Providing wisdom and guidance
Mentors can appear throughout your life — from teachers to friends
By Knute Buehler
As I have moved through different phases of my life, the important role that mentors have played has become ever more apparent to me. As a society, we have grown to appreciate the need for both males and females to have role models — people we can rely on to share knowledge and impart wisdom. I have had not just one but many mentors, who provided me with guidance and perspective. The key is recognizing the need for a mentor and allowing yourself to develop the intimacy needed to achieve this relationship.
The importance of mentoring has its roots in antiquity. In the Odyssey, Homer includes the story of Telemachus, who had a great need for guidance while his father, Odysseus, was away fighting in the Trojan War and making his arduous trip home. One of Odysseus’ friends, an elderly gentleman named Mentor (thus the origin of the word), provided wisdom to the young man. As Telemachus aged, he also sought guidance from others, including the goddess Athena and the swineherder Eumaeus. So, despite the absence of his father, Telemachus developed meaningful relationships with a variety of people, helping him become a heroic Greek figure.
I increasingly look to trusted friends and colleagues
The story of Telemachus provides me with helpful, personal insight. At different stages in my life, I have developed mentoring relationships with a variety of people.
While a teenager (and not very receptive to parental input), I had two adult mentors—my high school math teacher, Don Crossfield, and my college baseball coach at Oregon State, Jack Riley. Both men reinforced the positive messages and examples I received at home, including the importance of being both a competitor and a gentleman.
I recall one episode when I was pitching against the University of Washington and getting balls hit into the outfield gaps left and right. Coach Riley came to the mound and before he could say anything, I blurted out, “I am not tired, I want to stay in the game.”
He looked down, scoffed and retorted, “You may not be tired but the darn outfielders are.” His remark cemented in my mind the need to be aware of the effect my competitive instinct may have on others.
In my 20s, frequent moves and the fast pace of my life made developing new relationships harder, and I relied on my brothers, both nearly a decade older, to share their similar experiences via weekly phone calls. As I started my medical career in my 30s, senior surgeons such as Dr. Cliff Colwell at Scripps Clinic taught me the importance of judgment, integrity and how to work within large organizations.
Recently, as I pursued public office, political veterans Dave Frohnmayer, Ron Saxton and others shared insight and perspective about statewide political campaigns.
Now, as I approach my 50s, I increasingly look to my peer group of trusted friends and colleagues. Some of us meet monthly to share professional and personal challenges.
My own experiences represent several mentoring lessons: Do not expect a single person to be your mentor. Conditions, people and your needs change — look to those who are a “best fit” for that time in your life.
If you’ve had the benefits of mentoring, consider being a mentor yourself. The lessons of mentoring often work both ways for the mentor and mentee. Make time to establish a trusted, familiar relationship. This can be done after baseball practice, in weekly phone calls, over beers after a long day in surgery, or — my current preference — at a favorite breakfast spot with lots of strong coffee.
In order to find a mentor or mentee, be engaged in your community and meet individuals from a variety of professions and perspectives.
Nurture that part of your personality that is receptive to mentoring: Share freely and honestly, and for mentees — have the humility to accept well-meaning advice.
Developing mentoring relationships with others has been an important dimension of my life, from my teenager days to now, when I am a more senior community leader. It may not allow you to become a heroic figure like Telemachus, but mentoring will most certainly allow you to have a more connected, balanced and satisfying life.