When I was in my early 40s, my career seemed stalled and maybe even on the decline.
I had stepped away from my first full-time job in academics (well, that’s what my resume says… but it’s more like I was escorted to the door). I was tossed into the market for a new job, while I had a wife and three kids depending on me, a mortgage and tuition bills… not a good time or place for me.
I learned about a job opportunity at another school and was granted an interview. This job was all about teaching, with no research or service expectations. Fine. I could do what I did best and get back on my feet in terms of research. But my doubt remained: If I couldn’t figure things out before, why should I be able to figure things out now, especially with what would be a heavier teaching load?
So the summer before the most important year of my career, I sat in a conference room waiting for my first interview.
Geoff walked in, looking nothing like a typical professor… crew cut, shorts, polo shirt, looks like he might have been a Marine Corps boxing champ. Geoff starts our meeting… starts it! by saying “Dave, I read your resume and it looks like you’ve taken some bad advice.”
I guess I had forgotten how much fun the interview process can be. But I was ready.
“I appreciate that, but I take full responsibility for everything I’ve done.”
Geoff chuckled. “Good answer, Dave.”
The truth was, I didn’t take bad advice… I didn’t take any advice because I don’t think I received any. And if I did, I probably wouldn’t have recognized it anyway.
Fast forward: I got the job. During my first week at my new, one-year gig, Geoff and another senior faculty member, Tim, came to my office.
Tim started. “Dave, one week from today, we’re taking you to lunch. Gather all of your research notes and presentations.”
Geoff chimed in. “That shouldn’t take too long.”
We all laughed, one of us more nervously than the others.
Geoff continued. “We’re going to sit down with you and figure things out. You’ve got some good ideas but you don’t seem to know what to do with them. Let’s see what we can do together.”
And that’s what we did. Over the course of the year, Geoff, Tim, and other colleagues helped me ignite my research. They taught me how to do my job and to enjoy my work, and to believe in my ideas.
In the six years before this new job, I had published one article.
In the one year I worked with Geoff and Tim and two years following (given the time it takes to publish): five articles.
What Geoff and Tim gave me was a mentoring intervention.
These two guys, who brought me in only as an emergency replacement teacher, who barely knew me… picked me up off the ground and showed me what I needed to do, what I was capable of achieving.
Geoff and Tim, along with a couple of other colleagues we brought along on our ride, got very little external reward for what they did… for their mentoring intervention. Yet they gave me the help that I needed. The help I didn’t know I needed, and didn’t know how to ask for.
That was the most important year of my career.
I am eternally grateful to Geoff and Tim and this is how I want to thank them.
This is why I offer Mentorvention to you.