It’s been about a year since I left the comfortable confines of big agency life to move to a new city and try my hand at freelancing but I still consider myself to be in a bit of a transition period.
In this period, I’ve been having a lot of coffees with old colleagues and friends. And it’s made me think of those who have served as mentors, officially and unofficially, to me over the course of my career.
When I first moved to Toronto in 2006, I had a Masters in Arts & Media that had given me hands-on experience with blogging and all things social media, but I had no idea how that would really translate to a job (or even how to get a job!) and what the difference between working at an agency or client-side even meant. It was people like Martin Hoffman and Joseph Thornley who took time to invite me into their offices or have a coffee to explain the industry in more detail. They didn’t have jobs for me but by giving up some of their day to talk with a kid in an oversized shirt they gave me a bit of confidence and knowledge that helped me land my first real interviews and job.
In a more official capacity, the Canadian Public Relations Society partnered me with Martin Waxman as part of their mentorship program. At the time, he was the President of a PR agency in Toronto, while I was a Communications Coordinator at CNW Group. I have no doubt that Martin was incredibly busy at that time of his life (as I know he continues to be!) but he still made time to meet with me for an early morning breakfast on a monthly basis. He was always asking me questions about my own career, making me think a bit more deeply about my work and helping me navigate those first few changes in roles or companies. I haven't caught up with him as much as I'd like in the past few years, but when our schedules have overlapped that we've been in the same city it has been great to reconnect with him.
Ed Lee hired me in 2010 and has been someone I’ve always been able to turn to for advice about the office and my own career. While this was probably his literal job when I reported directly into him, he continued to be supportive of me when my path took me away from him. He’s since become someone who I still keep in touch with regularly, who is happy to answer my questions and hear my frustrations via text, who will meet me for a beer or tea when I’m in the same city as him and who I now consider a good friend.
Tim Murdoch was my lacrosse coach when I played for McGill in the early 2000s, and since that time he’s turned the team around from a Bad News Bears situation (losing games 10-0, but leading the league in penalty minutes) to multiple championships and maybe the most dominant team in the league over the past few years. This success is due to the devotion he shows his players - he’s constantly asking them to be at their absolute best. And this devotion extends to former players as well. It’s been 13 years since I graduated, but I still call him Coach and know that he’ll pick up the phone when I call whether it is to just talk about lacrosse or to get some advice on a business question.
They all have a few traits in common.
They’re patient. None of them rushed to solutions for problems or questions I had. They understood that I probably needed to work through some of the thinking on my own, and that conversations with them were a place to sound out ideas and approaches.
They’re giving. They all have lots going on in their lives. They have businesses to run. Clients Families. Hobbies. And yet they’ve all made extra time for me, and probably others as well.
They’re inquisitive. They don’t simply make recommendations or suggestions. They listen. The ask questions. They want to learn. It’s probably this nature that’s helped them get where they are today.
A few years ago I answered an email from the McGill Alumni Association asking graduates if they would be interested in being a mentor to a recent graduate or current student. I replied to express my interest in participating, and shortly after that I was matched with a young woman who was just starting her marketing career.
I was overseas while she was in Toronto, but we connected on Skype or FaceTime about once a month or so. I was impressed with the fact that she always came to our calls with some questions she wanted to ask, and I hope the answers or guidance I gave her made sense. I also learned a lot from her. Hearing things from her side, the types of concerns she had, what she was looking for, gave me a great deal of insight into the thoughts going through the heads of my own young team.
We continue to stay in touch as our careers have both moved forward and I’ve seen her grow from a dedicated but slightly cautious coordinator at a small marketing agency to a new and recent role as a Digital Planner at one of the city’s best agencies.
I hope we continue to connect and I look forward to following what I know will be a successful career for her.
Lastly, the most important mentor to me has always been my dad. He didn’t work in advertising and I’ve never met him for coffee (except for when I’m visiting him and we’re both up at 5:30am to go about our days). But he continues to be the one I can always go to for advice. Who is always willing to listen. Who is patient with me.
Thanks for your guidance throughout the years, paps.