The Gift of Great Expectations: (What I Learned About Work By Winning the Lottery: Part 3)

Mark Sagor

miltSome people come into our lives, leave footprints on our hearts, and we are never the same.” Franz Peter Schubert

Today’s post is the third in a series. Part 1 explained how I won the Listserve lottery and earned the prize of polling 25,000 strangers about their feelings about work. Part 2 looked at some of the answers I received to the question: “What discourages you most in your job?”

Today’s post explores some of the responses I received to the question: “What has been your experience with mentors?”


Mentors are like parents, engaged in guiding personal development, without all the drama, boundary issues and guilt.

Several people became emotional when recalling the relationship they had with a mentor. Some were overwhelmed with gratitude as they looked back on how a mentor helped them discover the reach of their own capabilities. Others expressed their sense of loss and regret in acknowledging that they never experienced a mentor’s attention and guidance.

Heidi, who is currently looking for a new job, offered a succinct description of mentors that captured the essence of many responses I received: “Mentors….are the people who inspire me to do my best and push me to do better…”

Katherine, a store manager, also focuses on the motivational power of her mentor: “She inspires me daily by treating anything that comes up as an opportunity to learn or think of a creative solution, rather than simply getting upset …..when we do something wrong. She isn’t lavish with praise but she never lets a good job go unnoticed.”

David, from the UK, says that mentors: “listen to your desires and find ways for you to work towards them. They challenge you to do things outside your comfort zone. They don’t push you for promotions (not everyone wants that) but ensure that you have variety at work and the opportunity to nurture others. They help you network.”

Christy, a crew member in the television industry, noted how her mentors emphasized the importance of persistence in learning: “they don’t make me feel inferior for not knowing something or not having enough experience…..they praise me when I do something worth praising, and when I screw up royally, they…..know that no one feels worse than I do, so they talk me through it and make sure I pick myself back up after my screw up.”

Mentors are the people who persuade us that we can be better than we imagined. Mentors are the people who teach us to persist in the face of failure. Mentors forever change the way we understand our personal and professional capabilities.

Joanne Lipman’s moving New York Times op-ed piece about her demanding high school music teacher captures both the emotion and durability of the mentoring relationship: “Mr. K. pushed us harder than our parents, harder than our other teachers, and through sheer force of will made us better than we had any right to be….I doubt any of us realized how much we loved him for it.”

I would like to dedicate this post to the memory of my former boss and mentor, Milton Luger (pictured above with cigar), who passed from this earth in 2001, but lives on in hearts that were touched by his encouragement and wisdom.