Someone once joked, “If you can tell the difference between good advice and bad advice, you don’t need advice!” That may be true, but you need more than just advice to make it in this world. You need a good mentor to reach your potential as a leader, successful business owner, or spouse/parent.
I remember my first mentor in the law—a generous attorney who had developed a large personal injury law practice in the Hampton Roads, Virginia area. For him, family came first. To be home for dinner by 5:00 p.m., that meant he would often be into work by 6:00 a.m. If there was a deposition out of town, he traveled early on the day of the deposition rather than spend the night away from his family. As I departed this first pre-lawyer job to enter my first year in law school, my mentor gave me a check that would help pay my first semester’s living expenses. My early mentor required me to pay him back in a unique way: he asked me to pay it forward to someone else as my career developed. (And that was five years before Pay It Forward hit the movie theatres!)
A mentor does not have to be involved in your day-to-day life, business, or family affairs. For example, Cordell Parvin graduated from the same law school that I did, but many, many years earlier. (Sorry, Cordell!) He was a Richmond Spider—so was I. He was a construction lawyer—so was I. He was successful—well, I want to be! One day, I called Cordell, introduced myself, and asked for some advice. More than five years later, I am happy to refer to Cordell as a mentor and friend. And we have only met in person a few times over the years.
You see, throughout my career I have always relied upon different mentors to help me grow as an attorney, husband, and father. It is important to have a variety of different advisors because, frankly, our lives as attorneys are comprised of so many roles. We have to be good researchers and writers. We have to be good time-keepers. We have to be good telephone-call-returners. We have to be good money-handlers. And, if we go home each night to a family, we have to be good encouragement-givers and storytellers.
Consider yourself a juggler with too many balls in the air. Every other day, a ball may drop to the ground. You stop. You pick it up. And you start juggling the balls again. I don’t think the answer is to get rid of those balls. I think the answer is to learn how to better juggle. There are many people who have done it right and there are many people who have done it wrong. The key is to build a relationship with someone who can (and wants to) invest in you—whether you need business advice, practice area advice, or even marital and parenting advice. Then, one day, you will be the one teaching another person how to juggle.