“I don’t know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know; the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve.” ~ Dr. Albert Schweitzer
I’m not sure exactly when the realization dawned; that heroes and mentors were different entities. Not that they can’t co-exist. They can. But they can also be entirely separate of one another.
For example, if you were to ask me who my hero was growing up, my answer would have been my mom. In fact, if you were to ask me today, my answer would still be the same. But do I consider her a mentor? No. I look up to her. I love the values she believes in. I hope to be as firm in my faith as she has always been. She’s been through some of the toughest things you can imagine and kept her belief, her joy, and her family together. I hope I inherited her strength.
Of course, being who I am, I looked up the definitions and here’s what Merriam-Webster had to say:
: a person who is admired for great or brave acts or fine qualities
: a person who is greatly admired
: the chief male character in a story, play, movie, etc.
: someone who teaches or gives help and advice to a less experienced and often younger person
Strange as it sounds, despite the definition, my teachers were never people I considered to be mentors, either. Although they taught me and I respected them, it was more clinical. Not bone deep…pushing me to grow, encouraging me, and driving me to be more.
Maybe it’s because I was a girl with whom knowledge came easily, but it wasn’t until my late 20’s that I’d ever truly felt challenged…in a good way. I skated my way through most things based on natural ability, charm, a lot of common sense and my own driven nature. Then things changed and I discovered my first mentor.
No longer happy with the career path I’d had for the first 10 years of my working life, I decided to shift from medically related to retail sales. As a sales rep and eventually supervisor, my natural love of and ability to read people made me highly effective. I was quickly promoted up through the ranks into a single location manager role.
Then I was given the opportunity of a lifetime. I had a specialty, you see. I was great at networking and being able to build mutually beneficial relationships in a shared partnership environment. So when my company decided to create a manager position that encompassed 4-5 smaller scale locations (much like a mini-district manager), my boss considered the position designed for me, and a no-brainer. The problem was that there were no guidelines, boundaries or examples because the role was literally just created. It would be a trial and error situation where we figured things out along the way. In commissioned sales, this was definitely not the norm. For the first time, I struggled. My results were inconsistent.
Strangely, through this struggle, I discovered my first mentor. I already knew her. She was my boss. Her name was Ashley. When we sat down for my first performance appraisal I received my first less than stellar score. Frustrated, feeling like I was doing everything I possibly could, I asked her what I could do. She looked me in the eye and said, “I’d like you to work on one thing this year. Hold your team accountable. Don’t let them get away with excuses.” In fact, she took it one step further, and it’s a lesson I’ve never forgotten. She said, “I don’t accept excuses from you, so why are you allowing it from them? When you allow your team to get away with excuses you’re sending them a message. You’re letting them know you don’t believe they’re capable of anything more.”
She didn’t micro-manage me. She didn’t coddle me. She told me the biggest thing she thought would improve my business and let me sink or swim, but she was there to listen and give advice whenever I chose to reach out. In the past it was easy to sway my team to my point of view. I was beside them all day. In this role, my staff only saw me one day a week as I rotated locations. She was right. I couldn’t simply talk to them and be done with it. They needed to know that if they didn’t follow the action plans I rolled out, there would be consequences. I got very good at accountability. My team developed into her “go to” group whenever she needed strong business results regardless of where our company shifted their areas of importance. To this day I look up to her and hold her up as an example of an incredible leader.
Fast forward to today and why I’m telling you this story…..
As many of you know, a little over a year ago I decided to pursue writing seriously. Honestly, when I toyed with the idea in my mind, I had no idea if I had what it took to do this. For all I knew, publishing a book was a pipe dream. Shoot, I’d been writing most of my life but never pursued it because when I was growing up, the only option was New York and, for the most part, you had to know someone/have an ‘in’ to even be considered.
It meant the world to me that my sister and my best friend both told me, “I always thought you should’ve been a writer anyway.” But let’s face it. They loved me. They were biased.
But…a mutual friend was not. When I told her my dreams of writing, she asked what I wanted to write. I honestly don’t think she expected me to say erotica/erotic romance. She surprised me, though. She asked if I had a sample she could read… somewhere around 10,000 words. Suddenly I was terrified. Why? Because she’d already been successful in this field. She’d actually won the Maggie Award. Her name is Kaye Chambers.
Instead of laughing, she took me under her wing and taught me. Sure, sometimes it was the little things like how to properly format Word while writing. Other times it was to tell me that I needed to add more dialogue or that I could be awfully heavy handed when hammering a point home, and that I needed to use the subtlety techniques I used when writing poetry to allude to an idea rather than beat my readers over the head with a mallet.
Here I was, this random person who she barely knew when she reached out a helping hand…but that’s exactly what she did! The thing is, I’ve read her stuff. In fact, I LOVE the way she writes. She’s got savvy, sassy heroines and she writes these amazing opens (something I still struggle with). She creates these entire shifter universes that I think are beyond cool. It blows my mind! If you’ve never read her stuff…check out her girl Sasha, a cat shifter, in Tiger By the Tail. Or read Blood and Destiny. Her book that won the Maggie was Angelic Avenger…also awesome, but very different from the other two. It’s amazing how, sometimes, what you’re looking for is much closer than you realize if you only have the courage to ask.
I reached out with a few questions and she gave me so much more than I ever imagined. She chose to mentor me. She held my hand through my fears. She pushed me to be better. She challenged me to give more than I ever thought I was capable of…
And when I finally pushed that button to publish my first piece, she cheered me on! Her words? “You did all the work. I just gave you a bit of direction and support. You should be very proud of yourself.” With the help and belief of my mentor and the folks who love me, I was able to make my own dream come true.
One day I hope that I can do justice to the faith that Kaye has shown in me, much the way I did for Ashley. Who knows? Maybe one day I’ll be strong enough, knowledgeable enough and with enough experience to be able to mentor someone else in this new, exciting world.
What about you? Do you think there’s a difference between a hero and mentor? Who have yours been?