Do you have someone in your professional life that you can honestly consider a mentor? Some of us do, but others have had to figure it out mostly alone.
Someone asked me the other day if I had a mentor.
It’s an interesting question to ponder, particularly now that I’ve hit my 26th anniversary in television.
A mentor can be a powerful influence on someone’s life. In fact, a mentor can lead another person to heights the person might never have imagined possible.
Oprah Winfrey has claimed the late Maya Angelou was her mentor. Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was mentored by the late Steve Jobs. Those are just two examples of more famous mentoring relationships. There are plenty of others out there.
For much of my career, and I don’t think I’m all that different from the majority of people out there, I’ve had to essentially figure out things as I went along. Several times over the years, I was put into a position to do work I hadn’t done before, so I had to learn quickly.
At my first television station, I became “promotion manager” in 1994. The title was something of a misnomer: while my job did involve promotion, there was no one to manage: I was the entire promotion staff, reporting to a program director who was likewise new to his job. He and I were in the same boat.
The closest thing I ever had to a “mentor” was a man named Charles at CBS News. I don’t give his last name here because chances are you wouldn’t recognize it: he was a behind-the-scenes producer, one of the unsung heroes of the newsroom working in a role the general public has likely never even contemplated.
I reached out to him early in my promotion manager days when I found out he was producing promos for one of the network’s main news broadcasts. I’d seen him host a talk on marketing for TV news, so I was familiar with him from that. I reached out to him and he was nice enough to send me a copy of his presentation as well as some examples of some of his work. We talked a few times on the phone and he never seemed bothered by a request for a quick call.
It was nice having that relationship while it lasted; over the years, we lost touch and I’m not entirely certain he’s still there at this point. He may have retired or moved on to greener pastures by now.
Still, it was a tremendous help to me that someone who was in a much higher position would take the time to help someone who was in a much lower position in the business.
Otherwise, I have some great colleagues at television stations across the country who I can call once in a while to ask a question, propose an idea or just commiserate for a few moments. I’m grateful for all of them.
Aside from Charles, those are the kinds of relationships that have been the biggest help to me and have made the biggest impact on my growth over the years.
I’d like to think that somewhere along the way, I might have helped someone the way they’ve helped me.
But often, it seems, we don’t necessarily know the impacts we’ve made. We hope there have been some, and we certainly hope they’ve been positive.
We just don’t necessarily know for sure.