Mentorship

Have you ever had a mentor? Have you even been one? Would you even know if you had one? We all have people we go to advice for. Some offer their wisdom even when we don’t ask for it. What does it mean to be a mentor? The purpose of this piece is to deconstruct mentorship. What forms it takes, who uses it, who needs it, and how to make the most of it. The pedestrian response would be to say mentorship is when a more experienced, knowledgeable person guides an understudy, or a protégé in the right direction.

                What direction do you want to go? I highly recommend having a mentor, but choosing one should be as thought provoking as choosing a house, or a car. A mentor can only steer you in the direction that they, themselves have traveled. Do you have someone in your life that you always take advice from? Think of that person, what kind of life have they lived? Where are they at financially, emotionally or even spiritually? How a person chooses a mentor says more about that person who is choosing than it says about the mentor they selected.

                To begin a mentorship selection, first you have to do a self-evaluation about what direction you want to be going. I do believe a person should be choosy about mentorship, but not good advice. When I first took on a role of leadership, I had an experienced leader give me the best advice I have ever received. He said

“As you work and train with other leaders, you will find very different styles, personalities, and values. Don’t reject good experience or advice from people because you may not see eye to eye with them. Every leader, good or bad, has something positive to contribute. Extrapolate everything you find useful from every leader, and discard what you don’t agree with. Regardless of your opinion of said person, everybody has something positive to contribute.”

This sound advice has resonated with me from the very beginning and it has served me well. I have worked with such a variety of leaders, with such diverse personalities, and very different management styles, I just took advice from everyone. Just like my mentor suggested, I gathered what I found useful, and discarded what I found to be unhelpful. What I have, is an eclectic plethora of sound advice, and a better understanding of how to utilize advice, no matter who is giving it.

“If someone is your teacher for just one day, you should regard that person as your parent for the rest of your life.” –a well-known Chinese proverb

 

                One of the biggest mistakes people make when it comes to advice, is we tend associate information with how we feel about the person giving it. This fallacy has two sides. On one hand, we ignore what could be useful, valuable, and even information that we want, just because we do not like the person giving us the information. On the other hand we may put too much stock in poor or unhelpful information because we like the person who is giving it to us. The goal to receiving good advice is to dissociate the information from the information-giver, and trust your own abilities of assessing the situation.

                That being said, when selecting a mentor, you don’t want make your selection based on how you feel about that person, you want to choose someone who has achieved the goals in life you aspire to achieve yourself. You don’t want to pick someone because you agree with them, or they are a good cheerleader. You want to pick someone who has already accomplished the things you want to accomplish, or At least has gotten further down the path than you have.

                Another important step of mentorship selection is self-reflection. Before you make a decision, you want to ask yourself,” How well do I take criticism?” As I mentioned before, you don’t want some cheerleader agreeing with every decision you make. It is important to have a mentor that supports you, but you need someone who will tell you when you are wrong, and you need to be able to take that direction without taking it personal. A coach is a great analogy for a mentor. A coach is someone is invested in your success, and he will tell you what you need to know, but he might not always tell you what you want to hear.

After you have made a mentor selection, and made a commitment to yourself to being mindful of improving, choose one. Just remember, don’t blindly follow all advice, or reject it based on how you feel about the person giving it. Think about where you are, where you want to be, and how you mentor got there.

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It’s good to be back!

I’m back. I took a sabbatical, well I stopped blogging for 4 months. last summer I was accepted in the Master’s of Science for Communications program at Grand Valley State University. I was so excited about my new venture, I decided not to blog until I was done with my class. I was a total success! I got an A! I am still not entirely sure if a Master’s in communications will catapult my professional career, but I am so happy to be learning again. I was so nervous in September, I had no idea what was in store for me. My first grad school class was called Systems Theory. It was an eye opener to say the least. My professor was so dynamic. It was more like being entertained than educated. Some of the reading material was complicated and difficult to comprehend, but because of lively class discussion and the professor’s lectures, I can now say I understand, and know general systems theory. I can’t say as to whether I want to pursue it as a discipline, but I can say that GST(general systems theory) has changed how I think, changed how I make decisions, and changed how I view the world.

The best part about grad school is the freedom of study. We were not given well defined parameters for our research. At first I found this a tad daunting. As an undergrad I was used to being told exactly what to study, what to write, how to write it, and how long it should be. My Comm 600 professor was very ambiguous with our logistical questions such as when someone would ask, “How many pages does the paper need to be?”, he would politely answer back, “As long as it needs to be”. This seemed to be a bit uneasy at first, but liberating. I was finally allowed to do the research I wanted to do. Reading the materials I wanted to read. And I during my presentations, I felt like I was actually teaching the class something. I also learned so much from the other students as well. It is not my intention to sum up my entire experience in my class in one blog, but I felt like I had to share some of what I experience.  My head is swimming with data that I am excited about downloading in blogs to come. Even now, I realize, where ever my path takes, writing will have to be a big part of it. For me writing is catharsis. It is a necessary release of information processing, during my figurative conscious REM state of a mundane existence. I will leave with some advice that was very helpful as I reflect on my journey. Don’t spend a lot of time, and energy trying to fix your weaknesses, focus on improving the things you love. I will explain in more detail in my future blogs. It’s good to be back!

 

Running with the Son

Running with The Son

I have started and new tradition this year. I have been waiting for my firstborn to be old enough to participate in a very positive pastime I picked up in the past. Luke and I have started running! Running is an activity that I did not take seriously until I was in my thirties. I have always been an energetic person, but as a young man I never dedicated myself to any activity that required commitment, hardship and discipline such as running.  These are positive attributes that I want to pass on to Luke so they stick.

My father was such a positive influence on me, sometimes I ruminate about the father and son traditions we had that helped shape me into the man I am today. In one of my favorite traditions, my father drove the big rig semi-truck for the Amway annual festival. Every year I would stay up late the night before, anticipating how exciting it would be, riding around in a big rig at 5am, putting up signs for the great event.

Another father-son tradition, I remember was helping my dad build this colossal deck on the back of our house when I was young. We spent all summer long building it. I don’t remember how much I helped, but I am sure my dad did all the work. Unfortunately, I never picked up on my dad’s handyman tendencies. These are the kind of lasting memories I want to impart in Luke’s memory for years to come.

Running with Luke is a great bonding experience, but as I think about it, it is much more than that. I am establishing memories with Luke that will last a lifetime. By setting a good example, I am reinforcing good behaviors.

When Luke runs, he starts out very fast. He runs so fast; I have to sprint to catch him. He only sprints for about 40-50 yards, then he wants to walk slow. These are not desirable habits of a cross country runner, so I started to talk to him about pace. He did not seem interested in pace. “If I run slow, I will get tired” he says.  I tried to explain to him that the purpose of running slow, is so you DON’T get tired. Still my logic was ill received. He proceeded to sprint, walk, sprint for a half mile.

I was frustrated that Luke did not take my instruction to heart, but then I had a thought, “what if my way isn’t the best way for Luke?” Just like I did not become the great handyman my father was, maybe Luke is more of a sprinter? This epiphany made me realize that long distance running is a great metaphor for MY life. I started running later in life, and when I started, I was a novice, just like my career, and just like my writing.

Maybe Luke won’t be a slow starter like me. He looks very much like me, but we are two very different personalities. We have different temperaments. Just like a sprinter, Luke may come crashing into the world at lighting speed. I do not want my laissez faire attitude to life rub off on Luke.

That is why it is so important for me to push myself to strive to be a better person. Now I truly understand the fourth commandment “Honor thy Father”. It doesn’t just mean to respect your father as your authority figure, it means to take in all the good habits and positive attitudes and pass them on to the next generation. Continuous improvements don’t end in a lifetime; they need to be passed on to future generations.

“The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” – Greek proverb

Carnival Vertigo and other generational curses

 

Town and Country days in Sparta are here again! I grew up in Lowell, in a small farm community just like Sparta.  I was so pleased to take my two sons to town, and partake in the festivities.  Sparta’s carnival evoked fond memories of Lowell’s 4 H fair. The fair reminded me of the high-energy Fireman’s barrel fights, the smell of hot cotton candy, greasy polish sausages, and the twinkling lights on the gargantuan carnival rides, that almost seem out of place, like a rocket ship in the middle of a football field. Luke has been looking forward to this day all year.

As a young child, I was always the boy that had to be coaxed to ride the larger rides.  I was not an aggressive risk taker, like my sons are. I didn’t play sports. Nor did I wrestle, or get in many fights. For that reason, I think I may have missed out on opportunities to experience the thrills of exhilarating events. I have always had a fear of heights as well. I have suffered from acrophobia for long as I can remember, this hindered me from riding anything too high or anything that rolled me upside-down.

I was raised to be cautious. My parents did not encourage me to be aggressive, or stare danger in the face, and for that reason I had a safe, and somewhat injury free childhood. I did not even suffer a broken bone until I was 30. Sometime in the mid-80’s I ventured out to Cedar Point with my folks.  My mother, who was no dare-devil herself, had to encourage me to board the monstrous Gemini. I would not have ridden the creaky wooden edifice, if she had not intervened. It wasn’t until I was in my early 20’s that I rode the famed Magnum (tallest rollercoaster the world at the time).  I only boarded the horrific beast because I didn’t want the girl I was with, to think of me as a coward! I have been worried that my sons would inherit my meekness towards carnival rides, but not so with Luke!

After Luke conquered all the moderate rides with ease, he got in line for the Ferris wheel. I was terrified. Looking up I gulped thinking, I would not want to be up that high in those rickety steel trap buckets! I asked Luke “Do you really want to ride this?” He looked up at me and explained “Yes I do!”  My immediate reaction was to stifle his enthusiasm and remind him how high this ride was, and no matter how hard he cried, they would not let him down.

Suddenly I had a moment of clarity. I noticed he was standing next to 2 other boys, friends from school. Same age, same size. They didn’t seem to have a care in the world. Their parents weren’t hovering over them, alarming them of the impending doom they we about to undergo. Have I been subconsciously transcending my own fears, and feelings of inadequacies on to my offspring?

Luke had no reservations, no fear, he was just ready to have fun with his friends. From the very moment Luke was born, he has been so precious to me, I spent his first year with my stomach in knots, nervous that he would stop breathing, or I would drop him, or he would contract some rare illness. Luke loved the ride! He had an enormous smile on his face the whole time! I was so proud of him I choked a little.

As we were waiting in line, Luke is talking to EVERYBODY, and telling them EVERYTHING. “My baby brother can’t ride this ride because he is too little” he communicated to some random stranger. I realized that Luke has no fear to talk to people either. Another disorder I do not want to pass on to him.

Luke is so upfront and honest when he talks to strangers, I admire the way he shares everything with no fear of repercussions. No insecurities to hold him back. I now understand, Luke doesn’t need to be more like me, I need to be more like Luke. A risk taker, unmindful of what people think. A doer, not a thinker. Luke did not inherit my docility; he embraces every moment. I am always going to be there to protect him, but I am learning to take a step back and see what he is capable of. At the same time I am going to take step forward and find out what I am capable of too.

You Cant Do That!

You can’t Do That!   How many times have you heard the phrase “You can’t do that”?  Have you ever let someone else project their own inadequacies on you? I have.  My biggest regrets in life are not the things I did, they are the things I didn’t do.  Writing is one of them. 1987 an English teacher once told that I would not be successful in school, and I was wasting his time. I started out with a negative attitude towards writing. I didn’t even give it a chance. 19 years later I earned my Bachelor’s Degree in English.  If I had only gotten started sooner in life.    “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step -Lao Tzu”.   This reminds me of one of my favorite Bill Murray movies “what about Bob”. In this movie, Bill plays this dysfunctional person who takes the term “Baby steps” too literal.  “Baby steps” helped me tackle long distance running ten years ago. Another accomplishment I was told I was crazy for trying. Getting off the couch was the hardest part. The first step is not only the most difficult, it is the most important. Now with writing, I am now starting out with baby steps like I did with running.   I plan to apply the same scaffolding approach I used for running.  When I first began to run, I had to find ways to stay motivated. To keep me from being discouraged, I used small easy goals and celebrated minor accomplishments. I never lost sight of my bigger goal, the Old Kent 25k river bank run. It was difficult, and I had not been training my whole life like most of the other people in that race, but I decided to do the best that I could no matter what.  “Never try to be better than someone else…. but, never cease trying to be the best that you can be. That is under your control, the other isn’t.”-Coach Wooden. It isn’t productive to compare yourself to others all the time. While it is good to benchmark off other people’s accomplishments, the only person I chose to compete with, was myself. I found it better to set realistic goals in the beginning so that I would not get discouraged.  I also find it handy to surround myself with people that have similar goals, and positive attitudes. I used to tell myself “A bad run is better than no run at all”.  I plan to take the same approach to writing as well.   After writing my first blog, I already see things that I don’t like.  I don’t like to think of mistakes as liabilities, I prefer to think of them as teachers. The greatest teachers I learned from, were not just good at succeeding, they were good at failing too. The key is to learn from failure and not repeat it.  “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results”-Albert Einstein. There is some debate if that quote was ever spoken by Dr Einstein, but I still like it. The key to not repeating the same mistakes, is tracking. Something I did not practice until recently. I used to rely on my memory. That is not a great plan for me. Memory is funny, it seems to focus on the negative. I don’t remember every positive encouragement everyone has ever given me, but I do remember every negative thing that was every said to me. I remember every time someone told me “you can’t do that!” Thankful now, years later, I am starting to believe I can.

The Journey Begins

First Blog

Preface

This is my first blog ever. I am considering pursuing a career in writing, I have always enjoyed writing, but I have never actually written a blog. I have recently decided to return to GVSU to earn a Master’s of Science in Communications. It’s not a writing degree, but I really enjoy the subject matter, and I think it will help me transition my career from management, to something other than what I do now. My goal is to start a career that involves learning, researching, teaching, and writing about things I care about. Researching theories and writing papers were my strongest accomplishments in my undergraduate studies, so I have decided to pursue a career that compliments my strengths, abilities, and my personality. 10 years ago, I earned my English degree with the intent to teach elementary education, and I never got the chance to write about what I wanted.  So if my first blog seems unrefined, bland, amateur, or juvenile, I apologize, but I promise my work will get better the more I do it. If you stay with me, you will not be disappointed. I have big plans swirling around in my head and I feel like I need to get them all in the written form.

About Me. Who is that tall guy?

If you don’t know me, I am 6’8”, and I have a quiet reserved nature about me. I have been labeled a “gentle giant” by many people. I have always had to work hard for a living, mostly taking on menial jobs to pay bills. This is true for two reasons. I have never been good at saving moving. As soon as I accumulate any amount of cash, I spend it. Furthermore, I have never pursued a serious career. When I started college years ago, I could never settle on one single thing I could be passionate about, and exploit it to earn a living. In the past, I have rarely turned down jobs because they were hard labor, or demeaning. I have always worked as hard as I could, and took criticism, and direction with a professional attitude.  My first couple of jobs I worked at some fast food restaurants. I started working in the hospitality business because those jobs are easy to get and easy to learn.  I never like interviewing for positions that I was not qualified for, or had high expectations. I do not like being put on the spot. Eventually I took a truck loading job at Steelcase to earn more money. This job was very heavy lifting, and kept me constantly moving. I did enjoy the physical portion of the job, I am bigger than most people, so I liked the idea that my size could be useful in my work. I never really felt good about what I was doing, or why I was doing it, other than to pay bills.

I do feel good about writing. I have not done very much of it since college, and I have been mostly focusing on my new position as zone leader, and my new family. I am ashamed to say I have not been reading much either. I like reading; I just never wanted to spend time doing it. I do recall that my writing was always better when I was reading more.  When I was younger I used to read a lot of science fiction.  My favorite authors included Michael Crichton, Stephen King, John Grisham, and Edgar Allen Poe. When I was reading a lot of Crichton, I actually started to write my own science fiction novel. This experience gave me a profound clarification how little I knew about the world, when I tried to write about it. I believe that to be a great writer you have to have an immense knowledge, or experience about what you are writing about, or you will not be successful. For instance Michael Crichton went to Harvard Medical School, John Grisham was a lawyer, these people could write fantastic stories based on knowledge and life experiences. I look back on my life, all the experiences I had, and the studies I did, and I just never saw anything worth writing about. Now I am regretting the missed opportunities, but I am also looking forward to starting my new life as a novice litterateur.

 

Good company in a journey makes the way seem shorter. — Izaak Walton

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