The Power of Mentoring
By Bruce Noll
Imagine two men meeting for the first time. One extends his hand to shake and says, “Hi, my name’s Bob.” The other man enthusiastically extends his hand and says, “Hi, I’m Harry.” What comes next is pretty pervasive among men. Bob says to Harry, “What do you do?” Many men define themselves by what they do instead of who they really are.
This story is not about what society portrays as success; it’s about building safe and trusting relationships that help us gain clarity about who we really are and why we’re here. It’s about sharing gifts one already possesses, and it’s about going beyond one’s self to help another human being fulfill their dreams, which is its own reward!
At the ripe young age of 61, I often ask myself how I managed to get to this point in my life. Was it luck, genetics, or a combination of known or unknown factors randomly integrated to produce the man I am? I’m not unlike other men; I desire to be part of this planetary community and truth be told… I’m as human as the next guy and want many of the same things. But what I want most is to know who I am and why I’m here. I grew up in a broken home and it has been hard for me, as it is for most men in similar situations, to develop quality relationships with other men. I don’t have all the answers yet, but thanks to mentors and coaches, I’m getting closer every day.
I have spent the better part of the last 40 years managing, mentoring, teaching and coaching people in one form or another. I’ve come to the conclusion that what a person does for a living gives me no better idea of who they really are than if I knew where they lived or what kind of car they drove. How a man earns a living is not, in my humble opinion, a very good indicator of the quality of his character, nor does it entice me to establish a meaningful relationship with him.
Men aren’t generally social animals like their female counterparts, so meeting new people may not be high on our to-do lists. We don’t live in a vacuum either, so if we remain open to the unknown, we just might meet someone who will change our lives. It’s happened to me – twice!
They say that behind every successful man is a good woman. I believe that to be true. My wife Sophia has done more for me than I could repay. In the last several years, she has used her innate networking talent to contribute greatly to my goal of helping people build a life that matters.
Ten years ago, Sophia introduced me to a man who had just retired from teaching law at the University of Richmond. We were both from Philadelphia, enjoyed professional sports, and neither of us shied away from a good lesson. So initially, there was never a lack of something to talk about and eventually we began to have deeply personal, intellectual discussions. Gary was a scholar 15 to 20 years my senior. One of the most amazing attributes he possessed, along with an incredibly agile legal mind, was the ability to make someone feel comfortable and significant simply by being in his presence.
As our relationship ensued over the years, Gary and I talked about everything but primarily we focused on things we had in common: the desire to teach, coach and mentor in the areas of life and spirituality. Gary heard presentations I had given and always cheered me on, helping me express myself as I supported others to find their own voice. Sadly, Gary died in 2010. I’ve missed his wit, humor, companionship, and guidance. I think what I remember most is the unique way he challenged me with questions about life. These, I suspect, were the gifts he really had to offer and that’s what teachers and mentors provide… encouragement and the investment of themselves and their time. Turns out to be a very prosperous formula!
I guess there are people who are fortunate enough to have shared time with more than one person who made an indelible impact on their lives, but my relationship with Gary would have been enough for me. Yet, when Sophia and I moved to Asheville, I felt a void left by my friend and mentor’s departure. Being the intuitive empath that she is, my wife noticed.
As we settled in western North Carolina, lo and behold, lightening struck the same way twice when Sophia introduced me to my current friend and teacher, Ed. When we met, I knew something was going to change within me. What Ed has imparted cannot be repaid and a hearty ‘thank you’ no matter how sincere, just wouldn’t be sufficient.
For the last 3½ years, Ed and I have met every other week and sometimes more often. When I met Edward M. O’Keefe, PhD, his first book, Take It from the Top: What to do with a Peak Experience was almost complete. I was so excited for him, while being privy to the inner workings of publishing a book was pure pleasure for me.
All of the invaluable information, reassurance, assistance, guidance, inspiration and counsel I received while in Ed’s presence was free of charge. In fact, he would often honor me by saying that I should remember that he received as much from me as I did from him.
Our informal meetings at the bookstore provided enough stimulation to last until the next one, which both of us looked forward to with great anticipation. My 83-year-old mentor had fostered a safe, open and friendly environment filled with notes, quotes and all forms of inspiration and affirmation. I am still taken aback by his generosity… and always will be.
In today’s culture, more and more men’s groups are creating a safe place for men to explore, express, and discover their true identity. There are religious, civic, educational, 12-Step and other kinds of support groups. I’m very grateful for the work so many men have done recently to help redefine the image of the modern man. There are men who are forging the way by recognizing and accepting the feminine within. The norms of the past are slowly fading away and men are beginning to view themselves in a new and different light. I applaud these efforts and hope the time is near when more men will discover their true masculinity, which for me means a balance of both masculine and feminine qualities.
According to research provided by the National Mentoring Partnership, there are approximately 18 million young people who want a mentor, yet only three million are actively involved in mentoring relationships. These young people will one day grow to adulthood and without solid, ethical, and caring relationships may develop some very burdensome baggage. As a young man in need of help, I experienced difficulties growing up and believe that my overall progress would have been accelerated had I met men like Gary and Ed a lot earlier in life.
I’m one of the lucky ones. Though my mentoring relationships came later in life, they did come, and I am better for it.
Let’s close the mentoring gap. Be a mentor, coach and teacher. Invest yourself in someone. If we are all truly connected, then we need each other.
“A mentor is someone who sees more talent and ability within you, than you see in yourself, and helps bring it out of you.” ~ Bob Proctor
Peace be with you!
Bruce.Noll@yahoo.com: Enhancing the lives of others; helping people move from where they are to where they want to be!