Our first meeting was on a cloudy June morning at the Stratford Inn on 15th Street in Del Mar. This was in 1991. My soon-to-be mentor was recently retired at the age of 66 and had decided he wanted to pass on what he had learned. Since I was only 26, I was eager to hear what he had to say.
I was surprised when a small, bald man walked up and reached out his wrinkled hand and said, “Hi, I’m Joe and I’m here to help.” We ordered coffee and sat outside at small table and Joe just listened to me as I rambled on about what I had done in my life. He appeared unimpressed.
As an overachiever, I’d already written three books, founded a chain of retail stores, and appeared in the media numerous times before I was 25. I was proud of my accomplishments. Little did I know, Joe was a well respected CEO of a Fortune 500 company and worth over $500 million dollars. Yet Joe sat still sipping his coffee and listening to me with a nod here or there.
When I was finished bragging about myself he spoke, “I’m not hear to talk about your past, I want to know about what you want to do in the future.” I explained what I wanted to accomplish in five years and how I thought I could get there by taking a series of small steps. That’s when he said, “You sound like a singles hitter. What you need to do is swing for the fences. You need to hit home runs.”
Today I know we are both big baseball fans, but back then I was questioning his baseball acumen and the analogy as well. What did he mean, swing for the fences? That could mean a series of strikeouts and no success. No, a series of singles would be better. Safer. So I thanked him for his time and went about working my plan of stringing together singles.
As we fast forward to today, Joe is still alive (and we are still friends) and I am 53 years-old. Joe attended my wedding (he flew to Maui to be there) and is now friends with my entire family (he lives two doors down from my mom). Whenever I see him he always asks how things are and I always say the same thing, “Things are good.”
I did exactly what I said I would, I had a solid (and long) career of singles (small successes), but I never did achieve massive success (that home run Joe talked about). I’ve never told Joe this, but I should. He was right.
I wish I could say, “Joe, things are great. Unbelievable. Stupendous.” Simply, that is not the case. Joe must have seen something in me I didn’t see in myself. I should have listened to him and swung for the fences—I could have hit a grand slam instead of series of singles.
Having a mentor tell you what to do is hugely helpful . . . if you heed the advice. The mentor’s role is to share their insights and ideas. It is up to the person being mentored to act on this advice.