The road to success starts with finding a great mentor.

by William Childs

I’m hoping this will not come as a shock to you, but it’s rare that we succeed in life or business without any outside influence or help along the way. All of us can benefit from having positive role models or mentors in our lives. The outstanding ones will provide guidance, much-needed instruction, and, when appropriate, a little tough love. I was fortunate that I had exceptional mentors growing up who inspired me, guided me, challenged me, and often told me the things that I needed to hear, not necessarily what I wanted to hear.

The people who mentored me provided valuable lessons that, to this day, I still call upon when things in my life become challenging. I believe there’s no more noble calling than to provide fundamental insight to someone looking for guidance to help them maximize their potential. A good mentoring relationship can last a lifetime or only a few short months; what ultimately matters is the wisdom and lessons that get imparted. Great mentors see the talent and ability within you long before seeing it in yourself. “Show me a successful individual, and I’ll show you someone who had real positive influences in their life. I don’t care what you do for a living. If you, do it well, I’m sure someone was cheering you on or showing the way,” said Academy Award-winning actor Denzel Washington.

I have tried to pay it forward and positively influence the people I’ve encountered on my journey through life and the places I’ve worked. To this day, I enjoy helping people, and I am not shy about openly expressing my opinions, knowledge, or life lessons when asked.

Mentors are everywhere. It’s finding a good one that can prove challenging. Parents, teachers, coaches, co-workers are all uniquely positioned to impart positive knowledge. However, to be an effective mentor, you need to be authentic, trustworthy, and above all, be willing to invest in others without expecting anything in return. When you freely give your time, energy, and guidance to someone who appreciates it, you’ll discover that you’ll be transformed through the process as well. Kimberly Hopkins, Executive Director of the Wilson Area Partners in Education Foundation, believes that “Mentorship doesn’t have to be complicated. The most impactful gift a mentor can impart, for both children and adults, is an ear to listen without judgment. When someone feels heard, they also feel valued. Over time, this simple gift can empower a mentee to pursue options and opportunities that might otherwise have seemed impossible.”

My favorite story about making a life-changing impact is about an older gentleman taking his dog for a morning walk on a lonely beach. As he’s walking, he sees in the distance the shape of what looks to be a person picking something up, then lobbing it into the sea. As the man gets closer, he’s able to see the thousands of starfish that have beached themselves on the sand and will die if they don’t get help. He feels compelled to ask a question, “Hey, what are you doing?” A young man responds, “I’m throwing these starfish back into the sea so they will survive; otherwise, they won’t make it.” The older man responds with a confused look on his face, laughs and says, “There are simply too many of them, it’s a noble gesture, but you can’t possibly make a difference.” At that moment, the young man bends down, picks up a starfish, and casually tosses it back into the sea while turning to the older gentlemen and saying, “Well, I made a difference to that one.”

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