Mentors aren't magic; they won't immediately make you richer, or smarter, or stronger, although the idea of mentorship seems to promise those things in the business magazines.
Mentors help you discover and develop those abilities in yourself, usually by challenging you directly or by living the example you wish to become and answering the questions you do and don't ask.
Mentors are people who have gone where you're going and want to help you navigate waters that are, as Elon Musk would say, "tricky."
I'm not sure you should actively seek out mentors. I know that's the advice given to the young and hungry Silicon Valley types, but in my experience, the old saying, "When the student is ready, the master will appear" holds true for mentorship.
When you're ready to receive and your mentor is ready to pass on some of their wisdom, you'll find each other.
With that in mind, when you do manage to develop a relationship with a mentor, treasure it. The guidance I've received from those who've mentored me has been positively life changing.
One of my first mentors was also one of my first roommates. His name is Dennis, and while he’s only a few years older than me he’s had far more experience with the hard side of life than I’ll ever encounter. His guidance on very basic ideas is wisdom I’ve ignored to my detriment or used to my significant advantage ever since.
The best piece of advice I got from him was, “Nik, follow your heart.” He saw that just because wisdom was common knowledge didn’t make it any less valuable, and he saw the power and responsibility that phrase would have for me.
His best piece of advice I wished I would’ve followed was to invest a little bit of money out of every paycheck starting when I was 19. As simple and silly as that sounds, not following that has led to significant stress and lack over the years that could have been avoided.
Another mentor’s name is Moti. He’s an Israeli, and both his military service and what he did with the knowledge gained in the military had a strong effect on what I could do, what I should do, and what I did with my own military service and post-military career.
His service in the IDF, including at least one high profile mission, was an inspiration to me that the soldiers who make history are real people, not superhuman or unreachable. After leaving the service, he used his experience as an intelligence and psychological warfare specialist to become a business consultant. He took something that was ultra-military and converted it to something that was ultra useful in business.
As he explained to me, “After 20 years of destroying organizations from the inside based on influencing human behavior, I realized I could use the same knowledge in reverse to build organizations.” He studied organizational design and has been helping companies grow ever since.
His suggestions and mentorship around understanding someone’s “frame of reference” in order to work as a team to accomplish complex tasks guides my behaviors to this day.
A third mentor is one I met when I was 23. He still serves as an example to me almost two decades later. He’s lived his life as an adventurous mix of ski bum, paraglider, sailor, upright citizen, and family man.
His view of the world, shaped by growing up on an apple farm in England and having to help repair every piece of equipment on the farm, has helped inspire me to explore being handy, being adventurous, and being a good man, not just a wild eyed adventure-rich drifter.
It’s a conversation with this third fellow, Charlie Groves, that I’d like to share with you in this post. Charlie agreed (after some arm twisting) to sit down and record an interview with me, sharing some of the wisdom he’s picked up through 50-odd years of experience on the planet.
Some of my favorite parts are the guidance he’s given to his son, his commitments both to and from his wife, and his idea of what his most valuable qualities and luckiest experiences have been. Definitely not what you’d expect from someone who could list on their adventure resume flying in a one-man balloon, or sailing across the Pacific, or paragliding in the late ’80s when the wings had a glide ratio only slightly better than a large piece of plywood.
Here’s our conversation, I’m hoping it holds as much value for you as every interaction I’ve ever had with Charlie and his family have held for me.
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