I never said I wanted a mentor.
Nineteen years ago I took a temporary job at a government research lab as a young systems analyst. I was entering data and building small databases. I was learning as I went. And then he found me. A guy that could have easily walked right by. But as I asked him question, he decided to he wasn't too busy to meet and talk.
Within a few weeks, he'd asked to transfer me to his department and I became first a systems analyst and eventually a manager of software engineers.
I didn't know I needed a mentor. I didn't know how they could help. I was busy. As the world of databases grew, my work grew with it.
He helped me and changed the course of my life. I have no idea what things would have looked like if Dennis Hall hadn't taken an interest in my future.
He never said he wanted a mentor.
He didn't fill out an application. He didn't visit my website and fill out a form. He was, like everyone else around him, busy. He was a developer. He worked with WordPress. And as it continued to grow, so did his business.
It was a simple tweet that started things out. A request for a quick Skype call. An interest in getting some business help, and a bit of copy written. How much would the call cost? How much would the copy cost?
But what came across more than anything else was a sense of interest. A desire to grow. And the respect for my time.
Influence is a choice.
I'll admit that when I get those tweets requesting a few minutes on Skype, I'm tempted to ignore them. I'm busy. I'm tired. I have a lot on my plate. But I'm also a person who values mentorship and coaching.
I learned directly the impact that a little interest could have. I once asked Dennis (my mentor) a question and he explained that the way he solved this 23rd dimensional mathematical challenge was to reduce it to essentially a 3 dimensional problem and solve it there, before extrapolating.
And it's hard to think that as I answer business questions about the elasticity of a market and the demand curve of pricing that I might be doing the same thing for someone else. And yet, when I answer questions, I often get that reaction.
The truth is that we each have a decision to make. Do we keep focused on what's in front of us? The things we still don't know? The things we still have to do? Or do we look back and lend a hand to help someone else.
It's a choice.
My other mentor in life graduated early from Stanford.
Let that sink in for a bit.
And after graduating with an engineering degree, he decided instead to work as a campus pastor at Berkeley. I know. Let that sink in even deeper.
Jason's not famous like Dennis Hall. He didn't create the first virtual operating system and get people to start using Unix, like Dennis did.
But his impact, over 20 years mentoring and developing leaders across the country, has been profound. And he taught me something about mentoring and coaching that has become the definitive way I mentor people.
Jason was generous with his time. He was generous with his money. And most importantly, he was generous in creating experiences for me that I never would have had otherwise.
- I was in my first wedding when Jason got married.
- I first slept on the beach at Pt Reyes when Jason gathered a group of guys to do it.
- I first spoke to 300 people when Jason asked me to.
- I first planned a conference because Jason gave me a chance.
He created opportunities for me to learn and grow, just like Dennis did.
Not everyone mentors the same way.
I'll be honest, my way may not be the best. That's ok, you can craft your own approach, based on how you've be shaped and the experiences you've had. Mine isn't a formal program. It's not a series of steps.
In fact, when I start doing it, I have no idea if I even caught the right sense that a person is interested or open to being mentored.
So I watch for signs to see if they lean in, or pull away. But if they lean in, and ask for more time and more influence, I share it.
I have conversations. I share my time and experiences. I create opportunities for experiences they might not have had.
And heck, I even write some web copy for free. All because I want to accelerate someone's growth. All because I want to see them succeed.
Can I introduce you to a friend?
Jared Atchison may need no introduction to you if you're in the WordPress world. He's a stellar young man writing exceptional code as a WordPress engineer.
He filled out no form on my website. He applied for no program. But he expressed interest in learning and growing. And he respected my time.
And so we've spent the last several months talking about his business. We've travelled and hung out to get more time for conversations. Next year we'll head to the Indy 500 to enjoy an experience, together with a few other friends.
But today it's worth introducing him to you because he's reached a milestone. He's finally relaunched his website.
(You know, the one with some of that copy I wrote.)
So let me ask you a question.
Who are you helping? Whose growth are you accelerating?