Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 2 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.  In Part 1, I talked about the importance of Mentors and Muses.  In Part 2, I will discuss the importance of Role Models and Shooting Stars.

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Role Models:

A Role Model is anyone either real or imagined who provides inspiration to another person that will allow that person to dream about doing things that they never would have thought possible.  A role model allows a child to think about being greater than anyone they have ever known.  Role models lift people up to help them aspire towards being more than they are.  Parker Posey, the little Black girl whose mom brought her to the National Art Museum in Washington D.C. saw a picture of Michele Obama on the wall and thought “I want to be just like her.”  Later on Parker said in an interview that she would rather be president than first lady.  The great English scientist Isaac Newton said in 1675, “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants”

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A role model is in a sense a giant.  I asked Dr. Deming one night when we were coming back from dinner what he wanted to be when he was in college.  He immediately replied, “I wanted to be just like Walter Shewhart.”  Few people outside of quality control have probably ever heard of Dr. Walter Shewhart but the name of Dr. W. E. Deming is known the world over.  Dr. Deming had stood on the shoulder of a great man and reached even higher than Dr. Shewhart.

I was once asked why I did not go to Harvard since I grew up in Rhode Island and Harvard was only 45 miles away.  I laughed with some mild regret.  Truth be told, I never would have thought I could go to Harvard.  No one in my family had ever gone to college.  We had no money.  I did not know a single person who ever want to college.  Years have gone by and I have met many Harvard graduates.  I have no regrets now about not attending Harvard.  My regrets come from never having thought that it was possible that I could ATTEND college.

mandelaI teach part-time as a substitute teacher in two high schools in Casa Grande, Arizona.  Both public schools have a large minority population of Latino’s, African Americans, and Native Americans.  I talk to many of these students when they are seniors about what their plans are after they graduate.  Many of them remind me of myself when I graduated high school.  I had no clue about what I could do or be.  My father wanted me to become a postman like he was, and my mother did not really have any idea or inclinations about careers.  I looked around and in 1964, thought “Well I will join the military and see what happens.”  I had no dreams or goals for my future.  I had no role models when I was growing up.

I think every child should have a role model.  I have heard the arguments against.  Role models always end up being tarnished.  Role models may not present realistic possibilities.  Role models will stereotype kids into traditional channels.  Role models may pose negative characteristics rather than positive.  For instance, if your role model is Billy the Kid or Adolph Hitler, it might not suggest a desirable future.

“All the role models are being exposed and this is good because role models are shit. The quicker we exposed them the better. The whole concept of role models is frightful! You gotta make your own role.”  — William S. Burroughs

But I am not talking about negative role models.  I am talking about positive role models.  A positive role model is anyone with some desirable characteristics or values.  Furthermore, I think we need to educate our children by presenting a variety of role models and not trying to hold up any one role model as perfect or god-like.  We can never imitate or copy anyone else.

I could have taken Dr. Deming as my role model.  Dr. Deming was loved and admired by many, but he was also criticized by many.  A friend of mine from Nigeria told me this old African folk tale:

“Once upon a time there was a father, his son and a donkey.  They decided to go to market one day and purchase some food.  All three set out with the father riding the donkey and the son walking along side.  They soon came to a village and as they passed through the town, the father heard villagers saying, “What a cruel old man, he rides while the poor son walks.”  Whereupon, the father got off the donkey and put his son up to ride.  They next came to another village and as they passed through, again came voices.  This time they heard “What a stupid old man, he walks while his young healthy son rides.” 

downloadThe father decided he would join his son on the donkey.  As they passed through the next village, people shouted “Look at that.  Two people on one donkey.  How cruel and mean.’’  The father deliberated and made the following decision.  He and his son came down off the donkey and picked the donkey up.  They carried the donkey all the way to their final destination and as they entered the village, they heard uproarious laughter and saw everyone in the market place pointing at them and saying “Have you ever seen two more stupid people in your life.  They are carrying a donkey that could be carrying them.”

I will bet that you know the moral of the previous story.  It applies to role models.  There are no perfect people.  We are all defective in one way or another.  You cannot please everyone.  But think about the value that a role model can have.  If you Google role models, you will find lots of lists of the “top” role models for children.  Perusing these lists as I have done, you will admire many people, but you may also be appalled at some of the role models.  For instance, I have found Marilyn Monroe, Justin Bieber and Lance Armstrong.  These are people that I find objectionable for a number of reasons.  Now I have no doubt that if I put my top ten list of role models up, there are some that you would find objectional.  I repeat that there are no perfect role models.  This fact should remind you not to throw the baby out with the bath water.

“We look at the way some kids behave and instantly blame the parents, and more often than not we’re correct. The school bully is often a sign of poor parenting. That’s the immediate cause, but if we search for the root cause we have to dig much deeper than that. What on earth in that kid’s head makes it seem okay to bully people? Why are the parents doing such a poor job of bringing up their children? Probably because they didn’t have very effective role models themselves when they were growing up. It could go back generations.”   ― Karl Wiggins, You Really Are Full of Shit, Aren’t You?

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Shooting Stars:

A shooting star or a rising star is someone whom you hitch your wagon to.  It is someone that you recognize is going places and doing things that you admire.  If you knew someone was taking a trip that you wanted to be on, you would join that person and take the trip together.  A rising star or shooting star will take you to places that you might never have dreamed of going yourself.  You will find many great military leaders, business leaders and scientists who hitched their wagon to a shooting star and later achieved greatness themselves.

12-disciplesPerhaps the most famous example is in the spiritual arena.  Twelve men chosen somewhat randomly hitched their wagons to a shooting star and achieved fame and glory far beyond anything they could have dreamed of.  Today we remember the shooting star and his 12 apostles.  Each of the apostles later went on to their own fame and glory spreading the word of their lord and master.  Sometimes, it is the shooting star that gets forgotten but, in this case, through the efforts of his 12 followers, the name of Jesus Christ rings throughout the centuries in every corner of the globe.

Conclusions:

How do you find a shooting star or a role model?  I will leave you with some advice:

1.  Most important, you must believe that success and greatness is not simply dependent on your own resources and energy. As the Beatles said, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”

2.  Nevertheless, as a pundit once said, “Pray to the lord but row for the shore.” You can get all the help you need, but you are ultimately responsible for your own destiny.

3.  Look for role-models that have the values you would like to have. If you are going to select anyone, you must first know what are the key values that you want more of in your life.

4.  List seven of the most important values that you admire in your role model. Put them on a piece of paper that you can review every day.  Each day start by reviewing one value and asking yourself “What can I do today that would help me better exemplify this value?”  At the end of each evening, do a review of your day’s activities.  Ask yourself “How well did I do today on this value?”

5.  Do not be afraid to imitate your role model. You must learn the basics in any activity before you can improvise.  Deming was not ashamed to say that he wanted to be “Just like Dr. Shewhart.”  Great people are never ashamed to admit that they admire other great people.  It is only weak and insecure people who are narcissistic to the point that no one else counts.

6.  As pertains to shooting stars, ask yourself “Who do you know in your career or profession who you think is a shooting star?” In every field that I can think of, you will surely find someone who is better than you are or who has more skills than you have.

7.  Get to know this person.  Remember the saying “Birds of a feather flock together.”  This can be a good thing when you flock with highly intelligent, skilled, ethical, and motivated people.

“Hang On To People That Inspire You. Do Work That Energizes You.” ― Wesam Fawzi

 

 

 

 

Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars – Part 1 of 2

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Why do some people achieve success and happiness while other people flounder on the shoals?  One man/woman becomes Prime Minister or President and their brother/sister becomes a drug addict.  I suppose there are many reasons and many that we can probably do nothing about.  Some things are beyond our power to change.  However, there is one reason that contributes to success and it is in our power to modify or amplify.  I speak specifically of the ideas or concepts in the title of this blog:  Mentors, Muses, Role Models, and Shooting Stars.

In 1983, I joined the American Society for Training and Development (ASTD).  I was still in graduate school working on my degree in Organization Development and it seemed useful to join a professional organization that represented my career goals.  As a member of the ASTD, I attended monthly meetings and eventually submitted several articles to their magazine for publication.  One of the most interesting projects I volunteered for was to help establish a “Mentoring Program” for young upcoming professionals in the field of Training and Organization Development.  This project together with a Human Resource Development organization that I started for students at the University of Minnesota were some of the high points of my academic career.  Grades did not count for much to me except to get credits that were needed to graduate.  Helping people was truly gratifying.

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Mentors:

A “Mentor” can be defined as: “A trusted advisor.”  Someone with more experience who knows the ropes and takes a less experienced person under their wings to help guide them through the Scylla and Charybdis that are lurking in most organizations.  This can make the difference between success and failure.  I have found myself over my head several times because of not properly understanding a new boss or company politics.  downloadOnce, as a new employee, I was attending my first department meeting with my co-workers and supervisor.  I deemed it prudent to keep my mouth shut and observe.  At the end of the meeting, my supervisor turned to me and noted, “Well, John, you haven’t said a word.  What do you think?  Give me your honest opinion.”  I took her at her word and gave her my honest uncensored opinion.  Big mistake, as I am sure you knew.  Turns out my boss only liked “Honest Opinions” when they agreed with her opinions.  A good mentor would have warned me of this peril before I put my foot in my mouth.

A good mentor can do a great deal more than simply alert you to pitfalls.  A mentor may share information about his or her own career path and what helped him/her to become successful.  A mentor can provide guidance, motivation, emotional support, and coaching.  A mentor may help with setting goals, developing contacts, and identifying resources that will help you to get ahead.  I personally believe everyone should have a mentor.  In addition to career mentors, there are mentors who may help you with your hobbies or any other activities that add value to your life.  Having a mentor is not all about careers and jobs.

How does one find a mentor?  Some organizations have mentoring programs and match up new employees with seasoned veterans.  A friend of mine at the ASTD and I worked together on the aforementioned mentoring program.  We put together guidelines to help companies establish their own in-house mentoring programs.  I was quite surprised and pleased when at an ASTD awards banquet, we were acknowledged for the mentoring program that we had developed.

Mentors can be formal or informal.  In 1998, I was “adopted’ by an older gentleman named Gordon Backlund when I started working at the Metropolitan Council in Minnesota.  He came up to me after a meeting and announced “I see you know nothing about politics in a government organization.  I am going to teach you.”  I was grateful for his offer.  Gordy taught me a bunch about how to survive and we became good friends in the process.  He was an informal mentor since the organization did not have a formal mentoring program.  It would be great if every organization had a program, but most do not.  In the latter case, it is up to you to find a mentor.  If you care about your success in life as well as in business, you will find a mentor or mentors.  The following is a particularly good video with some tips on “how to find a mentor.”  There are many other good videos on the subject and even some good TED talks on the topic.

Here is a great video on how to find a mentor by Marie Forleo

 

Muses:

A muse in ancient Greece was the name for the nine goddesses who presided over the arts and science.   A muse for me is someone who inspires me.  Since I think of myself as a writer, a muse is someone who can inspire my writing.  A muse indirectly motivates imagesme by giving me support and stimulation to be creative.  I was thinking back over the years that I have been writing.  My first paid article was in 1983.  It was published in a San Francisco Men’s Journal.  My piece was called “The Three Types of Male Intimacy.”  I was paid about 25 dollars.  It was not much but it felt like a start.  I have since published about 40 journal articles, three books and over 600 blogs.  It is a good thing that I never quit my day job since I could barely pay my monthly entertainment bill with the proceeds from my writing.

In 2010, I met Dr. Carolyn Wedin.  She was a retired English Professor Emeritus from the University of Wisconsin.  She had started a writing class in Frederic, Wisconsin.  I joined the class and thus began my honest efforts to become a writer.  I say honest, because until then I had not engaged in professional efforts to improve my writing skills.  Anyone who says that they are a writer, artist, singer, sculptor, musician, or chef and does not engage in some form of professional development is in my humble opinion, not serious about their craft.

My partner Karen has played the piano since she was a little girl.  She plays well enough to be asked to play both piano and organ at church when the regular pianist is out sick or on vacation.  About 15 years ago, we were visiting in Mountain View, Arkansas when Karen noticed someone on the “Pickin Parlor Green” playing a small acoustic wooden lap instrument.  She enjoyed the sound and also thought how easy it would be to pack up and carry such an instrument.  Pianos and organs do not lend themselves to easy carry or transport.  She inquired as to what the instrument was and was told that it was a Mountain Dulcimer, also known as an Appalachian Dulcimer.  Deciding to try one out, she purchased an inexpensive dulcimer on eBay for about 100 dollars.

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Karen tried playing it for a while on her own.  She purchased some instruction books and starting plinking away.  Not having much success, she came to the conclusion that she needed instruction.  She found a good instructor and continued with her until we retired.  We then moved to Wisconsin and Arizona.  Nevertheless, other dulcimer lessons have continued for many years.  We go to at least two music camps each year.  One is in Mountain View, Arkansas and the other is in Bardstown, Kentucky.  We often attend the Minnesota Blue Grass and Old Time Music Association (MBOTMA) summer festival where they offer classes and practice in a variety of instruments.  There is also lots of practice time in what are known as music jams.  These jams are events where musicians self-organize into groups with many different skill levels.  There will be people playing guitars, violins, mandolins, banjos, dulcimers, harps, and numerous other string instruments.

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For several years, Karen was tentative before venturing out into her first music jams.  There is a definite etiquette that one must learn before joining a jam session.  Karen soon found a group of women in Tucson who were called “The Tucson Dulcimer Ensemble (TDE).”  They practice every two weeks and do a few performances each year.  The sessions they hold are both training and practice with a good dose of inspiration thrown in.  Karen has become more confident since playing with the TDE and is now a good enough player to be asked to do solo performances.  Where once she dreaded the thought of playing solo, she now looks forward to the challenge and I suspect, the applause.

But what of a muse?  Do we really need one?  Who was or is my muse for writing?  This past year Dr. Wedin had a series of illnesses and accidents rendering her unable to continue the “Write Right Now” classes that she had started.  Some of her students who have attended them for many years volunteered to take over, but it was not the same.  It is hard to describe Carolyn’s style of encouragement and critique, but I venture to say it is unique.  She inspires without criticizing.  She encourages without demoralizing.  She suggests without demanding.  When you have finished a session with Dr. Wedin, you have new ideas and a renewed motivation to go home and write.

Perspiration or Inspiration: Which is more Important to the Writer? —-A blog I wrote a while ago

 

Missing Carolyn and her inspiration, I went into a downward spiral.  I considered giving up writing.  I had said it all.  There was nothing else left to write about.  I had exhausted all my ideas and creativity.  I was finished.  I was kaput.  My writing days were over.  That was when I realized that Carolyn had been my muse.  She was my inspiration for what I think of as my writing in Creative Non-Fiction.  Part of me knew that Carolyn could not continue teaching.  No one lives forever and all things eventually change.  The Covid-19 Virus will probably put the finishing touches on the writer’s class for this summer: “Oh, what will I do?”

MV5BOWIzZGUxZmItOThkMS00Y2QxLTg0MTYtMDdhMjRlNTNlYTI3L2ltYWdlXkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjc1NTYyMjg@._V1_“I do not know what writing awaits me,

I only know I must be brave,

And I must face a life that dates me,

Or lie a coward, a craven coward,

Or lie a coward in my grave.” 

 (A slight modification from “High Noon” by Frankie Laine)

Taking advice from this old Frankie Laine song, I must find a new muse.  We all need a “little help from our friends” or someone who can guide and inspire us.  They say that the truth will set you free.  I know not about the truth, but I do know that when we understand something it gives us the freedom to make good decisions and choices.  Since I realize how important a muse is to my writing, I must decide how to find my next muse.

Looking at an obvious source for a muse, i.e., the Internet, one finds that most topics treat the subject as an exercise in finding your personal creativity either by looking inward or by researching a range of resources including classes and educational activities.  Searching Google for help in finding an actual real person as a muse, I did not find anything especially useful.  I did find numerous articles like:

  • How to Awaken Your Muse to Spark Your Creativity
  • Learning how to find your inner muse
  • 7 Tips to Awaken Your Creative Muse – Can-do-ideas

By the way, I got the same results on “YouTube” but I did find an interesting song by Them Coulee Boys called “Find Your Muse.”

I don’t want to find my “inner” creativity.  I want to find a real person like Dr. Wedin, who can inspire and challenge me.  Telling me to find my inner muse is similar to telling an athlete to find their “inner coach.”  This is a great idea up to a point, but I am sure that most musicians, athletes, and other artists would much rather find another human being as a coach or mentor.  It is wonderful to be able to talk to someone who has a different perspective and who can talk back.

The search for a muse does not have a single starting point or a definite ending point.  Much like mentors, muses will come and go in the life of an artist. The quest for a muse is like looking for the love of your life.  They may be just around the corner or they may be on another continent.  The one thing I am sure of is that unless you are seeking, you will probably not find one.  There is a Zen saying that goes like this, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” I have a feeling that the same is true for finding a muse.  When you are ready, your muse will appear.  But being ready means having your eyes and ears and heart open.  That is what seeking is all about.

In Part 2, I will describe how a Role Model and a Shooting Star can help you in life as well as in your career. 

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