The Voices of Mentors Past

Recently I’ve been reading A Game Plan for Life: The Power of Mentoring by John Wooden and Don Yaeger, and I came across an interesting quote from former UCLA player Andy Hill that struck me:

You often don’t recognize your mentors at the time they’re deeply involved in your life; and mentoring often occurs even when you don’t want it to. – Andy Hill

The first part of the book is John Wooden sharing 7 influential mentors to him, and the second part is made up of stories from people who have been mentored by John Wooden in some way.  Andy Hill didn’t see eye to eye with Coach Wooden during his UCLA days, but he still learned something from the old coach.  And he didn’t start to realize the things he had learned until much later in life.  In fact, he built a solid relationship with Coach Wooden years after his playing days were over and came to appreciate the lessons his coach taught him.

The Voices in My Head

I can still hear them loud and clear.  It’s those little lessons others taught to me that were not realized immediately.  My experiences haven’t been exactly like Andy Hill’s, but I can absolutely relate to the delayed reaction.  The voices in my head are the wisdom shared from mentors I’ve had over the years, whether they or I realized it or not.  Here are some examples:

  • I’ll admit that I have perfectionist tendencies at times, and it makes me completely crazy.  I can still hear a voice telling me “perfect is the enemy of complete” or “good is the enemy of done,” which is like a trigger to stop, figure out how to reach good enough, finish the job, and ship the work.  I only hear that voice now because it’s no longer there to remind me on a weekly one-on-one call.
  • When I start to doubt myself and the impostor creeps in, I hear a voice telling me I was picked for this role over many others, that people believe in me, and that I should take comfort in knowing the people who had a choice picked me.
  • My dad used to listen to all kinds of music, and I’d always hear him say that I should listen to the words of the song playing because they tell a story.  The guy wasn’t wrong…even if I didn’t believe him then.  Now I pay attention to the stories, even though he’s not here to tell me.
  • The people you see who are really good at things now weren’t always that skilled.  You just didn’t see when they were bad at it.
  • We all get wild ideas from time to time.  When I have one that is something I really shouldn’t execute on, I can hear a voice saying “you can’t do that, Nick.”  That voice from long ago saved me from myself many times early in my career, and it still guides me now.
  • I had a boss once that helped me see issues I initially thought must be handled today were sometimes ok to delay until tomorrow.  If it didn’t impact our ability to make parts, ship them, or perform financial transactions, leave it for tomorrow.
  • When I’m up against a tight deadline only because I didn’t manage my time well, I hear the voice that told me on my first day of the job, “the most precious currency you have is time.”  That stuff never hits you hard on the first day, right?  In those moments of anxiety and stress I really start to think about the ways I have spent my time and if it was the most effective choice.
  • I had a college professor who cared enough to share a hard truth with me.  I was missing a lot of the foundational concepts in a specific subject area, and he was the one who told me I wasn’t as knowledgeable as previous grades indicated.  The professor assured me I would not fail his class because he saw my efforts, but he let me know that A and B were out of the question.  Honest assessments contain hard truths that may be tough to accept, but they only serve to make you better.

I’m sure there are more not listed here.  There are other voices that will pop into my head when I least expect it, other lessons I learned from someone.


Are You a Voice in Someone’s Head?

Even when you think you’re not listening, perhaps you really are.  Who put the voices inside your head, and what are they telling you?  It was probably someone who mentored you in one way or another.  In times of these realizations, be sure to thank the person who had an impact on you (if you still can).  It will only serve to encourage the person who has taught you something.

And then there’s you.  You’re probably mentoring someone right now, and you don’t even realize it.  Your words, actions, and character are getting someone’s attention.  What lesson are you teaching them?  Ask yourself if it’s the lesson you really want to be teaching.



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