This Is My Story
Listen to “This is My Story” by Fred Smith
Two weeks ago in Menlo Park, a friend convened a group to talk about mentoring. It must be that time of life when people ask you to come and “reflect” on what has been learned. Not all that many years ago we would have been talking about what it means to find a mentor but now the tables are turned and we are looking at it from the perspective of what it means to be one. I am comfortable with that especially as I think the word “mentor” has been so diluted and misused. One of our group, Rick Woolworth, the founder of Telemachus, had spent a considerable amount of time during his recent stint as part of Stanford’s Distinguished Careers Institute researching what it means to be a mentor. He found the term used almost exclusively in the context of career coaching and not applied to a productive life in general. In fact, one of our group, Doug Wilson, prefers the term “intergenerational friendship” to describe the relationship. It’s far more than helping people build career skills and I would agree. One way of putting it is we read Proverbs when we are young for practical advice and Ecclesiastes when we are older for wisdom. Perhaps, we need to reverse that and, as Stephen Covey would say, start with the end in mind. What do we want our lives to be in the end? David Brooks calls it the difference between the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues. “The resume virtues are the skills you bring to the marketplace. The eulogy virtues are the ones that are talked about at your funeral – whether you were kind, brave, honest or faithful. Were you capable of deep love?”
I like the way Rick talked about it and how they have applied it in their relationships with young men and women. “There was a time when we taught survival skills and principles around the fire. What did younger members of the tribe need not just to survive – like hunting and gathering – but what was needed to enjoy a life that would be productive and lead to wisdom? The answer to that in the past was the next generation needed two things: skills and stories. Skills to survive and stories to provide meaning to life.”
So, what might those be for our time? What do we think is the right combination of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes? What are our survival skills and stories? Here are five we talked about.
- There is a difference between wealth and riches. Wealth in Scripture describes substance and honor while riches simply indicates how much has been accumulated. The resume virtues may make you rich, but it is the eulogy virtues that will create wealth in your life.
- Always be learning. Scripture uses the word “neoteros” to describe someone who, like a little child, is always fascinated by the world. Poets like Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard, and Wendell Berry are guides to the vitality of the imagination that notices something not seen before. John Gardner in “Self-Renewal” says, “The self-renewing man never feels he has arrived.”
- To be counted as trustworthy is priceless. Trust is built slowly, by degrees and increments but it vanishes in a moment. Jeb Stuart signed all his correspondence to Robert E. Lee with these words “Yours to count on.”
- When I turned 50 I asked a friend in the oil business to find me a valve used to make new wells productive. It did not cap the well and stop the flow. Rather, it controlled the flow and made it sustainable. What could be done in earlier years with boundless energy needed now to be managed and directed. But, it is the directed well that sustains. Cicero wrote about the older men’s work on a ship, “People who say there are no useful activities for old age don’t know what they are talking about. They are like those who say a pilot does nothing useful for sailing a ship because others climb the masts, run along the gangways, and work the pumps while he sits quietly in the stern holding the rudder. He may not be doing what the younger crewman are doing, but what he does is much more important and valuable.” A true mentor will encourage younger people to value the unique tasks of age – and look forward to them.
- Close to his death, Oscar Wilde wrote, “The gods had given me almost everything. But I let myself be lured into long spells of senseless and sensual ease. I surrounded myself with the smaller natures and the meaner minds. I must say to myself that I ruined myself and that nobody great or small can be ruined except by his own hand.” Guard not only your heart but your talent. Do not squander it but do not hoard it either.
Start with the end in mind.