I believe that everyone you meet is put in your path for a reason. Sometimes people help you. Sometimes they mistreat you. Each person has a specific role to play, and there’s always something to glean from every interaction.
A mentor is a rare individual whose role is to size you up. They test you and then they make a decision to take you on and teach you. They know how to bring out the best in you. Finding someone who believes in you as much as you believe in yourself, and on days when you’re having doubts, they believe in you even more—is something profound and God sent.
I’ve had several mentors in my life including a few going back to my college days. One professor that I had was Dr. Colburn. He was very hard on me. He marked up the first paper I turned in with lots of red pen and a large D at the top. I was shocked to be informed that I had a lot to learn because at the tender age of 18, I thought I was a pretty good writer. At the end of the semester I pulled off an A or a B—I don’t actually recall but I did well in college. What I take from this memory is that one poor grade didn’t derail me. Instead, it prompted a core undaunted desire for self-improvement.
After college, three very real mentors stand out. One surfaced early in my career. Rick Stetter, the editor-in-chief at the University of Nevada Press, gave me a big job with a lot of responsibility when I was in my mid-twenties. For the next five years, the learning curve was pronounced. Rick let me make mistakes, and he continued to encourage me.
The other significant mentor in my life appeared out of nowhere more recently. His name is Jim Wilkinson. Jim is CEO and chairman of TrailRunner International. The leaps I’ve experienced since meeting Jim a few years ago are mind boggling.
Having my company incubated by TrailRunner International and the resources that Jim has put in place for me is something I’ve been extremely lucky to experience. This has included in part an ecosystem of like-minded communications professionals that I get to collaborate with, learn from, or assist and expanded mentoring by TrailRunner’s CFO Chad Schuchert. Being a woman in business can be challenging, and Jim recognizes this. His interest in me and my success has had a huge impact on my personal growth. It also has not been easy.
Jim and Chad have taught me a range of skills that I’ve put in motion which has taken my company from a barely breaking-even venture to a profitable endeavor. They’ve taught me how to better negotiate contracts, to implement more prudent finance practices; they’ve given me advice on dealing with personalities who come in the form of vendors, clients and employees—and much more. Every day, I’m learning.
The value of mentoring has never escaped me as I’ve dedicated time over the years to mentoring junior level staffers. I have a number of testimonials on my LinkedIn profile that attest to this. But being on the receiving end again allows me to more fully comprehend the tremendous value and impact.
Mentors remind you why it’s all worth it. They pull you up and pull you along, and then they tell you the reason you’re doing well is not because of them, that it’s you doing it. You convert that belief in you into action and success. It feels like a miracle and it keeps me motivated.
When people ask me how it’s going as they see my company growing, I’m able to tell them that it’s all consuming but very fulfilling, and that I’m grateful for all the opportunities. Thank you Dr. Colburn, and Rick and Chad and Jim for believing in me, and for telling me things I needed to hear so that my schooling can continue.
I wish there were some women on this list, but that hasn’t been my experience. I’ve found that women either think I don’t need help because perhaps I’m perceived as self-assured or they’re concentrating on their own self-advancement. I’ve also found that women can be less attuned to nurturing qualities that the female gender has great natural capacity for, but not necessarily in the workplace.
Looking at the bigger picture, mentoring reflects the universal experience of giving and taking. My role currently is that of recipient and I’ve signed up for another hard class. I’m soaking it all up as best as I can and persevering, while fully appreciating the generosity of those who give me so much.
- Katie Shaffer | CEO/Founder
Katie is ERPR’s fearless founder and CEO. She came up through the ranks of editorial experience working for a magazine in NYC, a textbook publisher in the Bay Area and directing a marketing department for a scholarly book publisher. Katie loves the diversity of agency work and is a passionate, creative and resourceful leader. She knows how to craft a compelling story and exactly who to put that story in front of.