There is one thing for sure, and that is the fact that we are never born with a skill. From the basics of walking and talking; to the next steps of running, jumping, reading, writing; and finally converting those into skills. We are all learning and at each step, we can only improve upon our performance of the day previous day.
A while ago I wrote a blog post “The Accidental mentor. At my happiest mentoring startups in bootcamps.” which is basically the story of how I became a startup mentor. Quiet accidentally. I say “Accidentally” because it was never part of my business plan until I discovered the possibility of how I can make it into a business. However, there is a lot more to this journey than simply or accidentally changing paths. For anyone to arrive at a destination even accidentally they need to have travelled along many paths.
My story started with me receiving the love and guidance of whom I call a mentor but never had the tagname or designated role of being my mentor. It simply happened to be the person who was looking after and he did everything he can. He probably never even thought of himself as a mentor, he probably never thought he was mentoring me, he was simply doing his best as my surrogate father. Yet, today I value those lessons and everything I learnt while I was with him. It was not just advice as he was always willing to sit, spend time with me and teach me anything I asked about where he could transfer his knowledge. He enabled me by transferring his knowledge and experience. He enabled me by patiently communicating with me and removing any obstacles.
He was not alone, and soon after him, our life circumstances meant that I would spend more time with other families for some time to come before spending time with my own biological family. During those years I was cared for and helped by a few other families. Each one of them giving time and resources, willingly and with love.
I started receiving my first student as soon as I finished university. I can’t say I was the best but I did my best. I know and remember that I was struggling with some aspects of the mentoring. In particular, I could not answer all of her questions, some due to lack of expertise and others to lack of experience. But the biggest issue for me, I did not know how to guide her to find the answers either which is equally a lack of both experience and expertise. Yet at the end of the course, she was grateful for my efforts and I even remember her saying she wouldn’t have done it without me.
I have one secret I did not share with you. Every time I came across a problem I could not help her with, where my knowledge, expertise, and experience failed; I would tell her “You can do it. I want you to try hard. Ask around, some friends, family, and other students. I want you to read up on it and come up and tell me how you think is best to tackle this challenge.”
Part II. The Startup and Business Life
My experience however during my business years and my last startup was mixed. I must add and emphasize that yet again, I met many people who helped me selflessly without asking for a penny in return. There were others who would see it as their duty to help and give back and there were many others who were always willing to listen and answer my myriad of questions, make intros and help me achieve my goals. All of these people were just random people I knew, would meet, or simply friends. Many of these encouraged me and helped me in any way they could.
Yet the ones, who came forth were labelled as startup mentors, consultants, and advisors, including several who posed as investors, mostly failed miserably. They failed to live up to my expectations because their interest was self-centred.
- It was not about how they could help me but rather what they could get out of me.
- It was not about how they could help me but rather how they could benefit from me.
- And in some cases, I was faced with those whose success had clouded their vision with an air of superiority where they could not see beyond their own experience and what worked for them.
Throughout the past 27 years of my working life, I have received several intern students per year in my various businesses and over the past four years, I have mentored hundreds of startup founders.
I only try to do my best at each session and before each session starts, I remind myself to keep humble and that I am there to “Enable and Encourage them to aim and achieve for the highest goals they can set”. I give selflessly, patiently, and with love. Returning the favour back into the world and the ecosystem. I only try to do my best and improve on the things I have learnt from the previous session. I learn from each session and the best reward I can get is to see them fly. That’s when I know I have reached my objective as a good mentor.