the rookie reporters not to major in that field. “You’ll learn all you need to know right here on the Daily,” they said. So, I decided to give the Daily the ole college try. I started out as a reporter during the first semester of my sophomore year and made it all the way up to night editor at the start of my senior year.
What I found on the Daily was a group of, well, kids, who had high standards. Especially the senior editors. They were merciless when it came to grammatical and factual errors, stories that didn’t grab you in the first paragraph, editorializing in news stories, and a host of other things.
The preferred way of pointing these transgressions out was unique – and vicious. The editors would post the entire page containing your story on the bulletin board, then draw a target around the transgression. Rude comments were also offered. Those who stayed on the Daily staff learned to develop a thick skin in a hurry. (I’ve found this skill useful when what I think are wonderful designs or photographs are shot down by my present day clients.)
Merciless editors notwithstanding, the Daily had a long tradition of its alumni into the journalism field, where a number of them made quite a mark. Among the kids I worked with, there are winners of the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award. One is on National Public Radio, which is the American equivalent of the BBC.
As for my major, I chose economics. Good major, one that was drilled into undergraduates by world-class economists who just loved shredding each other’s logic. And we students weren’t exempt – matter of fact, I think the faculty enjoyed practicing logic-shredding skills on us. I learned to make sure that my reasoning held together before opening my mouth in class.
That was the upside. The downside was that the economics department expected its graduates to go into government or academia. Or into FIRE jobs. By FIRE, I mean “finance, insurance, and real estate.” That’s what economists call this sector of the economy.
On my annual visits to Alma Mater, I make it a point to visit both the Daily (all high-tech and computerized now) and the economics department. To put it mildly, the economists don’t know quite what to make of me. I mean, here’s this gal showing up with a pretty serious-looking camera, and she’s on assignment? (Last fall, that was indeed the case. I was doing a photo shoot of the campus for use in a design project that an engineering faculty member had hired me to do.)
Mentors are Everywhere
In short, you can see that I’ve had a wide variety of mentors, from a high-energy art teacher who didn’t think twice about taking us to a big city to expand our creativity, tough editors who also were my fellow students, and logic-shredding economists.
And here’s another thing about mentors: You are one too. Yes, you. Right now. You’ve come in contact with all manner of people throughout your life. And you may be surprised to learn how what you’ve said or done affects others.