The mentors in my life have been a strange lot, coming in all shapes and sizes. Some have been quiet, while others never shut up. Most of the lessons were of the hidden sort, revealing themselves over time rather than cracking me upside the head. They have all played a part in shaping my life thus far and, if I am lucky, will continue to do so.
As superintendents we all have had teachers and mentors along the way. They taught us the nuts and bolts of the turf industry and, if we were fortunate enough, they taught us the things that weren't in the textbooks at turf school. It's those quiet gems that sustain us not just as superintendents, but in the game of life. The intangible lessons such as how to treat people (or how not to treat people), how to carry yourself when times get tough, how to show compassion, or simply how to listen are things we won't soon forget.
Throughout most of our lives our mentors were pretty obvious. They came in the expected form of our bosses, our parents, or the people we wanted to be like when we grew up. Sometimes the people we learn the most from end up being those who were really good at pushing our buttons, forcing us to confront those parts of ourselves that we would rather tuck away. These folks had the uncanny ability to stir the nest and make us feel the pain of indignation, hurt and confusion. If we only had the wisdom to step back after the sting subsided, then we might recognize that the oft painful lessons these antagonists had for us were actually an invaluable part of our personal development.
There are also the times when the tables turn and we have the opportunity to become the teacher or mentor to another. These teaching moments can occur over time or in an instant. The lesson could be something you set out to instill in your assistant, or something more implicitly taught by example. We never know when we could be having a profound effect on someone around us.
This hit home recently when I had a conversation with an acquaintance whom I had not seen in many years. He was actually a fellow competitor two years my junior in the fine Canadian game of curling. He and I used to curl competitively against each other at a very high level when we were young men. We were never great friends, but curling is a game that makes for unspoken bonds and so I wasn't altogether surprised when he came and spoke to me at a gathering recently.
It turns out that during the few years that we played against each other, my teammates and I were 'idols' to this particular fellow and his teammates. He recalled a time I shook his hand and told him that he and his squad were on the cusp of greatness. Apparently my confidence in their ability changed how they saw themselves and spurred them on to work harder than ever towards improvement.
The second memory he recalled occurred a couple of years later when his team beat us in the final of that year's provincial championships. Having just uprooted us as junior champions, he told me that he expected us to stomp off the sheet of ice and never speak to them again. But that wasn't what happened. Instead of being defeated in every sense of the word, we handled the defeat with grace and humility and this poke volumes to my opponent. He never forgot how well we treated them afterwards and how grateful he felt to get the chance (some 20 years later) to let me know what a difference it made in his life.
So sometimes it's the seemingly small things we do in our lives that make the biggest difference to others. Perhaps it is how we respond to adversity, how we give encouragement, or even how we help others out that makes an unforgettable impression. It could be a handshake, a pat on the back, or a look into someone's eyes that says, "Way to go, job well done!"
You don't have to be Ghandi, Mandela or Martin Luther King to make a real difference in someone's life. You simply have to be yourself, and recognize that by your actions, good, bad or otherwise, you might be teaching someone a lesson they will always remember.