The Immeasurable Value of a Mentor

Posted by A. Smith on Mar-16-2011

Earlier this year, I was sharing in conversation with a colleague and a compelling question was raised, “If you were an entrepreneur and had to choose, would you give up your seed money or your mentor?”

While I haven’t had to rely on seed money, my intuition immediately told me I would hold steadfastly to my mentor.  I have been blessed with two incredible mentors, and I cannot imagine being where I am without them – professionally or personally.

My first mentor was also my first boss at Catholic Charities USA more than 15 years ago. Fresh out of college, I learned valuable lessons from her – including the fact that a college curriculum can only take you so far. The reality is, while I believe my years at the University of Maryland certainly helped prepare me, nothing compares to jumping in and doing the work. Sandy taught me so many tricks of the trade from building a media list to holding a press conference to writing an annual report.

I learned a ton about marketing and public relations. But, this was a case where actions didn’t speak louder than words. Sandy’s greatest influence over me came through our dialog. To this day, I marvel that she always took time to really communicate with me. Real time. Not rushed time. She gave me feedback, walked me through projects, cared about my personal life, and was always good for a laugh.

What I will never forget, what has resided in me for well over a decade, are the words Sandy spoke to me on my last day of working for her: “You have the talent, now you just need the confidence to go with it.” I cannot even begin to count the number of times I have echoed these words. They have carried me.

My second mentor entered my life about 10 years ago thanks to a cold call. No kidding. As a Navy wife, I moved around a lot early on in my career. So, I learned to be bold, pick up the phone, and simply introduce myself to people in my field. Some calls didn’t pan out. This one did. Big time.  Mona and I hit it off within minutes, and before I knew it, I was in her office and on her team.

From the start, Mona and I shared an integrated approach to marketing, a commitment to building brand, and a belief in the power of stories, but over time I realized what we shared was bigger than work. We shared vision, values, and a passion for life.

It’s hard for me to put into words the difference Mona made in my life. She pushed me, empowered me, and took time to know me. She assured me it’s okay to trust my gut, introduced me to the world of appreciative inquiry, and even changed my language (our words become our realities).

Mona and I used to laugh because we could finish each other’s sentences – when we weren’t talking over each other. And, when the rest of the world thought we were crazy (we are), we got each other. We danced on the edge of chaos, did amazing work together, and built an incredible friendship.

After I moved to Maine (I worked with Mona in Florida), I can remember hanging up phones call with her and thinking, “Who hangs up the phone with his or her boss and the last exchange is, ‘I love you’?”

Mona was vested in me. She believed in me. And, she continued to grow my confidence – the void Sandy identified so many years ago.

I am a work in progress. There is still so much I want to learn and do. But, I know I can achieve great things because these women, my mentors, have given me skill and confidence. They have been, and continue to be, extraordinary forces in my life.

Yes, I’ll keep my mentors, hands down. There are simply some things money can’t buy.

  1. Asunción Said,

    Don’t ask yourself what the planet needs, ask your self what makes you come alive. And then go and do that. Because what the planet needs is people who are alive. – Howard Thurman

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