We all need colleagues, family, friends and mentors

“No man is an island, entire of itself…” John Done wrote those words 400 years ago and they have remained true over the centuries.

Our journey through this world is a tough one, the road full of pitfalls and obstacles. Regardless of how strong or gifted we think are, rarely are we capable of making that trek effectively without the assistance of others. More often than not, we owe our successes to more than our exertions alone.

There are those that physically assist in the process. Sometimes we are the worker-bee toiling along with others. Coworkers are routinely instrumental in completing a project or task assigned to us. We must learn to “play well with others” as my mother once said. This has always been a challenge for me, but I have learned to respect and honor the contributions of others.

Sometimes we need emotional support. Friends and family help fill that role. We are faced with challenges that so distract us that meaningful participation in life seems impossible (the breakup of a relationship or death of a loved one come easily to mind). A support network is essential to our emotional survival. In our region, family is crucial. The old adage that “blood is thicker than water” applies in spades.

Some of us, whose path dissipated rather than cohered our nuclear family, sought the company of outsiders. While relationships growing up were often fast and transient, things changed once I entered West Point. The military creates ties that can be unbreakable.

While I was fortunate enough not to have endured the trials of combat, where true brotherhood is forged, I did develop a small cohort of comrades for whom support is unquestioned – my “tribe.” When one of our brothers calls, you respond. You drop your own burdens and answer the summons. It is what you do; it is unequivocal and reciprocal.

However, there are times when we also need a mentor, “an experienced and trusted advisor.” While succinct, that definition barely scratches the surface of what a true mentor brings to the table.

I have mentored a few in my various careers (the army, business and politics). There have been successes and failures to various degrees, some my fault, some the recipient’s and sometimes through no fault of anyone.

Often, we don’t even know that we are the mentor. Rarely do we get that direct correlation between what we try to do and what our impact is.

As a young officer, I took command of an Armored Cavalry Troop and, at the ripe old age of 27, became the “old man.” A while ago, one of my former lieutenants reached out to me. We reminisced for a while, then he thanked me for my mentorship and told me that indirectly there were several generations of soldiers that had benefited from my leadership. I was truly humbled.

I have also been blessed to have mentors of my own. If we are lucky, we find someone at each stage of our lives. They come from many different avenues…peers, subordinates, superiors, or simply those who God puts in our path.

In the military, we called them your “Godfather.” They not just gave advice and support, they helped ensure your success. They had the power to mitigate your enemies and rivals. They could make or break careers.

In my case a rising general officer plucked a rather cocky (and errant) subaltern out of a mess, made me his aide-de-camp and salvaged my career from oblivion. He changed my attitude and the trajectory of my life.

There have also been mentors after I left the military. For twenty years Dorman Stout, who recently passed away, patiently nurtured me along and taught me the ropes in real estate development. He was much more than a friend and counselor.

Sometimes the problems are cumulative. A “full” life had left me with an empty feeling, not quite despair, but with grave uncertainty about what I had done (or not done). As my pastor, Greg DePriest helped me find my place in a greater world. He is now more than an advisor, he is a source of great inspiration and comfort when the world wants to throw you a “smack-down.”

There are so many others over the years; it would take a short novella to chronicle their influences on me.

I am now over 60 and am trying to lessen the day to day load. As an entrepreneur, this is antithetical to my nature. When you start and run your own business, there ain’t no easy day. You learn early on that “unless you are rowing, the boat don’t move.”

As I try to make yet another personal transition, I have found a new mentor, one that evolved and morphed from a long-term friendship. Tony Hewitt is now helping, in his words, “ease me towards retirement.”

I’m not sure I quite ready for that just yet. I figure I’ve got at least “one good thing” left in me. But, it is comforting to know that I have my own “tribe” of friends, advisors and mentors to ease me into whatever God has in store.

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1 Response

  1. Winfield Pate says:

    Excellent, as usual! I’m real proud of you; and I still view you as my little brother. Thanks again for introducing me to the family. God bless!