On Mentors


A long time ago in an acceptance speech far far away, I said you couldn’t throw a stick without hitting a potential mentor.  The punchline was that hopefully, you wouldn’t hit them anywhere that would make them not want to help you.

Response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, and I maintain that if you have a single question here or there, you should feel free to drop me an email or post here and I’ll try to answer as quickly as I can.  If you need more help, drop me a line and we can discuss consultation at a modest fee.  I dig giving free advice, but sometimes if one person has a bazillion questions, it slows down the train for everyone else a bit, so consultation becomes the way to go.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with a lot of really great folks whose advice to me over the years has proven invaluable, and I hope that you, as aspiring reality professionals or even mid-career folks, never forget to seek out those who might have some solid advice for you.  Going it alone is rough and scary, and you can lose years of your life to chasing your pretend version of how things are supposed to work in the entertainment industry.

Pros and newbies alike, please take a moment to respond to this post with any great stories you may have about someone who’s mentored you and your advice to anyone who might be trying to connect with someone with wisdom to share.

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3 thoughts on “On Mentors

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  1. I’ve had many mentors over the years. One of the best was Dr. Bjarne Ullsvik. When he mentored me, he was the former chancellor of University of Wisconsin – Platteville, a family friend, and a neighbor. He is the only person I know who was truly a gentleman and a gentle man. He tutored me on Elementary Statistics 101 (or, as I called it then and now, Elementary Sadistics 666) as he was a math professor before becoming chancellor. It was a subject that I had a hard time wrapping my head around and he had the bottomless patience to help me do so. But our relationship went beyond tutoring. We would always talk for a good long while about stuff other than mathematics. He asking and I answering. I never tried to force myself on him. He always showed interest in what I was going. He never really argued with me. He’d listen. He’d advise. Sometimes it took me a day for that advice to sink in but it almost always did. One of my regrets in life is that I didn’t seek his counsel more often. He has since passed away and rarely does a week go by without me feeling that loss.

    I have also mentored others. Commonly when I was a supervisor, I’d try to be like Dr. Ullsvik and make those I supervised see the other side of the coin. Get them to do what they didn’t want to do but knew they should. Get them to see how it benefited them after doing so as a way to get them to see how they can do that themselves in the future. What I myself discovered was by taking the time to mentor them, they became very loyal to me. But that shouldn’t be too surprising since I think very few people ever have anyone that is truly looking out for their best interests.

    I have also advise friends, both close and casual. Having a college degree in psychology and being a marketer, I was and am usually able to help people understand other people and thus enabling them to get along better with people. Be they spouses, boyfriends, girlfriends, kids, co-workers, whoever. My style of counseling is very assertive. I do not believe in endlessly talking about it, but getting a good handle on the problem, devising a good strategy on tackling it, and then carrying out that strategy. If the only thing they want to do is talk, I tell them not to waste my time. I’m here to help them but only if they take action after we determine the course they should take. One of the most common pieces of advice I give is to admit when you’re wrong and apologize when you’ve done wrong. That is VERY hard for people to do, but if they do it, it works wonders. Another common bit of advice is trying to see things from the other person’s perspective. I commonly educate them about personality types and how different types approach life differently. We then try to figure out what their personality type is and the personality of the one they’re having issues with. Usually this results in a major rethinking about the other person, more acceptance of them, a better understanding on how their relationship works best, and a lowering of hostilities.

    As for advice on how to get a mentor, that’s tricky. Approaching someone out of the blue isn’t what I would recommend. How can they mentor you if they don’t know you deeply? So what I would recommend is start a dialogue with them. Don’t flood them with questions. Share. [Like I’m doing here right now.] Try to help them. Respect them. Then choose your questions for advice very carefully and make them few and not often. And then tell them how it went. They need to know you did as they suggested. That’s positive feedback for them. You’re showing you’re listening and acting on their advice. That encourages them to advise you more since they know their time isn’t being wasted.

    What I would recommend to those having been directly or indirectly approached to be a mentor is do it. Think of all the time you waste in your life. Mentoring isn’t one of those times. Don’t feel put upon but view it as an opportunity to grow, develop and strengthen your people network. People who could eventually become close friends and/or valued business associates IF you are willing to lower your castle’s draw bridge and let them in. I am not in the field of television (yet), but if it is anything like marketing, who you know is almost as important as what you know. And if you know someone important and they know you know what you’re talking about, doors will open that you didn’t even know existed. A senior marketer told me once that if anyone seeks you out as a mentor, don’t let it go to your head (they probably don’t know that you’re just as clueless about life as they are) and encourage them to tap you for advice. Today, they might be a nobody but tomorrow they might be someone that can do you a world of good or, at the very least, speak well of you to others. Remember that reputation (both good and bad) can proceed you wherever you go. He said he never viewed mentoring as a burden but an opportunity. What he would do though is squeeze them in during his down times. Talking to them over phone while driving to and from work, going out to lunch with them, hitting the gym with them, etc. He also recommended I take the initiative. Some people have a major problem asking for help so sometimes you should do the unexpected and offer help when you think they can benefit from it. Hell, they might not even know you can help them in certain ways. Don’t wait for them to figure it out. Offer it. And that is what makes a mentor into a great mentor. They are not just giving advice but giving a helping hand. Nothing gets someone more loyal to you than you opening a door for them. They won’t forget you and they won’t stand anyone talking bad about you. Oh, and if you hear that they’re in jail because they punched someone in the nose for publicly speaking bad about you, jump in your car and go down to bail them out and treat them to a steak dinner. They will only become more loyal to you for doing so. And, yes, I speak from experience and it was worth every penny of the $500. 😉

  2. I’ve been mentored, and have mentored, from here to Europe, in several occupations and industries. I’ve done it on a daily basis for pay, over a decade now. The difference in a paid mentor and a paid consultant is that a paid mentor actually gives a sh*t, lol (little joke of mine).

    To keep it simple, three key pieces of advice for both sides, no particular order–

    As the person being mentored, from the POV of a mentor–
    *don’t seek praise, especially with your long-winded irrelevant stories of what you deem to be a success, your mentor deems whether that is relevant to the task at hand or end goal, and if it’s a success.
    *show respect, and praise your mentor, for their successes and anything they have done for / with you which leads to your own success.
    *never fall into “kill my master” syndrome, a phenomenon which I coined, somewhat Freudian in a sense. A great number of those being mentored only feel successful if they can “outdo” their master. It’s not a competition between you and the mentor, it’s a competition between you and the world, and your mentors are there to help you, don’t turn on them.

    For the mentor, from the POV of those being mentored–
    *be invested, in the task at hand and the end goal, meaning know the last task we spoke about and bring it up i.e., ” so how did it work out with…?”.
    *tell your story, meaning, when you shoot something down, give a reason as to why. A connected personal story underscores the point and makes it an unforgettable and compelling reason why we shouldn’t “go there”.
    *remain accessible, within reason. Of course, an unsolicited free tip has a different priority than someone who is paying, especially if it is a long-term, ongoing situation.

    Troy DeVolld fits into the front row of my “most memorable and effective mentors”. Three reasons for that–
    *his book is an easy and interesting read, it’s from the heart, with passion, I could easily tell what’s important in the industry and why, per his “story”.
    *if I answer my own question, he gives me a reply that has the jist of “you answered your own question”, lol, which built my confidence and has me relying even more on my own knowledge and intuition. Great thing.
    *he’s invested and thinks out of the box. Cliche’ term, but if you’ve ever been so unfortunate as to work under / with someone who you did not feel was on your team, and every other comment was “that’s not how it’s always been done”, then you know what I mean.

    The result of this relationship? I had studied screenwriting for over a year, wrote a few specs, promoted one to no end, followed all the blogs… you probably know the path. No results, except I can say that I did it, and learning the process enriched my life.

    Then I found out about Troy, communicated, read the book inside-out, earned my “mentorship”, and in one weekend, I rapidly put everything I learned and knew into a shoot for a national-level PSA video competition and placed top five, was hailed as a winner in front of a fan base of over one-million members! I had never produced, filmed, acted, edited– had only scripted before, and I did all five of those, plus writing lyrics and singing for the soundtrack!

    Needless to say, none of this would have been possible without my mentorship with Troy, it has truly changed my life.

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