Have you ever had a mentor say something to you that shocked you? I was awestruck when I received a letter in the mail recently from Judy Carter — one of my mentors.
“You have taught me much on how to teach comedy to speakers. You’ve taught me to slow down and break the process of comedy down into smaller bits. You have made such a contribution to my life and your vulnerability and willingness to share of yourself with others in truly admirable.”
Yeah, I cried. I actually had to read it several times to fully absorb it. I couldn’t believe my hero wrote a letter like this to me. It made me think about how blessed I am to have had many life-changing mentors. My life would be so different without them! I honestly can’t imagine where I’d be.
Mentors come in all shapes and sizes. They take different roles in our life. You may have them in different areas of your life like relationship, finances, life lessons or career. Some may have a close personal connection to you. Others may be mentors through their books and learning programs. Mentors may be in your life for decades, as Rick Segel has been for me. Mentors may also be in our lives for just a moment, providing that one gem of advice that we needed to hear in that moment. Each mentor you’ve had matters to you — but have you ever asked yourself, “What matters to your mentor?”
Chances are that someone you would look to be mentored by is a person that really stands out in your mind. If they stand out in your mind, odds are they stand out in other students’ minds, as well. So, how can you stand out in your mentor’s mind? It’s a great question, but one that few people ask.
How did I become so fortunate to have so many? Reflecting on both mentoring others and being mentored, here’s what experience has taught me:
#1 ~ Work harder than anyone else.
This one may seem obvious, but it needs to be addressed. Those who work the hardest stand out. It’s easy to see. It’s also easy to see when people are trying to “be seen” as working harder than everyone else. Mentors have seen it all. They probably have many people seeking their advice. Consider the experience of a tenured high school sports coach. There are new students each year, and each year the coach deals with talent, lack of talent, and ego. Each student is vying for starting positions on the team. Often, some pretend to give it their all.
In my high school football days, that was me. Since I was kind of a wimpy kid, throughout my junior year, I saved up some energy and dogged it and over-dramatized my wind sprints workout a little bit. I was trying to look like I was putting out all my effort, but really didn’t want to work that hard. Looking back, it’s easy to see that I wasn’t fooling my coach.
The summer before senior year, I decided I wanted a starting position and I’d do whatever it took to get there. I started running four miles a day in off-season. I started lifting weights hard three times a week. I went to a Holy Cross College football camp, as well. Most of the guys on the team didn’t prepare that much.
Because I committed, not only did I change my mind, but my body was soon to follow. I wasn’t a wimp anymore. My coaches noticed. Thank goodness most people are lazy. It’s easy to stand out if you work harder than anyone else for an extended period of time. Savvy mentors can spot it a mile away.
Remember… you are seeking the mentor. Why would a mentor help you if you aren’t willing to work hard?
#2 ~ Have more courage than anyone else.
You’ve probably heard me quote my mentor, Vinnie Favorito, who taught me the value of stage time. He also used to say to me, “Darren, I don’t care if you bomb onstage, I care if you don’t go up on stage.” The reason we get a mentor is to change how we think, feel, or act in a certain area of our life. This is usually because we have a goal we want to achieve. What Vinnie was really telling me that mattered in his eyes was courage. He didn’t care if I made mistakes. He cared if I was willing to be uncomfortable.
Why would a mentor continue to help you if you don’t show courage?
#3 ~ Be coachable.
Take their advice, please! As World Champion Craig Valentine says, “Seek education, not validation.”
In the early ’90s when my goal was to become a comedian, I knew that I didn’t know. I was hungry. I was a sponge. In 2001, when I met Mark Brown, the 1995 World Champion, the first thing he asked me to do was write out my speech. I passionately tried to convince him that was not my “style.” I almost argued with him. That was not how I created a speech. I needed to be present and in-the-moment. I didn’t want to be tied down to a script. He politely and gently reminded me that I came to him for coaching. Yikes!
It was a wake-up call. I had to become hungry again and let go of my ego. Even though I was starting to get paid as a professional speaker at that time, I was far from world-class. I needed to become a sponge again. I needed to be coachable… again. I wrote out the speech and realized just how bad it really was. Ouch.
Why would a mentor invest their time in you if you aren’t coachable?
#4 ~ Respect their time and space.
In the ’90s Alan Weiss, PhD offered fellow NSA Chapter members an opportunity to take him to lunch and “pick his brain.” He is absolutely brilliant and I could afford to buy him lunch, so I’m on it. Since I had limited financial resources I wanted to make the most of this brilliant man’s time. For a week prior, I kept a notepad handy and jotted down every question I could possibly think of to ask Alan. Though Alan intimidated me, I hoped I wouldn’t choke up if I had the questions with me.
Not only did it help me get a lot out of the lunch, it impressed him. He told me I was the most prepared person he had ever had for one of his lunches. Wow. Doesn’t everyone do that? I guess not. When I used to do skype mentoring calls with people one-on-one I would suggest the same to the people I was mentoring. It’s easier to come up with better questions ahead of time than “in the moment.” And, you’ll add even more to that list based on the flow of the conversation.
Each month, when I do my Get Paid to Speak group mentoring calls, the people who prepare and send their questions in ahead of time get more out of the calls.
My time with Alan helped me see the value of respecting his time. This spilled over into learning from another mentor when I lived in Oklahoma — Jim Stoval. Whenever I asked Jim for advice, I respected his time so much, I disciplined myself to not ask for more advice until I implemented all of the prior advice. Jim never insisted I follow through first, but I conditioned myself to do so before asking for any more advice.
I remember getting an opportunity to talk to David Brooks, 1990 World Champion of Public Speaking, on the phone. It was an honor to get his time. I remember the opportunity happened last minute and that day I had driven my motorcycle to work. The time that worked for him was in the middle of my drive to practice my speech at a Toastmasters club. It’s almost impossible to talk on the phone while driving a motorcycle. I drove as far as I could after work to get as close to the club as possible before the scheduled time for our call. To this day, I can see the place I pulled over on the Mass. Turnpike to talk to David.
It cracks me up when people ask me for mentoring and haven’t read my articles or watched my videos that I give away online for free. Really? I understand that some people may not be able to afford some of my learning programs. But, I’ve taken the time to publish my advice through articles and videos online, and they won’t look there first?! Why should I give them my time? To me, it feels like a lack of respect.
What mentor would give you time, if you don’t respect it?
#5 ~ Your success stories are the best “thank you.”
Mentors don’t always hear from students after the coaching, but most usually like to hear about your successes. Success stories are usually accompanied by an inspiring story of courage.
A couple years ago, Mykola Latansky, an emerging Russian motivational speaker, approached me in the hallway at an NSA Convention. (Hear what he said to me… Scroll down to the first video on this page). Mykola told me that he had invested in my Get Paid to Speak by Next Week program and in his 4th year in the business, he was going to hit a million dollars. Very cool! I have yet to do that in a single year. How do you think that made me feel? I wasn’t jealous, I was psyched! I’m also very sure that he was hungry and I’m not his only mentor.
This year, at the NSA Convention, I sat and listened to him speak at a learning lab. I was excited for his opportunity to speak there. His program was great. His success story inspired me to not only want to know more about him, but also to learn from him.
Have you told your mentors of the success you’ve had?
#6 ~ Ask yourself, “What do they want?”
Honestly, I’m still a bit surprised that I get to share the stage with Judy Carter, Patricia Fripp and the other World Champions of Public Speaking. How did it happen? Though often we put mentors up on a pedestal and think they have it all, we need to remember that even mentors are human. They may have more talent, skills, or knowledge than us in one area, but rarely do people have it all.
There’s usually something that they still want or need. Figuring that out begins by asking that question. When I got my first “real comedy show,” it was because I helped a comedy club owner fill the room with my following.
When I entertained the notion of even doing a first Champ Camp with Patricia Fripp, I considered what she wanted and why she might work with me. I discovered that she loved showing up and teaching. She didn’t love finding the hotel room, negotiating contracts, registering people and setting the room. It’s a lot of work, but if that’s what it took to share the stage with her, it was a no brainer. She wanted to show up and teach. It’s the same as I would want, and do get, when speaking at other people’s events.
In order to make sure Patricia would want to do a second event; the event must be content-rich, attendees must be transformed and it must be financially profitable. Learning from her, I wanted to be her favorite person to do business with.
What mentor wouldn’t appreciate help getting what they want?
#7 ~ Ask.
Mark Brown said to me: “Darren, I can not answer a question you do not ask.” Brilliant! Mentors appreciate humility. If you know everything, you don’t need a mentor. If you’re afraid of asking a “stupid question,” you’re missing out on the answers. If you’re afraid to ask somebody to be your mentor, you need to work on your confidence. I’m surprised when I get emails asking if I will mentor or coach a friend of theirs.
Really? Why are you asking for someone else? Why are they not asking me themselves? That just tells me they’re putting me on a pedestal way too high — which is not cool — or they don’t have the confidence to ask for themself. That’s a red flag! If you lack that much confidence, you may take some of my advice too literally. That concerns me a bit.
As Patricia Fripp says, “If you don’t ask, the answer is always ‘no.’“ Now, it still could be ‘no’ even if you do ask. That’s OK. But, what if they say ‘yes’?
I wish I could mentor more people one-on-one. There’s just not enough time in the day with all the requests I get. I share as much content as I can through my blog, YouTube, and through live presentations. When people want one-on-one coaching now I lead them to group coaching at live Champ Camps and our international online community, World Champions’ EDGE. If they want to learn about the business of speaking, I suggest my Get Paid to Speak group mentoring program. These are ways for me to serve someone who is hungry to learn the business and offer it at a very affordable price.
Mentors are people, too! They have wants, needs and desires. Judy’s letter allows me to see what I did right. I found a niche and focused on being the best to serve that niche. I’m not saying I am the best, but I’m better each year than I was the year before. I try to live my saying, “Resolve to Evolve.”
I have a signed picture in my office by Dave Fitzgerald, another one of my comedy mentors who helped me create the Humor Boot Camp. Next to his photo, he wrote, “You have affected my life in a way that can not be measured. The direction I am now going in is because of you.” Wow. I was just a “wanna be” when he met me. I saw how much his humor could inspire people with cancer, so I insisted that he check out the National Speakers Association. He did, and through that he emerged from the comedy stage into the professional speaking market. I couldn’t mentor him, but I could lead him to people who could.
Where do you want to go? What do you want to become? Don’t try to impress a potential mentor, they’ve seen it all. Have integrity, work hard, be coachable and have the right intention. Who knows! You may not only attract a great mentor, you may also change their life.
I’d love to hear from you… please share your comments below!