If you are a go-getter and don’t have a mentor, you are really missing out of a great source of knowledge and wisdom. Having a mentor is as important as having a job. All the research conducted on high-power achievers shows that they all have one thing in common: they all have great mentors. Having a mentor or mentors (like I do) not only helps you to advance and achieve more, it decreases the time it takes to achieve your goals — and perhaps more importantly, it helps you to avoid many mistakes — mistakes that you could kick yourself later for because you should have known better. In fact Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found out in his book Flow and Foundations of Positive Psychology that all 91 highly creative people (14 of them were Nobel prize winners) had a mentor who guided them all the way during their journey.
I selected my first mentor when I was conducting my postdoctoral studies at the University of Georgia. I was fresh out of graduate school and looking for some guidance. On the fourth floor where I worked in Animal and Dairy Science at the University of Georgia, I heard that a new eminent scholar was hired from Monsanto. By chance, I had met his assistant Diane when I wanted to borrow a chemical reagent from his lab. Diane is a wonderful person whose friendship I enjoy until now. She encouraged me to talk to Cliff more as she was trying to help me find a real job. After visiting his lab, I started to use much of his new equipment and to write usage protocols for them. Soon Cliff invited me to attend his lab meetings. Although Cliff’s field was diabetes and mine was rumen microbiology, I decided to attend his lab meetings. In fact, I was honored to have this invitation.
Cliff was a very kind man. He helped me a lot in my career. I still remember the questions I had for him in one of my one-hour conversations on the phone: How come you invite many people to your lab meetings? Aren’t you afraid of someone stealing your ideas? He thought about the question and replied, “Most people are very ethical and they would not do that, but even if someone stole the idea and executed it better — that is fair game.” I really was puzzled by his confidence. Later in my life, I discovered that the world has a lot of great ideas, but the problem is applying them. The execution of an idea is the trick in advancing in your life. Cliff’s wisdom set me up to eliminate any territorial feelings toward my working environment — meaning I do not seek confrontation with competitors or engage in turf wars. In fact, I do not care if people steal my ideas anymore. I open my lab and my heart to anyone who would like to help. If that person’s work results in a publication, I do not expect to be given credit.
One of the important questions you might ask is how to have a great mentor? In order to select a mentor, you need to select someone who is very knowledgeable as well as helpful. Keep in mind that you do not need to tell this person that you are seeking a mentor. In fact, you don’t even need to mention the word mentor; you only need to ask permission to talk to this person once a month for his or her opinion. Talking to this person multiple times a year, you will develop great respect for him or her. In my case, whenever I get stuck in something, I always ask myself, “What would Cliff do?” Cliff gave me invaluable advice that has changed the course of my career and made me much more successful.
Cliff passed away several years ago. I am still heartbroken. He had a stroke while he was on the treadmill. Cliff is always on my mind.
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