“For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her”. Proverbs 8:11
One of my favorite stories comes from a supposed naval encounter of a battleship at sea in the time before GPS and other technology provided instant navigation information. As the story goes, the event takes place in poor weather, and the officer on deck of the ship sees a light, and believing they are on a collision course with another ship, sends the following message: “Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision.”
The reply: “We recommend that YOU change YOUR course fifteen degrees south to avoid a collision.” The ship responded: “This is the Captain in the United States Navy. I say again, Divert your course. The response: “No, I suggest you divert YOUR course 15 degrees south.”
Finally, the captain, having lost patience sends this message: “THIS IS THE CAPTAIN OF A BATTLESHIP IN THE UNITED STATES NAVY ONE OF THE LARGEST SHIPS IN THE ATLANTIC FLEET. I DEMAND YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH. THAT’S ONE-FIVE DEGREES SOUTH OR MEASURES WILL BE TAKEN TO ENSURE OUR SAFETY.”
The response: “Sir, this is Seaman First Class of the Coast Guard. This is a lighthouse. It’s your call.”
I’m not sure about you, but I can identify with the Captain. The Captain thought he knew all the facts. He had the experience to know that his ship was on a collision course with what he thought was another ship, and most likely a smaller ship than his. He thought he knew everything based on his training and experience. But he was wrong because he didn’t consider that his assumptions were wrong: lighthouses don’t change course, but ships do.
I used to think I “knew” it all, too. I put it this way: When I was 20, I thought I knew everything. When I turned 30, I KNEW I knew everything. When I turned 40, I realized that I wasn’t too bright at 20 or 30. Now that I am in my 70’s, I know that I wasn’t such a bright bulb in my 40’s, and that the confidence of my knowledge when I was younger was not the same as wisdom which comes from experience.
The perspective of youth is based on knowledge, not experience. The first time I actually mentored a young man, I told him two things in our very first time together: 1) It’s what you don’t know that can hurt you, and 2) It’s a lot easier to learn from the experience (and mistakes) of others, and I’ve made 100’s of mistakes so I have a lot to tell you. He asked if I would illustrate the first statement, which actually surprised me, so I came up with this illustration: “As a task, I want you to go capture a cat. Not complicated. So, you go out to accomplish that, and return later in the day to tell me that I didn’t tell you that the cat was actually a lion, not a small house cat. That’s what you didn’t know, and had you known that, you would have done things differently.” Over the years, this young man ended up working for me, and I would smile when he would stop by my office after being surprised by something new and saying “I wish I had known that.”
The millennial generation is desperate for mature people to come besides them and provide them the wisdom that comes from experience. What some people worry about in being a mentor is not having the answers. A mentor doesn’t have to have all the answers; their role is to provide a different perspective which, by asking questions such as “Have you considered a different option?”, will aid the protégé see things from a different vantage point.
My challenge is for those who have a lot of life experiences (that’s a graceful way of saying you have reached some maturity), to invest in the next generation by spending time with them and helping guide them. You don’t have to have answers – in fact, a good mentor generally just asks questions to challenge the thinking of the mentee. You might be an aunt, uncle or just a friend, but some 80% of today’s millennials are looking for you to be their sounding board. You can fill that role in someone’s life. It will be one of the most rewarding things you have ever done.
(The picture above is of my granddaughter (Hannah) in Zermatt, Switzerland this past summer.)