Find a mentor? No…find several mentors. Each person you work for and around, or even those that work for you, can teach you something to make you better at life and career. Everyone has a special set of skills from which you could potentially learn, and you should be actively looking at multiple ways to do things.
So let’s focus on some of the people in my life that helped set me on my local government career path, gave me guidance along the way, and have helped steer me in the right direction.
Because it wasn’t one person…it was a group that I return to regularly because their advice has been invaluable and trusted.
Though I was in the broadcast journalism track at the University of South Carolina, she connected me to my first job in public relations and essentially set my feet on this path. I’ve known her now for half my life and her advice began before she ever started me on this path, acting as a second mother to me through college.
Sharon was the Superintendent at my first local government job, running the public relations program for a school district. With her background in communications, she pushed me especially hard to get better. At 26, I was afforded a huge opportunity with that job, and she wanted to make sure I succeeded. So she pushed me, questioned my decisions, and made me think deeply about every release, statement, event, and interview. Sadly, she passed away recently, so she’s not around to bounce ideas off of and to tell me to stop overthinking the issue and just get the job done.
Sylvia worked right alongside Sharon as her right hand and helped me think through what was being asked of me. Sharon was always moving fast, so her instructions and her way of pushing you was typically done quickly and without an in-depth discussion. Sylvia was my mentor that took the time to help me unpack what was asked of me, go through the steps to make sure I was successful, and then gently push me back on the right path if I looked like I was going the wrong way.
An opportunity, the drive, and how to do the job all led me to learning about vision…about seeing the end result – even if it’s decades away – and then look around in the now about how to get there. Despite starting at the beginning of his second and final term as Mayor, he was still looking 20, 30, and 40 years into the future…about what we, as a government, can do today that will have a sustainable and long-lasting impact. With the passage of consolidation, he’s had a few more years as Mayor than originally expected, which means we’re able to see projects through to completion, begin new ones that will have a positive impact for years, and build capacity in more people and organizations to carry on the work once we’re gone.
And to do that, he’s taught me to give people a chance to succeed. Even if they’ve fallen down or failed before, that doesn’t keep them from succeeding in the future. Which is what I believe Sharon was doing for me at the beginning…because I did have my stumbles and failures, and she kept pushing and giving me chances to succeed.
And it’s what Sylvia did for me…making sure I saw those failures as opportunities to get better and pointing out honestly and straightforward where I went wrong and how I could be better.
Public Affairs Staff
I’ve got a great group of people that are way better at what they do than me, and they keep me on my toes. Never think you know everything about your field and look to those that are doing the job to teach you more. From this team, I’m learning more about working with the public and how our government operates on a daily basis from Denise, Shan, and Pat in customer service; I’m learning more about photography, graphic design, and websites from Justin in multimedia; and I’m gaining new insights about writing and media from Rachel with communications. They’ve also shown me what a dedicated, creative team can accomplish if you give them the support and freedom to figure the job out and get it done.
All of that was work based, but you need a personal mentor. Not someone who is trying to make you better or trying to get you to finish something for them. Someone who just knows you can be better and are going to better…and that even when you’re not at the top of your game, you still will be.
That’s the person you can always go back to…so here’s to my wife, Lena.
Without her at my side, anything I’ve done by learning from the above would be just a job. With her and our boys, the work I do has meaning because I’m in a government and administration trying to make the community a better place, not just get the trash picked up on time. I’m part of something, even if only for a short time, that could benefit my young sons for decades.
It’s Mentor Month, but it should be Mentors Month. Get several mentors that can show you the best of who they are and what you can be. Be a mentor to several people, and they’ll return it in kind. And never stop looking for more mentors.