When I was in public school, my dad came home one day with a beautiful new piano and my parents decided that my sister and I should learn how to play it. My mom signed us up for lessons at a local convent and our first teacher was a very elderly nun. Her name escapes me but what I DO remember is that she kept a wad of kleenexes stuffed in the wrist of her shirt and constantly re-used them to catch the steady drips that ran from her nose. She also had breath that smelled like a pungent combination of stale coffee and mothballs and she would blow it in my face when she leaned in to offer her frequent musical corrections. Needless to say – my piano playing was pathetic because I was way more focused on dodging the boogery tissues and chronic halitosis to focus on the music. Thankfully after a month or so my mom decided we should try out a different instructor.
Mr. Carr was a gentle, patient and talented musician who offered classes at my family church. I liked him right away. He was funny and spunky and his breath smelled like spearmint. And miraculously my playing improved exponentially. After only a few weeks together he offered up a challenge: “Lori” he said “I want you to sing along when you play this next piece.” I was only too happy to oblige because I was absolutely certain I was destined to become a world-famous singer. I belted out the song as I plunked away at the keyboard and after I was done Mr. Carr just smiled and continued on with our lesson.
Shortly after Mr. Carr approached my parents and asked if they would be willing to let me do singing lessons with him in addition to our piano sessions. Thankfully they said that would be fine and I embarked some of the most joyful years of my childhood. I adored my vocal classes with Mr. Carr – he made me feel like the most amazing singer in the world and even signed me up to compete at local music festivals. I was on cloud nine. Up in the choir room during those 1/2 hour lessons, I was free to indulge in one of my passions and I got tons of positive reinforcement for doing something I loved.
What I realize now as an adult looking back on my time with Mr. Carr is that aside from my family- he was the first person who really GOT me. He saw the real me and he acknowledged the spark that was inside of me. I’m not quite sure how he figured out that singing was what I really wanted to do during those lessons but he managed to tap into something that made me feel special. He didn’t think my singing was frivolous or a waste of time – he encouraged me to embrace my inner artist.
I have been incredibly fortunate to have had a long list of amazing mentors who have nudged me along my path in life. People who have encouraged me, inspired me, pushed me and taught me to become the woman I am today. There was Ms. Simmons in high school who took notice of my writing and taught me how to tell my own authentic stories. A university senior named Steve who recognized my homesickness and helped me to see the adventure and fun in the changes of life. My dear friend Gerald who heard me talking on the phone while I was working at one of my first jobs as a receptionist and decided he would help me get into the voice over business. Gentle sweet Paul who took me under his wing at a new job in public relations and taught me the value in being kind and appreciative to your colleagues. Alyson, Bev and Georgine who opened my eyes to a kind and friendly approach to parenting and marriage. Tanya who took my call just five years ago and has been generous enough to offer excellent mentorship in the highly competitive voice over industry. And nutritionist Megan who taught me to look at my diet in a whole new way…. to name just a few.
This business of “mentoring” is not an easy thing to do- one has to be willing to put aside their own ego and agenda to truly focus and nurture the needs of another. It’s a selfless act of caring and love. And the good news is there are lots of incredible people out there filled to the brim with knowledge and experience who would make excellent mentors. You just have to know where to look. Here are a few things you can intentionally do to uncover the people who will “get” you:
REACH OUT: Although some of the mentors in my life came to me by chance – I have also reached out many times to ask for guidance. Of course sometimes others are too busy or not interested but I’ve found that most often people are more than happy to help. Figure out what area of your life would benefit from some mentorship (relationships, parenting, career, fitness, health, volunteering), make a list possible candidates and reach out!
AGE IS JUST A NUMBER: Don’t worry if you feel too “young” or too “old” to start a mentoring relationship. I have benefitted greatly from special teachers from the time I was little right up to today. And I hope to continue to be inspired by mentors for many years to come.
LOOSEN THE TERMS: Perhaps asking someone to “mentor” you might sound a bit too heavy or intense in certain instances. Instead, ask a friend for coffee or a glass of wine and pick their brain about the things you admire or are curious about. You might ignite an informal mentorship and friendship at the same time.
BE A MENTOR: One of the best ways to connect with others is to offer your own mentorship to someone who is struggling. We all have unique talents that can be used to inspire those around us. Be careful not to force information on someone who isn’t interested – but if you find a kindred spirit who is curious about your approach to life- that is the perfect opportunity to share your wisdom.
APPRECIATE YOUR MENTORS: A few years ago I wrote letters to some of my own personal mentors expressing my gratitude. It was a wonderful experience to offer this appreciation and I also got the opportunity to reconnect with some of my heroes.
Now that I’m a mom, I am keenly aware of the people who take the time to acknowledge the sparks in my own children. I can see the beams of light shooting from them bright and strong but I know how valuable it is to have that light acknowledged by another. I try my best to surround them with people who make them feel special, who nurture their passions and who will lovingly nudge them along their own unique paths. Perhaps if they are very lucky, they will find their own minty-fresh breathed Mr. Carr. And they will feel seen. You just can’t ask for anything better than that.