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Virtually every important decision I’ve made about our corporate future had its origin in what I learned from people I respected. Some decisions took me along a lonely path, others created fiscal chaos, but most resulted in success. In the end, however, my destiny was tied not to chance, but to choice—the choice people made to reach out and influence me.
— J.C.K., 67 year-old Retired Chief Executive Officer
I don’t know if it was the same for others. When I came home from school, my parents were at work. When they did come home, they had little time for me. They expected me to handle everything. They didn’t understand. I wish I had someone to talk to who really knew what I was going through. I had dreams. I had hopes. I had fears. I was just a kid. What were my choices?
— K.D., 25 year-old Inmate (Serving a life sentence for murder)
When I was in elementary school I got really interested in math because my teacher showed me how I could use it to build model airplanes. During high school my interest developed further and when I went to university I decided to study computer science and specialize in programming languages. Fortunately I got involved in a few work experience terms and learned how I could apply my studies from university. The experience helped me to focus on the more specialized field of cross-platform technology and I was grateful for access to people who actually worked in the field. However, as I reflect back on my work as a student in the work place, I regret that I didn’t learn more about how the corporation worked, what they were trying to achieve, and how my work term fit in with their overall vision. I was good at the technical side of my job, but I pretty much felt like a square peg in a round hole. I wish that someone with experience at the corporation had taken me aside and talked about what I was learning, the future of my career there, and how what I was doing could be part of the larger picture.
— D.K., 44 year-old Internet Entreprenuer
My father drank and knocked me around. He worked different jobs, but was home when I got back from school. I didn’t like coming home without my mom being there, but she worked full-time as a housekeeper. One day my dad got mad because I didn’t want to get smokes for him. He kicked me and broke my rib. As soon as my mom got home she drove me straight to my grandfather’s house. I hardly knew him, because he lived on the reservation. I was only eight, but she told me I was going to live there for a while. My parents were both Crow. They never talked about their Indian life. My grandfather was full of stories, legends, and songs. He taught me traditions and customs that were part of my ancient heritage. I learned I was one of the First People on Earth. I think my parents felt shame about it. Kids at school called me "apple pie"—red on the outside and white mush inside. I didn’t know what that meant until my grandfather, Running Wolf, explained how the whites and Crows divided up the world. The whites settled for prejudice, while the Crows settled for wisdom. He also taught me about healing plants, respecting the earth, and my inner life. My pain and my mother’s anguish brought me to this place, but my grandfather taught me that without the wind’s resistance, the eagle would never fly.
— C.R., 24 year-old Information Technology Specialist
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My heart and my memory hold a lifetime of exemplary mentors. I'm not at the beginning of my career, although I don't feel like I've fully started yet. With each new show, each new foray deeper into what could only be called "my style", I feel closer to beginning a relationship with my craft that I dreamed about as a child in Saskatchewan. I am neither the novice nor the protege any longer, and I'm certainly not ready or qualified to don the mantle of "master" either. Because of a young woman who came to work in my studio, I've been giving considerable thought to mentorship: how it has shaped my life and how perhaps it is now my turn to share with young talent as my mentors shared with me. While I gained wonderful ideas from my mentors, I often debated with them about trying a new way to do something. I had similar debates with my young apprentice while we built the new show. I would say, in all authority, "never do it this way." And she would simply stare back and ask "Why?" In every such moment, I realised that we were both learning, both still questioning and evolving, for just as she asked the question, I had to question the basis on which I had made such a definitive statement. I may have been unknowingly placed in my first mentoring role, but I can assure you, the student allowed me a position in which to explore my own approach to my craft in a whole new light.
— R.B., 38 year-old Graphic Artist
My mom was a sweet lady, but my dad was really abusive. She seemed helpless and unable to protect me. She was just as afraid of my dad as I was. I couldn’t wait to leave home. I thought if I was older I could survive better so I tried to look older. I met some pretty rough guys. They introduced my to drugs, sex and the street. They weren’t mentors although they protected me some. Mostly they exploited and manipulated me. During a trip to hospital for a drug overdose, I met a nurse who wanted to know how I had gotten into living the street life. Rather than berating me and urging me to go home to my parents, she asked about what I was getting out of street life. She wanted to know how my dreams of my future were being realized by being on the street. When I left the hospital we arranged to meet again and after that we met many times. She told me about how she had overcome a physically and sexually abusive childhood and how somebody had taken an interest in her. She encouraged me to explore other options, build on my talents, and find ways to heal the wounds inside me. With her support I got a job doing exactly what I wanted to be doing. It took some struggle and a few years, but it was worth it. I’m alive.
—C.C., 41 year-old Street Social Worker
After I was accepted into graduate school, I had no idea what kind of work I wanted to do. My parents told me that going to school was just a way of avoiding a career commitment. I got a job as a research assistant because I needed the money. I worked in a lab taking care of animals. I had had pets all my life, but caring for several chimpanzees and thousands of laboratory rats was a big task. During this time I worked with one professor who used these animals in his research. He took a liking to me (I was going to say took me under his wing, but I didn’t want to give the wrong impression), and I became interested in his research. He later asked me to be his teaching assistant. He spent many hours with me talking about what I wanted to do, my dreams for the future, and where and how I might be able to fulfill my dreams. He also talked to me about his dreams, the mistakes he thought he had made, and his experience of working in the university. When I graduated, I felt prepared to work as a university professor. Thirty-seven years later when I retired, I can look back with gratitude to the professor who took me under his wing and helped me make the transition to a highly successful and rewarding career.
—J.S., 71 year-old Retired University Professor
Not everyone will make the same mistake I did. I skied into an area that was posted as dangerous. A week later I woke up in hospital with a permanent injury to my spinal cord. I would never be able to walk, let alone ski. I was in constant pain. As far as I was concerned my life was over. I would need a wheelchair for the rest of my life. I would forever be dependent on others; no driving my car, no job, no dating, and no sex. Who would want to be with a cripple? I know I wouldn’t. I had visitors for awhile, but eventually they stopped coming. My attitude and condition was probably too much for them. I felt completely helpless, hopeless, and despondent. One day a guy with a grey beard wheeled in to see me. He crashed right into my bed and let out a cheery, “Whoops!” That was my introduction to Matt. He lost his legs in a car crash. He knew what I was thinking before I knew it myself. But he listened to my self-pity and endless complaining. And he always asked me, at the end of my diatribe, “What do you want to do about it?” Often he would share with me what he did about it—the struggles, the frustrations, the disappointments. He told me about his job in a computer warehouse, about his play-making ability on a wheels basketball team, and he told me about the intimacy and sex he had with his girlfriend. But mostly he listened and challenged me to get on with my life. I’m playing on the same basketball team now, and I even outscored him.
—N.W., 38 year-old Management Consultant
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I was glad to leave high school. It was a drag and I never did connect with anyone. I guess I was kind of a loner. Since I was pretty good with numbers, I got a job in a local bank. Handling money was fun, but it was tough, demanding work. I had to account for every penny. I thought I had a chance to improve my career at the bank so I took part in all the training programs the bank offered and I decided to go to college at night. I also read a lot of self-help books. All of this I thought would propel me up to the bank’s head office. But I noticed that the men who had come to work in the bank spent a much shorter time in their positions before they were promoted. This really bugged me because I had really performed well during the training activities and was getting good grades in my accounting and financial planning courses. I decided to work harder. My choice didn’t seem to work. Now when I saw others promoted over me, I resented them and my bosses. My atittude went down the tubes. I started to take more days off; after all, what good did it do to show up for work? Eventually I was laid off. Upon reflection I wish I had learned more about the problems women face in male dominated careers. I especially wish that I could have connected with a successful professional woman who had the savvy and experience to help me not be a victim.
— S.B., 51 year-old Administrator
I had several mentors in my life. One of the first was my grade six teacher. Even though I was already a good student, she encouraged me to excel. I wanted to please her and to be like her. I felt liked and respected. She expected the best from me. Although my classmates thought she was too strict, I liked and respected her because she was logical, consistent and a good teacher. She always looked smart and professional. Although not wildly entertaining, what she taught was orderly and made sense. She also seemed fair, and didn’t pick on any kids. Her rules were consistently applied. I wanted to do well for her. We understood each other. I don’t remember spending a lot of time one-on-one with her; our relationship was more implicit than explicit. Although I had always excelled in my schoolwork. I wanted to do my best in every assignment. This attitude has carried into my adult work life, and I always apply myself fully to any job. It makes most tasks more fun and meaningful. It gives me the satisfaction of having done my best, and the result is usually something I can be proud of and don’t have to apologize for. I thank my grade six teacher for my attitude about work—to always do the best job I can. I wish I could go back and tell her about the positive impact she had on my life, and the lasting effect she had on me.
— O.R., 44 year-old National Newspaper Editor
When I was a kid growing up in Medicine Hat, there weren't any puppeteers around that I could pester for how-to information. I found the address of a famous puppeteer in a magazine article. I wrote a fan letter. I was nine years old. He did not reply. I was annoyed with him for years. I persevered. I found a directory listing puppeteers. When I received this at age twelve, I knew I had found the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. It even had the proper postal codes. Not everyone who received one of my letters wrote back. As I developed, both as a puppeteer and as a person, several of these contacts became my extended family, my champions, and my mentors. It would not be until my late teens that I actually started meeting them, and when I did, there was already enough history shared between us that it felt like I was coming home at last. At twelve I enrolled in a correspondence course in puppetry with a biggie in the American puppet movement. At some point I stopped asking how-to questions and I realised my mentor was allowing me to be his peer. I began visiting him in my early twenties and eventually moved to his studio. He fell ill and died, but I realised how deeply I had been mentored. For although he would no longer be readily available to praise my work, or challenge it, or critique it, he had shared what he knew with me. While I have developed my own techniques, followed my own style, and am in perpetual experimentation, the basis of my entire career was learned from this one man. He is with me every day.
— R.B., 42 year-old Children's Entertainer
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I remember one teacher in high school. I was an art major and was in three of his art classes each term. I was not a gifted artist, but I worked hard and was eager to learn. He seemed to like and respect me, and I felt we understood each other. He was often emotional and sensitive. The inner turmoil I was experiencing seemed to make us kindred spirits. I trusted him, and knew I could count on him for support. I also sensed that he would never get angry at me or embarrass me in class. I was a fairly good graphic artist, and in grade 12 he assigned two of us to do the art for the high school year book. The particular theme chosen by the committee was difficult and unworkable (we thought it was pretty dumb). It was one of the first times I remember feeling that I was in over my head, starting something that I couldn’t possibly do. My art teacher let us know he was there for us if we needed his help or advice, but he didn’t hover over us or try to direct us. I felt his confidence in me—that I could do this impossible task. Quitting or failing was not an option. I was able to stick with the project because he believed I could do it. And we pulled it off. His quiet confidence made me face a difficult task and do the best I could. I learned that even though I didn’t think I could do something, if I stuck with it and took it one step at a time, I could succeed and do an acceptable job.
— S.B., Auto Worker
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