Trusting Someone Older
I want to tell you a true story about a
young professional and his mentor—
who stressed the importance of
becoming a lifelong learner. Mike
was the high school valedictorian
who earned a scholarship to one of
the largest and most prestigious state
universities in the country. To make
ends meet, he worked fast food jobs
while taking a full load of classes.
After graduation, Mike became
successful in his vocational endeavors
as well. Married to the love of his life,
three beautiful daughters were added
along the way, and he continued on
a rising professional trajectory—now
15 years in.
Yet, while he had a strong educational
foundation and was dedicated to
staying on pace with the expertise
he needed to excel at his profession,
Mike was not a reader, per se. That
all changed when his mentor created
a one-year blueprint of a “lifelong
learning curriculum” for him to
follow. The reading list included
books that had nothing to do with his
vocation. Although reluctant at first,
he trusted his mentor and ultimately
grew to enjoy the reading.
He came to understand topics he
never dreamt he would explore, and
the subject matter crossover effect
proved to be highly advantageous.
Learning about sociology and
psychology, economics and finance,
history and government, and even
reading biographies and fiction
made him feel more comfortable in
business and social situations than
ever. And, quite frankly, he felt wise
beyond his years. Humble, mind you,
Now 35, the impact of this lifelong
learning advice from his mentor
became clear when Mike was visiting
a client out on the road. He found
himself at a dinner party arranged
especially for him in order to meet a
dozen of his client’s closest friends. It
was a great opportunity to meet some
important contacts and potentially
lead to new business relationships.
However, the average guest was well
over 60—with the youngest still being
north of 50. Most people Mike’s age
might have been intimidated in this
atmosphere—watching the clock and
hoping to escape the evening without
a major faux pas—but not Mike. He
relished it. He seized it.
When Mike later related the experience
to his mentor, he emphasized that
he had never felt more comfortable
because there was not a single topic
of conversation that he did not feel
confident engaging in. The dozens
of books he read during his lifelong
learning program prepared him
unimaginably well, and he felt blessed to
have crossed paths with his mentor.
Mike was able to excel as a young
professional because he watched for
valuable opportunities. He found a
skilled mentor who challenged and
guided him as he sharpened his skills.
Mike accepted the challenge of lifelong
learning, and the payoffs have only just
Finding the Right Mentor
Perhaps now is the time for you to join
Mike by finding a good mentor and
becoming a worthy protégé.
Since mentoring begins with the
mentee, you want to be the kind of
person a mentor would take great
satisfaction in pouring effort into.
After all, good mentors are dedicated
to making their protégés successful.
So before you start looking, do a self-assessment. A good place to start is
considering how you stack up in these
Are you a good communicator?
In order to get the most out of
any relationship, communication
is key. Study and learn effective
remember that asking great
questions is skill number one.
Are you coachable? An eagerness
to learn and follow instructions
in spite of their unfamiliarity
is of paramount importance.
Remember, if everything a mentor
told you sounded familiar, you
wouldn’t need their advice. Be
open to criticism and maintain a
Are you a lifelong learner? Any
mentor worth their salt is going
to demand that you become a
dedicated learner—even outside
your field of expertise. And that
means a robust reading program.
Passing on Lessons Learned
One simple technique for becoming a
protégé was introduced to me by a good
friend and mentor, Dave. When he
turned 20 years old, he found a 30-year
old friend and simply asked him, “What
did you learn in the last decade—the
one I am entering—that would be a
lesson you could pass on to me?”
Subsequently, after entering each new
decade, he finds a person 10 years
older—someone that he considers wise
enough to be his mentor—and asks the
same question. The bottom line: Seeking
out someone older and wiser to become
your next mentor is a good decision at
any age. J
Jim Whiddon spent his 30-year career in the
financial services industry as a business owner,
wealth advisor and national thought leader. His
latest book, The Old School Advantage: Timeless
Tools for Every Generation, was written to help
millennials who want to jump-start their careers.