By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.
By clicking “Accept All Cookies”, you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance site navigation, analyze site usage, and assist in our marketing efforts. View our Privacy Policy for more information.

A Mentor Moment That Has Lasted a Lifetime: Three Key Mentorship Takeaways

One quiet weekend morning, I sat with my father at the breakfast table before heading off to business school at Bentley University.  He was a quiet, introverted man who mostly kept to himself. We had the Boston Globe with us; he preferred print over digital. While I read the Sports page as I did daily to stay updated on professional and college sports, and the Business page because I wanted to be an entrepreneur, he finished skimming the main section and then turned to the Obituaries, reading them all.

I found it a bit strange and morbid that he read the obituary pages every single day and only skimmed through the main stories. Unlike today, where news of someone's passing is easily accessible through social media or a quick online search, in the past, the obituary section of the newspaper was the primary way people learned about the deaths of family, friends, and others. There were no options to leave a note, post on a wall, or light a virtual candle as we can do now. You had to read a block of text that fit into a defined space, which the family of the deceased paid to have included in the paper. Additionally, you would go to the funeral home to pay your respects.

I always assumed that he read it to see if he knew anyone - which he often did - but I quickly found out that was not the only reason. I mentioned to him that I've always wondered why, without fail, he always spent time reviewing the entire obituary section of the newspaper when the sports section was much more entertaining, especially considering he was a dedicated New England sports fan.

He paused, looked at me, and said, "What I am about to tell you will not make a lot of sense to you today, but will down the road. I read the obituary section every single day for two reasons. One is that my friends, coworkers, old neighbors, and extended family are aging. It's often the only way I know if one of them has passed away. The second reason, however, is much more important. Life passes quickly, and we are all living on borrowed time. Every day, people pass away. You have the opportunity to achieve great things - obtain an education, be a wonderful spouse, raise happy and successful children, build a thriving business, and contribute to the community for its improvement. Each person's journey is unique, but ultimately, it concludes in the same manner - a 300-word write-up."

He talked about the importance of making the most of each day - that when your number is called, you want anyone who reads your obituary to have no doubt that you did the right things in life, in business, and for your family to make a positive impact wherever possible. All the accomplishments and failures, of which there will be many, impact your journey. Most things you thought were important, like today's news and yesterday's sports results, turn out to be insignificant, but your positive contributions are not.

During my teenage and early twenties, I made a habit of reading obituaries. As I read the words and interpreted their meanings, I could discern who was a leader, who was resilient, who was loved, and sadly, who was not. At that time, as a teenager, I may not have fully grasped the significance of those observations. However, to this day, I consider it some of the best executive mentorship I have ever received.

Three Key Mentorship Takeaways:

1. Always strive to be helpful, do the right things, and be great person in all aspects of your personal and professional life.

2. Ensure you deliver to the best of your ability on your commitments to your family, employees, and customers.

3. Embrace every moment each day to contribute positively and make a lasting impact in everything you do, as tomorrow is uncertain and you cannot change yesterday.

If you value personal and professional growth, consider leveraging advice from and cherishing the opportunity to spend time with an executive mentor or mentors who have experienced unexpected life challenges, overcome failures, and can help you become more resilient and prepared to thrive.