Over the years, I have been fortunate to have had many people come into my life and take the time to mentor and guide me along my career path. Mentors, like bridge builders, help people go from where they are to where they want to be. Mentors build their bridges not with concrete and steel girders, but with words of wisdom and encouragement. Mentors don’t build bridges for the sake of personal recognition or financial gain. They build because it is in their very nature to encourage, assist and support others along the path of life.

Mentors are selfless people who go out of their way to invest their time, talent and energy helping others navigate around the pitfalls of inexperience and poor judgment. Mentors tend to show up when they are needed the most and are quick to lend a hand. They understand the importance of sincere praise and the power of a timely kind word.

In 1954, during her junior year, a professor invited comedienne Carol Burnett and some other students to perform at a party the college was hosting. After Carol had finished her musical number, a man from the audience approached her and introduced himself. He complimented Carol on her talented performance and asked about her future plans.

When he discovered that her desire was to go to New York and try her luck with musical comedy but that she lacked funds, he offered her a $5,000 interest-free loan on the spot. Before he would give Carol the money, the man made it clear to her that he had three conditions for the loan. The money would be paid back within five years, she would never reveal his name as her benefactor and if she became successful, she would help others in the attainment of their dreams just as she had been helped by him. Carol agreed to the conditions for the loan and took him up on his generous offer. She left college and moved to New York to pursue her acting career. And the rest, as they say, is history.

As a boy, I recall reading a poem under the glass on my father’s desk entitled “The Bridge Builder” by Will Allen Dromgoole. This insightful poem with its powerful message of mentorship has served me well over the years and provides a great example for all of us to emulate.

The Bridge Builder

An old man going a lone highway,
Came, at the evening cold and gray,
To a chasm vast and deep and wide.
Through which was flowing a sullen tide
The old man crossed in the twilight dim,
The sullen stream had no fear for him;
But he turned when safe on the other side
And built a bridge to span the tide.

“Old man,” said a fellow pilgrim near,
“You are wasting your strength with building here;
Your journey will end with the ending day,
You never again will pass this way;
You’ve crossed the chasm, deep and wide,
Why build this bridge at evening tide?”
 
The builder lifted his old gray head;
“Good friend, in the path I have come,” he said,
“There followed after me to-day
A youth whose feet must pass this way.
This chasm that has been as naught to me
To that fair-haired youth may a pitfall be;
He, too, must cross in the twilight dim;
Good friend, I am building this bridge for him!”

If you’re a bridge builder, congratulations, the world is a far better place because of the positive impact you make in the lives of others.

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John Boe is a motivational trainer, speaker and internationally recognized authority on customer service, leadership, body language and temperament styles. For more information, go to http://www.johnboe.com.