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Mentors Matter!

Recently, I had the pleasure of attending a conference. It was more of a panel discussion where I was one of the panelist. It's always exciting for me to join other professionals to discuss the work that we do. This particular panel was one where minors, interested in entrepreneurship could ask questions.

At one point during the panel, I was asked, "What advice would you give to someone who would like to one day be a successful businessman or woman?"

I really love that question. The reason I love the question is because it's the same question I vividly remember asking when I was younger. Many times, in business, there seems to be NO direct answers. That's where the proverbial "it depends" comes into play. However, in this case I had an answer. Yes, another reason why I love the question; there is actually an answer and if implemented it can yield great results.

What was my answer? I told the young lad, the answer is to get a mentor. Seeking out a mentor to help guide you is an all-too-often overlooked technique. As for me, I have always had a mentor. For example, on my path to becoming a nationally certified interpreter, I credit my mentor with helping me get there. My very first mentor, Dr. Risa Shariff, was a heaven-send. I would try to work with and watch her interpret as often as I possibly could. To me, she was (and still is) one of the best American Sign Language interpreters there is. In terms of religious interpreting, she is second to none! By the way, if you have ever attended an African-American, Pentecostal church service then you would understand why I might say that religious interpreting is the most difficult of all the interpreting settings. Furthermore, because of how I was trained by my mentor, it also happens to be my favorite.

Coming along, I also had a business mentor. I was fortunate enough to be, for lack of better words, adopted by someone I know to be a business guru. Her name is Margo Smith. She understood the power of wise business decisions and often shared nuggets that I continue to feed off of today. For example, one lesson she taught me (when I was only 18 years old) was the OPM Theory. "Counselor," she would affectionately call me "you got to use other people's money." We were not in a formal school structure or in class setting, but I would have copious conversations with her and glean from her knowledge. Margo continuously educated me on how credit, when used correctly, could return big profits or "green stamps" as she called it.

Then, there is my short-lived tenure as mayor. I was in office only a few years, but there were mayors who had been in office for almost as long as I had been alive. I had a few great mentors who I could depend on to guide me; for example, Mayor Marnitta King, Mayor Lillie Martin, Mayor Eugene Grant, and Mayor Malinda Miles to name a few. These giants showed me the ropes and how to do the work of the people--even within a limited context.

The question remaining is how does one go about selecting the best-fit mentor for themselves. Not all mentors are created equal. For me, the most important things to look for in a great mentor are the following: 1) Someone who genuinely wants to help you--you need someone who believes in you. Your mentor should also be someone who can help you to believe in yourself. 2) He or she should have a level of mastery in whatever field, discipline or business that you desire to explore. 3) And very importantly, your mentor should be someone with whom you can talk about anything. They need to be someone that you like. I find that when I like my mentors, have great respect for them that I listen to them all the more.

Wherever you are on your journey toward success, I recommend getting a mentor to help you navigate. I figure if they've already made the mistakes, then there is no reason to repeat them. Let someone help you thrive. I also figure, since I am not the smartest person in the world, let me rely on someone else who has "been there, done that." Now, that's smart!


I am Shawn Maldon. I enjoy creating, business development, and community building. I also enjoy writing. Stay connected with me and some of my thoughts, projects and writings at

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