Posted by: Dr. Andrew Temte, CFA
Updated: August 30, 2017
Take a moment to look down at your hands, specifically your fingers. Each of your digits represents a mentor—a parent, teacher, or guide that has played a key role in your personal development. These individuals come along at critical points in your development and provide the wisdom, support, and guidance you need to develop a crucial life skill and become a well-rounded, contributing member of society. Depending on your age, you may or may not be able to match a mentor to each digit. Every individual you’ve identified is a member of an exclusive club. They have each had a true, meaningful impact on your growth and development. They invested themselves in your future, and helped you become you.
When I was 9 years old, my parents decided that I would benefit from becoming a charter member of a local boys’ choral group. I was an alto with some natural talent, but I was very rough around the edges. My first experience with the choir was an out-of-town retreat. During the second day of this camp, I had an individual session with the choir’s young director, Dan Johnson, in the chapel of the church at the college where we were staying. That day, Dan saw something in me that I didn’t know existed. He took me from a mousy alto to a first soprano in a single afternoon. In the process, Dan laid the foundation for a key skill that would shape the rest of my life.
Mentorship has been an ongoing theme for me. Every significant milestone I have achieved can be tied back directly to someone who saw something in me that I wasn’t able to see in myself at the time.
A few years after my pivotal experience with the boys’ choir, I was a 102-pound 7th grader with scrawny muscles, no body image, and very little self-esteem. Enter Coach Pat Marsh. Tired of being pushed around by other kids in the halls, I signed up for the wrestling team, and that’s when I met Coach Marsh. He believed in me and, more importantly, taught me to believe in myself. Wrestling is a unique sport. It’s a team sport like football, but it’s also an individual sport. Coach Marsh taught me how to fight—for myself and for the good of my team. Three years later, I emerged from junior high school at 145 pounds, as the person I would be physically for the rest of my adult life. More importantly, I had developed a strong sense of self-awareness. Thanks to Coach Marsh, I was keenly aware that I was ultimately responsible for my own success, as well as the success of the people around me.
Your own mentors help define you at a particular stage of your life across one of six dimensions or tasks. These tasks differ based on the stage of life you are in. During your formative years—middle school, high school, traditional college—you face two primary tasks:
As we age, four other tasks begin to take on importance:
For each mentor you’ve identified, you should be able to tie their substantive impact on your life back to one or more of these tasks. Your mentors play key roles in helping you excel at the tasks that make you a productive and valued member of society.
While critical to development, mentorship is not a given. Without strong mentors, I assert you are more likely to experience gaps in your development along the six dimensions.
At age 15, I was a full grade level ahead of my class and was president of the student council. By all accounts, I was headed into high school set up for success. Unfortunately, in the transition from junior high school to the next level, I lost my way. With a lack of quality mentors, coupled with my own unwillingness to accept them, I began down the wrong path.
After five years of aimless wandering, I woke up…and met a girl. Linda helped me believe I was going to be successful and could be someone others looked up to. The voice of my primary mentor – my father – rang in my head regarding the value of education and the role it would play in moving me forward.
The presence of mentors significantly reduces the probability of negative outcomes during our life’s journey. Conversely, in the absence of mentors, it’s easy to get off track. It is estimated that roughly 15 million children in the United States want and need a mentor in their lives, and do not have one1. Because the six dimensions build upon each other, these kids are being set up to miss out on the development of key skills early on in their lives. In turn, they may be ill-prepared for the future.
At 21 years old, I entered the undergraduate program at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse. It was a pivotal point in my life. As a nontraditional student, I felt an overwhelming sense of urgency. With marriage on the horizon and thoughts of starting a family someday, I was on a mission. My undergraduate degree in economics was completed in just three and a half years, and during that time, I had decided I wanted to be a college professor. Full of gusto and motivation, I decided to bypass the traditional master’s degree path and go straight to a doctorate level program. I applied to PhD programs at every Big 10 university within a 5-hour drive of La Crosse and was only granted an interview at one—the University of Iowa.
In July of 1989, Linda and I drove to Iowa City. While she read a book on the lawn of the Pentacrest on the University of Iowa campus, I walked into my interview with finance professor and department chair, Dr. Carl Schweser. The relationship between “master” and “apprentice” was immediately present during that first conversation. Ninety minutes into our 30-minute appointment, Carl offered me the opportunity to enter the master’s program that coming fall and earn my way into the PhD program. He also told me something that would change my life. He said there was something called the CFA program, and that I should do some research on it.
That fall, Carl and I started talking about his idea for the Schweser Study Program, a comprehensive study solution designed to help individuals pass the qualifying exams for the Chartered Financial Analyst designation. Carl put me in charge of the economics portion of his curriculum that first year, and I began on the path toward my professional future under Carl’s guidance.
Carl, like Dan and Coach Marsh before him, recognized a level of potential in me that I had no idea existed, and would never have realized without his mentorship. He guided me through my doctoral program, brought me into his business, and transformed me from an ambitious master’s student into a leader.
I haven’t yet reached the 10-digit mark in my life, but I have four more stories and mentors—each one as influential on my personal development as Dan, Coach Marsh, and Carl. As a lifelong student, I know I will continue to rely on mentors to help guide and shape my life going forward.
The challenge we face as a society is two-fold. We collectively need to take every step we can to ensure that the next generation receives the support and mentorship they need to realize their fullest potential. We also need to recognize that this problem isn’t limited to children. Life is messy, and we all have opportunities to go astray, no matter our background or prior successes. We need to identify people of all ages among us who need guidance and open ourselves up to help them succeed.