Find a Mentor and Model Him or Her
There is a saying that when the student is ready, the mentor will appear. This was certainly true for me. I was, as I mentioned, struggling to find meaning in my newly minted role as a financial services CPA on Wall Street in 1985. It was my first real job and I threw myself into it with verve, digging deep in hopes of cultivating at least some passion and interest in the work. Dull thud—the desk-bound number crunching was stultifying and I had little in common with the others I worked alongside in what is a noble profession. I was feeling lost. Despairing about my future, I was searching for answers as to how I ended up in such a state of pure dread, and what remedy, if any, was at hand.
It wasn’t long after I acknowledged that something wasn’t right I was drawn into the Seido Karate Training Center on 23rd street in Manhattan. When I walked in I came face-to-face with my first mentor, Grandmaster Tadashi Nakamura. What a remarkable man—an inspirational and humble warrior-leader. He became my martial arts instructor (along with his excellent staff of senior black belts), and also, unbeknownst to him, my mentor. I sought to emulate his quiet, confident demeanor and how he made decisions. He had a pleasing personality with all the athletes and staff and was full of sparkle and humor. When he needed to be firm, he delivered the firm hand calmly and with kindness. Just his presence was enough to inspire me. I believed that by being around him, his character would rub off.
But it was the hour-long Zen meditations sessions, followed by a chat from Mr. Nakamura, that grounded me every week and began to crack me open. There, on the meditation bench, I began to hear the inner voice I had been searching for, one that would fill me with the courage to change direction, uncover my purpose and ignite my passion. I was only with Mr. Nakamura for four years, earning my first degree black belt, and in that time I was transformed into a warrior ready for the rigors of SEAL training. Mr. Nakamura never really left me, as I nurtured the mental image of him in my inner training space long after leaving the Big Apple. He became the first member of what has become the mentor team of my “Mind Gym.” He and others offer me unseen counsel, often unsolicited.
A good mentor will guide you toward the skills, knowledge and experience needed to achieve a goal. The mentor is one who has long mastered these skills and is enthusiastic to share his or her insights with you, the novice. Even very experienced folks benefit from a mentor, and I continue to seek them out to this day. As with Nakamura, good mentorship isn’t restricted to physical presence. A good mentor will guide you silently well after you leave their physical presence. That is how you know when a mentor is a master—they become a lifelong companion on your journey.
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