Getting There: A book review by Bob Morris

Getting ThereGetting There: A Book of Mentors
Gillian Zoe Segal
Abrams Books (April 2015)

“When you remember what you love, you will remember who you are [and then] you can do anything.”
Cathy Guisewite

I checked the etymology of the word “mentor” from a few reliable sources. Here is what I learned: “wise advisor,” 1750, from Greek Mentor, friend of Odysseus and adviser of Telemachus (but often actually Athene in disguise) in Homer’s Odyssey; perhaps ultimately meaning “adviser,” because the name appears to be an agent noun of mentos “intent, purpose, spirit, passion” from Proto-Indo-European lexicon (PIE) mon-eyo- (cognates: Sanskrit man-tar- “one who thinks,” Latin mon-i-tor “one who admonishes.” The classic definition, then, combines several of the functions of what we would today call a teacher, coach, mentor, and supervisor.

Gillian Zoe Segal has gathered contributions from thirty prominent persons — including Warren Buffett, Anderson Cooper, Wendy Kopp, J. Craig Venter, Helene Gayle, and Michael Bloomberg — who, channeling a 12th century French monk, Bernard of Chartres — generously share their thoughts and feelings about the “giants” on whose shoulders they have stood. As Segal well realizes, these same contributors are themselves giants who now provide their shoulders to countless others. I commend her on her organization and presentation of an abundance of information, insights, and counsel. It is a brilliant achievement.

Segal makes superb use of a reader-friendly device at the conclusion of each chapter: insertion of a few “Pearls.” Here in Dallas near the downtown area, there is a Farmer’s Market at which merchants offer slices of fresh fruit as samples of their wares. In that spirit, I now present a few brief “pearls” of wisdom from the “necklace” co-created by the 30 contributors throughout the book’s lively narrative.

“Reputation is very important. I ask the managers of my companies to judge every action that they take not just by legal standards (which, of course, is the first test) but also by what I call the ‘newspaper test.’ How would they feel about every given action if they knew it would show up the next day in their local paper, written by a smart but kind of unfriendly reporter and read by their families, friends, and neighbors? If it passes that test, it’s okay. If anything is close to the line, it’s out.” Warren Buffett (Page 20)

“I tell journalism students there are three main steps to take: First, figure out what gets your adrenalin going. Next, figure out a way to make a career out of your passion. And finally, outwork everyone around you. (Come in earlier, leave later, and volunteer for everything that others don’t want to do. Don’t wait to be asked to do something. Take it upon yourself and do it.) But you’re only going to be able to outwork others if you’re genuinely passionate about what you are doing. Otherwise, it’s going to feel like, ‘Why do I want to stay late when I could go out with my friends?’ When you’re much more interested in what you’re doing than going out for a drink with friends, you’ve found your bliss.” Anderson Cooper (Page 43)

“Understanding your strengths and weaknesses can take a long time and can even be a painful process, but it’s one of the most important things to do in life. I feel fortunate to have found a career that I am passionate about and am thankful that I allowed myself to switch course and dedicate myself to this new path. But the lesson to take away from my story is not to change paths the moment you discover something’s difficult for you. [Note: Many young people have no interest in anything that isn’t “fun.”] If you give up at first blush, you’ll never succeed at anything because nothing worth doing is easy. Give whatever you do your full effort, but at the same time keep your eyes open. If you discover, even by accident, what you’re truly spectacular at and can pursue it, I recommend doing so.” Nitin Nohria (Page 107)

“It’s essential to strike the right balance between confidence and humility. If you don’t have enough confidence in the rightness of your pursuit, you’ll give up too easily. But you must also have enough humility to recognize your own limitations and be receptive to learning from others. When I started Teach For America, I knew I didn’t have any experience in what I was setting out to accomplish so I had a very open mind and looked for help and advice from all quarters. You have to have an ethic of continuous improvement. It’s almost impossible to get everything perfectly right out of the gate.” Wendy Kopp (Page 128)

With all due respect to the importance of self-help, here is a wealth of practical wisdom provided by a variety and diversity of sources. What they share can be of incalculable value, especially to school, college, and university students who now prepare for a career or to others who have only recently embarked upon one.

Gillian Zoe Segal also stresses another, equally important point, one to which the title of one of Marshall Goldsmith’s recent books refers: “What got you here won’t get you there.” I presume to add that whatever got you here won’t even let you remain here in months and years to come. That applies to individuals as well as to organizations. Getting there, wherever and whatever “”there” may be, obviously requires a determination to sustain continuous improvement, guided and informed by the knowledge and wisdom provided in this volume.

If you are in need of an appropriate gift for a school, college, or university student or recent graduate, look no further.

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