A mentor is a trusted guide, a teacher, a coach, a person who provides us with wise counsel in our career development. I encourage all who read this, especially my beloved students at Towson University, to seek a mentor when you enter the world of work.
The term comes from Greek mythology. A friend of Odysseus, Mentor, was trusted with the education of Odysseus’ son Telemachus. Mentor’s name echos through history as an affirmation of the experienced person helping the less experienced to learn and grow.
There is a Zen saying that applies here: “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Be open to those who would mentor you, for they will come to you, perhaps when you need them the most.
My first mentor was David Wesley, who sadly, died of cancer. I met David (pictured here in my home in Hohenecken, Germany, in 1972) when I was stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army after graduating from college in 1970. David was a staff sergeant in the Public Information office in which I was assigned.
David was an extremely talented communicator, proficient as a writer, editor, photographer, designer, and manager. He spoke fluent German. He was well-read and had traveled extensively. He was a connoisseur of fine wines, gourmet food, and classical music. He was intelligent, erudite, accomplished, and personable.
In short, David Wesley was everything I was not. I was an immature and undisciplined young writer/editor trying to become a successful communication professional. David taught me how to do it, and in the process, showed me how to become a better man.
I will never forget one simple piece of advice he gave me early on. I asked him, as student to Zen master, “David, oh wise one, how can I become a better writer?”
He looked haughtily down his nose at me, took another puff of one of the ever-present cigarettes that would eventually kill him, and said: “Well, for starters, you can stop reading only those car magazines and start reading some good literature.” I took this advice. Now, thousands of books later, I see so clearly how right he was.
In addition to helping me with career skills, David also introduced me to the music of Beethoven, his favorite, a gift made more memorable because of Beethoven’s German roots. I was blessed to be able to live and travel in Europe to places where so much of my favorite music was written, all the while under the mentorship of a knowledgeable person like David. I treasure this period of my life, for I was introduced through David to so much that was enriching and beautiful and lasting.
David also gave me my first (and to date, my only) birthday party. Since I share Beethoven’s birthday, December 16, David and his wife Reggie, hosted what they billed as a “Beethoven Birthday Party”, but in truth, it was for me. Good German wine flowed freely, and we laughed and talked away the night listening to the beautiful and powerful music of Beethoven.
I learned so much from David that my writing skill could never do his memory justice. I have not yet mastered writing well enough to be able to do that. From editing my copy, to introducing me to fine dining from Bonn to Bavaria, to taking me to my first German wine tasting, I learned so much from this talented and generous mentor.
David Wesley gave the term “mentor” a greater dimension of substance and value, for he epitomized what the term stands for in its highest sense. I am eternally in his debt for taking a crude young communicator and trying to work some magic. I fear the magic was all mine, for I could never give to him equally what he gave to me.