Mentor / Mentee – The Symbiotic Relationship
By Jim Kuiken
In your lifetime, you will be a mentor, and a mentee. That’s the way life works. When you’re a child, you’re the mentee and your parents, teachers, older siblings, and lots of other folks will be mentors to you.
As you grow older, you will become the mentor to others, in your personal life, work life, school, and many other places. It’s the natural order of humanity. We learn from each other, depend on each other, and help each other throughout our lives. That’s how we survive and grow, as people – and as a species.
In my life I’ve been honored (and humbled) to have been a mentor to many folks, in all walks of life. I’ve actually been amazed at some of them who were so intelligent, so accomplished that it seemed ludicrous that I was their mentor…
In some cases, the mentee becomes the mentor, and vice-versa. One great example is David DeWolf. When I first met David, he was a beginning entrepreneur, just starting out as an independent IT professional who had 3 or 4 other guys working with him…and was beginning to put his own business together. I was a former federal Senior Executive Service member and retired Director from Homeland Security, currently working as a Vice President for a good-sized defense contracting corporation, and he was asking advice about government contracts. We maintained our relationship…and when I decided a couple of years later to start up one of my own companies, he was already very successful, and had grown his company to a highly successful business – which has since become an international dynamo…3Pillar Global.
I asked him to be on my Board of Directors, and he guided me on the path to successful entrepreneurship. I still count David as one of my good friends. I have been privileged to have had many great mentors like David.
Of course there were the personal mentors. My dad Gerrit Kuiken, who married my mom when I was very young, and raised me – was a big influence on my life in general, as well as my military career – since he was career Air Force. My father Bob Rose, who, although he didn’t raise me, was a strong influence, especially when I went into public service – and my favorite job of all time, as a firefighter…he was the Deputy Chief of the Boise City Fire Department. My Grandpa Hartley, who was a guiding light and career public servant – with a quiet, dry sense of humor. I still think of him often.
And now, as a writer. I have several people that I look to as examples, which is very important – but they are not mentors, just examples to learn from. The man who got me to get off my duff and start writing (the story that I had in my head for almost 20 years at that time), was “Jimmie” (Jim) Yates. He was a published author, next-door neighbor, and a good friend. I asked him how to write, and he said it was complicated. “Just go sit down and write!”
I did, and wrote the first chapter of my first book, The Making of a Warrior… And stopped.
Twenty more years later, I wanted to pick it up and start writing again, so I did…but needed some guidance and motivation. Welcome Clint Goodwin. I found him on LinkedIn, and was intrigued by his unique premise. He was writing a book about the Civil War, from the Southern perspective, with the viewpoint and understanding of someone who had actually been in war (he is a Veteran who has “seen the elephant” himself)…and here’s the unique part…from the perspective of a horse – the main character. He has gone on to write additional books in the series (with several more to come), but I found in him another soul with a great outlook on life…albeit from a slightly off-center viewpoint…like mine.
I asked him to be my mentor, and to my surprise and great honor, he did – as well as becoming a very good, close friend.
I have been highly successful, way beyond my wildest dreams, in my professional life. The Sergeant Major in the largest combatant command in the US Marine Corps, MarForPac (2/3 of the operational forces of the Marine Corps) during Op Enduring Freedom. Senior Executive Service (SES-6) and a Director in the federal service. International Diplomat. Corporate Executive (Vice President, then later, President and CEO of two other companies). US Congressional Candidate for the 15th Congressional District (Texas). And now, writer, speaker and advocate at JamesKuiken.com.
Nothing could have surprised me more…but I didn’t do any of it on my own. In each instance, I had some exceptional mentors who guided and motivated me to continue to push forward. And along the way, was deeply honored to be a mentor to others, and help them on their paths.
Who have been your mentors? Who and how many have you helped along the way? In anything you do in life, there is someone that can help and guide you, and someone you can help. Don’t be hesitant to seek out those that might be a good mentor for you – and ask them.
And when you see someone that might benefit from your help, or someone asks you to be their mentor…just tell them “I’m your Huckleberry”.