In the current economy, while many “traditional” jobs are in a state of flux, there continue to be opportunities for entrepreneurs. The American entrepreneurial spirit is alive and well, but some folks who could tap into that spirit simply . . . are not. To succeed as an entrepreneur, a person must have a relatively high level of self-confidence to be able to navigate the highs and lows that come with building a business. One of the best opportunities to achieve that is by having the support of a mentor – or several mentors – at critical points in their formative years.
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When I consider my professional path, there were several people who have had an impact on the direction of my life. One of those mentors was my high school freshman history teacher, Mr. Ramirez. At my southern California high school, the history class was responsible for selecting the student council representative for the freshmen class. Then, a freshman myself, I had run for student council countless times in junior high school and was decimated every time – dead last in every election. It got to be kind of a joke among my classmates. I wanted to be a part of it so badly, but I didn’t want to face losing again in high school, so had no intention of running.
Fast forward to Mr. Ramirez’s history class at the beginning of the year. He announced, “It’s time to pick the student council representative, are there any volunteers for the position?” Nobody volunteered. After waiting a bit, Mr. Ramirez said, “Okay. If no one’s interested, as the teacher I get to pick. So if you’re okay with that then I’m going to choose.” No one objected.
Mr. Ramirez looked at me and he said, “Ivan, I bet you would love to do this, wouldn’t you?”
My heart stopped. “Well, um, well, yeah, I kind of would, Mr. Ramirez.”
And then in unison, almost the entire class said: “Oh No, Not Ivan!” All the sudden, several other kids volunteered. And I’m like, really—really? Is my junior high experience going to haunt me throughout high school too?
Then Mr. Ramirez said, “No. I asked if there were volunteers and there weren’t. So I’m going to do what I am empowered to do and I’m going to pick the representative. Like I said, I pick Ivan. He’s the guy!”
The entire room echoed with the low grumble of students – but his decision was final. I was the freshman Student Council Representative. And let me tell you something: boosted by being chosen – and subsequently mentored by – Mr. Ramirez, I worked hard, really hard, in that role. I worked so hard that, when it came up for an election mid-year, I faced an election by the same class – and won handily.
As a matter of fact I won every election in high school after that. Be it Student Council, Activities Director, ASB President, I won every election for every single position I ran for. And it all started with that one teacher seeing something in me that said, “I think he can do a good job.”
Let me tell you, Mr. Ramirez changed my life. The experience gave me so much more confidence, the opportunity to develop some leadership skills and it introduced me to projects that I could take from the beginning to the end. Getting legitimately re-elected mid-term my freshman year by the students who initially booed me, boosted my confidence and established my social standing, something that was previously non-existent.
That confidence allowed me to go on after high school to enjoy a successful collegiate experience, to become a successful business consultant and – most importantly – to ultimately build the relationships necessary to found a business referral organization that went global.
I often wonder what my life would look like today if Mr. Ramirez hadn’t changed the path of my life. I also often wonder how many young people’s lives might be changed if someone would take the time to not only give them a small push, but also provide some mentorship along the way.
Without mentoring, could we see a drop off in entrepreneurship, an industry that’s often hailed as the driver of American innovation? I fear so. This is why it’s important that those who have achieved success in the entrepreneurial arena “give back” by taking someone – whether a student, a graduate, or young worker – under their wing and boosting the confidence of that person to achieve their dream.
So, ask yourself, how have you helped further the entrepreneurial dreams on another? Do you have what it takes to be a mentor? Could you help change someone’s life?
I bet you could.
Called the "father of modern networking" by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner is a New York Times bestselling author. He is the Founder and Chairman of BNI, the world's largest business networking organization. His book, Networking Like a Pro, can be viewed at www.IvanMisner.com. Dr. Misner is also the Sr. Partner for the Referral Institute (www.ReferralInstitue.com), an international referral training company.