There are a few stretches in my life where I wish I had the influence of a strong and positive mentoring figure. I hate playing the what-if game–what-if I had done this instead of that, would I have a better job/relationship/life now?–but I do think that having good mentors can make a difference. I’ll share a couple of those examples and then share my own experiences as a mentor.
1. While I was a teenager, still in high school, my family went through some very tough times that I’m sure had a profound impact on every facet of my life. I’ll give a simple example and complicated one.
The simple example is that I rarely had a home cooked meal in high school. It pains me to say that because my mom is an awesome cook and she did the best she could, but the fact was I fended for myself the majority of the meals in a given week. Being a teenager, I had NO IDEA how to balance a diet and eat healthfully. That trend continued until oh pretty much recently. So I ate a lot of fast food and processed food and didn’t really get enlighted about food until I joined a sports team in college, where you’re forced to evaluate your diet. It would have been very helpful to have a mentor to help me navigate how to eat, how to prepare food, what the nutritional value of certain things were, how to cook, among other things.
By the way, everyone on the planet should watch this video about food, from Chef Jamie Oliver at TED:
The complicated example is that I had poor role models for how long term relationships work. My role models were my parents (bad), my friends (not good), and movies and television (ridiculous). It took me years to figure out intimate relationships even at a basic level.
2. I made some shitty financial decisions in my mid-20’s that I wish I had someone around to help me not do or at least navigate properly. To be totally honest, I could have used a personal finance mentor from the very beginning, like starting at my first job at age 16 to at least graduating from graduate school. This one is huge, and I think EVERYONE needs a personal finance mentor. If it’s not your parents, there MUST be a go-to person to guide you. It’s too risky to be left on your own, even if you’re a sensible type.
Personally, I think it’s criminal that personal finance isn’t compulsory at the high school and college level. And when I say personal finance, I don’t just mean learning to write checks, I mean investing, the in’s and out’s of buying a car or a house, cost analysis, calculating ROI. Or hell, how about just reading and understanding the terms and conditions of a credit card? These tools are vastly more important than most of the subjects taught in school. Mentors need to be teaching these skills to young people right now.
If you’re good at personal finance, volunteer your time and mentor a young person. Figure out a way to advertise this opportunity.
3. Having a social mentor. This is something I can’t over-emphasize enough, and I’ll tell you why. In my professional life, I recently transitioned from being a web developer to the sales side of the business. My ultimate goal is to get into business development and then the executive side. Honestly, I want to learn everything I need to know in order to start, grow, and run a successful business. None of that is possible without having the ability to cultivate relationships with other people. Forming alliances and strategic partnerships and being able to make a connection in order to close a deal is EVERYTHING in business.
All of that is rooted in the ability to navigate complex social situations and cultivate relationships. I had no idea what that was until like four years ago when I got into pickup. Back then, I was just a head-down computer geek. Now I’m the guy who talks to CEO’s and VP’s. Would have been good to have a mentor to get me there earlier (although I’m pleased that studying pickup did the trick).
Mentoring I’ve Done
Mentoring I’ve done mostly comes from coaching athletes, which I’ve done for over 11 years. I’ve coached over 1000 athletes, and many of those grew into a mentor-mentee relationships. I’m coached athletes from 8th graders to post grad, guys and girls. I can mentor someone on fitness, general health, reading and writing, relationships and social success (to a certain point). I’ve had the profound pleasure of mentoring dozens of young people through successful college careers, both academically and athletically, and then helped them succeed in the next phase of their lives. One of my athletes made the US National Team in his sport and I consider that a huge success for both of us.
I know that my coaching and mentoring has helped many young people succeed and I sleep well at night because of that despite any mistakes I’ve made in my own life. Mentoring for me makes a life fulfilled.
Consider These Mentoring Programs
If you’re really interested in mentoring and making an positive impact on a young person’s life, consider checking out Big Brother Big Sisters and Mentor. Both offer opportunities for people with life experience to interact with kids who need it. Positive male figures are especially in need.
No, I have not done either program, but after writing this post I think I will. I don’t have the time to put into it, and who does? I’ll make it. I also have no fear of connecting with young people from diverse backgrounds, so there’s no reason for me not to. Again, this is my Lance-ish opinion, but I think if you’re not giving of yourself to help young people in your community, you’re a a major chode and missing out on a huge opportunity for growth. Nuff said there.
Does anyone have any experience with either program? Please share in comments. And I want to strongly urge every reader to offer themselves as a mentor in some way.