What does the word mentor mean to you? Cambridge English Dictionary defines a mentor as an experienced and trusted person who gives another person advice and help over a period of time.
Life can be complex, so I just so happen to have a few. This post will highlight how I obtained one.
It was a lovely evening in the Waldorf Astoria in Boca Raton, Florida. Georgia-Pacific was hosting their National Business Meeting to inform and revitalize the spirits of our sales force. Previous days were dedicated to intentional training, displays of new innovations, and reconnecting with old friends. A dinner celebration paired with a comedic host would cap off the productive days. Both new to the company and eager to see what this event was all about, I awaited the night that would unfold.
After awards were given to those stellar value creators in the company, a live band took the stage. They had a new-school flair paired with an upbeat approach to classic RnB hits. Most left the room, but there were a good number that decided to stay tuned. I highlighted to a few peers that this music was definitely right down my alley. They encouraged me to dance to it and I warned them of what would happen. It would start a scene, especially for a newbie like myself. As my peers questioned the words that came out of my mouth, I realized that it would take action to uproot their disbelief.
In my head, my confidence started to build as I approached what was the dance floor that night. If you know me, you know that I love to dance. My skills had been acquired by the countless mirror rehearsals and jam sessions in the confines of my room over the past decade. Like a fine wine, the moves have had time to age to near perfection and ready for only the most special of occasions. To say the least, it was time.
The dance floor was composed of several small pockets of co-workers dancing. There was a clear divide among the handful of respective parties as people stayed in the comfort zone of those they knew. There was no sign of a change to the current state without a disturbance to the forces that be. I inserted myself in the middle of it all and proceeded to get down. A high amount of energy was necessary to combat the initial inertia in the room, but slowly and surely heads turned and circles started to combine. What was seven or so smaller groups of three became a large mass all marveling at some moves that had taken on a persona of their own.
The job wasn’t finished yet though. The crowd started to grow in size from the curiosity of the spectacle being seen. It was time to pass the confidence both leveraged and discovered to someone else. As I danced around, I took a pulse and found my diamond in the rough. With one fatal point, I turned the attention of those engaged to my soon to be champion. The pressure was on. After slight hesitation, a chant started. Cornered, the young man had all but no choice but to step forward and started to bust a move. To ease the tension, I mimicked his every move and others followed. The idea was to create a safe space for even the most “creative” of choreography so that all felt welcome to join in. And it was at that point when everyone found comfort just outside of their comfort zone.
After while, person after person made an appearance in the middle of the dance circle. And even more, the dance circle grew to at least double its original size. I received a tap on the shoulder to find a VP of the company. He lauded my dance moves and asked me to teach him something. First and foremost, I got a feel for his rhythm and quickly learned that he had little to none. This set the framework for what would be taught. I kept things basic and relatable and then gave constant feedback of the progress almost immediately made. Upon sending him on his way, he challenged me to a dance off. He wanted to use my own moves against me! As he centered the circle and beckoned me to do the same, I had no choice but to put him in his place.
He pulled out a series of expected moves, but these were new to the crowd. I decided to take those same moves and build on them. The rally continued until the VP had nothing left. With no other options, he pulled out the Q-tip thing from “Hitch” (Look it up for reference). I let him win after that and the crowd roared and the dancing continued. Over the course of the next dozen songs, the VP continued to point me out to new circle attendees to highlight how good of a dancer I was. It had been some time since my moves made an appearance. And it was only a matter of time before others noticed. With another tap on the shoulder, I found the VP again, but this time, he wanted me to go on stage.
I winced at the thought. No one had made it past that line where the band resided. “I don’t know if I should”, I stated. This gave the VP a discerned look. I then realized that he had been hyping me up to everyone he ran into. To help seal the deal of the truth in his words, he needed me to act just one more time but for everyone to see. It was at that instant when a vibe of a song channeled through the air. If I needed a sign, I found it.
I rushed up on stage to find all eyes on me. I channeled the music and conveyed a speechless message of appreciation to those that dared to gaze. I noticed the original peers in the crowd that didn’t belief me in the first place. I gave them a point and a nod and their mouths dropped. Soon, the crowd blurred and it was as if I was by myself tucked away in my room. My moves spilled over the stage and the band entertained my presence. When it was all said and done, the crowd cheered with delight. My suit was soaked and exhaustion had set in after the adrenaline wore off. I got off the stage and immediately vacated the room. At the same time, texts and videos of the performance were spreading like wildfire.
The next (and final) day in Boca Raton, many were preparing for departure. I felt the stares and smiles of approval, but few dared to say anything about what went down last night. The next day at work, my boss’ boss came to me and said I made quite an impression on the VP who pushed me out of my comfort zone.
“He told me ‘That kid is going places. I want to mentor him and help anyway I can.’ Would you believe that?”
I didn’t. Who would have thought that a few syncronized steps would make a difference? I learned to never be afraid to get down with your talents, especially if it can connect with others. You would be surprised of what others see in you.