It wasn’t the first time I sat in an airport pondering the question of How did I get here? Not how did I arrive on the planet, but how did I get to a place where I would be called upon to speak on a national level on a topic as important as gun violence.
Clutched in my hand was Luke Skywalker, one of my son’s Lego mini figures, given to me so my son could ensure that The Force would protect me when I travelled. As my mind wandered, I thought about Skywalker, and more importantly how Yoda, the legendary Jedi Master who was short in stature but wise and powerful, played an integral role in Luke’s connection with The Force.
This important parallel would wind up answering the question in which I was now contemplating and served as an important reminder of the value of mentorship for one’s career development.
In 2013, I met my Yoda — Pete, a former Special Agent in Charge with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms & Explosives (ATF). He reached out to me when he heard New Jersey had passed the country’s first law that focused on the rapid collection and analysis of information related to crime guns.
Like Yoda, Pete was also short in stature, and I came to learn, was wise and powerful. As an international thought leader in the area of gun crime, his counsel allowed the New Jersey State Police to challenge the status quo, addressing crime guns by utilizing the intelligence and evidentiary information often overlooked on seized weapons. Pete’s counsel over five years enabled me to develop the mindfulness needed to create effective violence reduction programs for solving crime, designing strategies, and seeking justice for victims.
Channeling “The Force”
Every one of us can benefit from a mentor while navigating our careers. The value of a master teacher can help us flatten learning curves, educate us on accepting feedback, direct us in unfamiliar territory, and most importantly, shepherd us on to become Jedis. No one would argue that Skywalker had the innate capacity to become a Jedi, but if not for Yoda, Luke’s knowledge, skills, and abilities would have never connected him to The Force, or worse yet, he may have instead found the “Dark Side.”
While it is easy to understand the value of a mentor in one’s career, let’s look at some other factors to consider before entering into a relationship with a mentor.
1. One mentor can lead up a step to another — When Luke Skywalker arrived on Dagobah to seek Yoda’s guidance he did so after being directed to do so by Obi Wan Kenobi. Throughout my career I would inevitably adopt the networks of my mentors, which always led to future opportunities for other mentors to come into my life.
2. Your mentor may test your metal — Yoda did not first identify himself to Skywalker and instead tested Luke’s patience, in an attempt to agitate him. It’s important to recognize upfront that your mentor is not there to be your friend and tell you what you want to hear. Instead, a good mentor will challenge you to move out of your comfort zone.
3. Judge your mentor by substance not flash — Luke was surprised when he learned that such a small creature was in fact an all-powerful Jedi Master. Remember, a good mentor is one that is field-proven and can challenge you in terms of how you want to see yourself in the future. Don’t get caught up in thinking that popularity will make someone a good mentor.
4. Your mentor gets to pick too — Yoda was at first disinclined to teach Luke the ways of The Force because of the boy’s recklessness, until Obi-Wan intercedes. You shouldn’t be surprised to find that your potential mentor may be sizing you up as well. Are you a good fit? Are you worth the time?
5. Your mentor should be able to tell you the good, the bad, and the ugly — Yoda informs Luke that even though he has completed his training, he cannot become a Jedi until he confronts Darth Vader. Communication is an essential ingredient of a mentor/mentoree relationship, but more specifically, the ability for a mentor to provide insight into areas that are uncomfortable is crucial.
6. There is always another star like you waiting in the wings — Yoda confirms that Vader is Luke’s father, something Vader had told Luke previously. Before Yoda dies, he tells Luke that “there is another Skywalker”. Obi-Wan’s ghost helps Luke understand that the “other” of whom Yoda spoke is his sister, Princess Leia. This is such an important aspect to mentoring. Once you reap the benefits and rewards of being mentored you will hopefully return the favor in the future by acting as someone else’s mentor. The power of mentoring can only be realized when it is exercised and paid forward.
How Did I Get Here?
When I look back on a career filled with accomplishment and expertise, I am reminded that it was an assortment of people that made it all possible — the teachers that directed me along the way. They came in all different shapes and sizes, and each one of them entered my life at a different time, but collectively they are the ones to be credited for cultivating my growth as an individual.
Find your Yoda. Listen and learn. Do what it takes to transform yourself into that desired future state of being. Confront your Darth Vaders, and always understand that it’s not just about you, since there will always be another Skywalker out there waiting in the wings.