A little over a month ago, I was at the yearly Dealer-FX Gold Support Conference in Toronto. It’s a conference we put together to get updated on new and exciting content, network with new colleagues and catch up with old ones. Three days into it, I was feeling great about the week and all I had accomplished when my closest colleague and friend had pulled me aside with the most disconcerting look I’ve ever seen on his face. In a single sentence, I went from riding high to being floored and immobilized.
Jumping back almost seven years, I was working in Port-au-Prince, Haiti just after the devastating earthquake had shook the entire country. I was there providing medical relief, conducting search & rescue, and assisting in food distribution. While there, I met the man that would later become my long time mentor and friend. We both had a passion for leaving our mark on the world combined with an attitude that didn’t allow anyone to stand in our way. I, immediately, looked up to him and wanted nothing more to “take the path less traveled”, as he always use to say.
Even when I left the Army, I didn’t even bother making a trip home to decompress from the my active service. I loaded everything I owned into, and onto, my old sedan and drove from Ft. Bragg, NC to Boston, MA in a single day just to start working with him. The projects he put me to work on were fairly small. Local medical response courses for military/law enforcement types. But, it wasn’t long until we were working internationally.
From South America to the Middle East, we worked so many different odd jobs and projects that I couldn’t even keep count if I tried. The more I worked with him, the more my eyes were opened to the world. The world of culture, language, entrepreneurship, national/international business, and the world of human nature. I couldn’t stop taking it all in. I was learning so much, and by no means in the traditional sense that most perceive as self-education.
“Fake it, until you make it.” A common phrase said by many, but I immediately changed my perspective on it when I had said it to him. His response to it was sharp, and without hesitation.
“Don’t fake it. Don’t ever fake it. You must become it. Only then can you truly make it.” Misplacing his commonly soft-spoken tone, he said this in a way that it resonated within me deeply. That’s when I truly developed my own style of learning: Deep immersion of every topic I needed to learn.
It was no longer about “studying up”. It was about developing fluency in all things we worked on. When working internationally, that almost always started with learning about the clientele: from their language (down to even the common slang phases they may use) and religious denomination, to their food and entertainment choices. Funny enough, this is partly why I know more about the international sport of Cricket than I do about the NBA. It’s the little details that are always the most crucial when doing any type of business relations and negotiations.
He was, in the truest since, the model definition of a mentor. Without ever educating me on how to do anything directly, he simply guided me to learn the necessary subjects on my own. It was just this past year that I wanted to get into investing into the stock market; something I knew he did well at. Instead of sitting down with me and teaching me how to do it, he gave me a reading list of four books (the first one being The Intelligent Investor by Benjamin Graham) and subscriptions to several high-end market analytics forums as if he was divvying out homework. Walking into it, I didn’t even know what the definition of a stock was; but, walking out with the ability to navigate through my own stock portfolio with confidence.
It was always his encouragement to never stop that put me where I am today.
“Hey, how’s your reading going?”
“Meh, I’ve been bad about it this week…”
“Why, what’s going on?”
“I’ve just been caught up with (insert bullshit excuse here)”
“Huh, that’s too bad. Did that take up every second of the day?”
“Well, no not really. I was just always so exhausted at the end of the day.”
“Makes sense. I mean, that’s if you were so exhausted that you couldn’t even lift a single book at the end of the day just to read a single page. That would make sense.”
“I’ll get back to reading tonight…”
“Ya, you do that.”
By him being my mentor, he taught me what the true definition of what a mentor is.
1.) I chose him, he didn’t choose me.
After working with him briefly, I knew he was someone that I wanted to learn from. His ideas and methods were linear to the way I wanted to operate myself and my future businesses.
2.) I never paid him and he was not appointed to me; nor, I to him.
Offering mentorship as a service has become very popular. Despite knowing there is a great deal you can gain from getting a paid service mentorship, I think it takes away a key element needed to develop yourself with a mentor. The transaction creates a numerical expectation, which in turns puts a metric of value on the information received by the mentor. It, also, puts a rush on the whole mentorship process. A large portion of me being mentored was developing a bond that led to him giving me guidance that he felt suited best with my personality and goals. With a paid mentorship, there is typically a curriculum that is followed that may (or, may not) get slightly tailored towards a your goals; but, not nearly as organically developed as it would be without the transaction.
Without the transaction, I am not driven by the need to harvest enough information to satisfy the dollar amount given in a transaction. I’m organically driven by my own self-propelled desire to develop myself with the guidance of someone that has either walked the path that I desire, or can point me in the direction to become my own pathfinder. Which leads me to my next definition of a mentor.
3.) He was my guide, not my teacher.
Come to think about it, he really didn’t directly teach me very much. We never sat down and went over how to do anything; not step-by-step, at least. But, what he did teach me was much more valuable.
A teacher is typically someone that is appointed to you, or vis-versa, to teach you a topic of information that usually follows a curriculum. And, all the while, deviating from the curriculum would be considered a bad thing despite the needs of the student. This was not him.
He knew best how to encourage me, and even better how to pressure me. I thrived in a few of his challenges while also failing at many of them. He knew I didn’t accept defeat easily, which led to developing a persistence in problem-solving well beyond what would be considered the norm.
His longtime mentorship of me slowly grew to be one of the strongest friendships imaginable. We would cross oceans for each other if ever needed, and even did so on a few occasions.
He was more than just my mentor. He was my father. He was my brother. But, most of all, he was my friend.
“Thousands of candles can be lit from a single candle, and the life of the candle will not be shortened.” Buddha
Thank you, Thomas, for lighting my fire. I promise to one day pass the flame that burned ever so brightly within you to others that desire to “take the path less traveled.”
Written By: Patrick Skinner