My Best Mentors All Had These Characteristics
From Queef Bushsmell to Doug the Hippie, I’ve learned so much
Like most people in life who work hard and achieve their targets and goals, I’ve had some wonderful mentors. Most people experience the ups and downs of having supervisors, managers, and bosses, but how many of us truly have wonderful mentors?
Mentors are much different than bosses. While you can certainly get along with supervisors, managers, and bosses while perhaps even becoming friendly with them, a mentor is quite different.
A boss wants to get as much as they can out of you without having to invest much of their own time. Sure, you’ll be trained for a finite number of minutes or hours, but it isn’t the same as being mentored. A mentor is a different breed of person. They take pride in what they do.
They aren’t training you just to do a good-enough job. They want to take you to a higher level. Most do this just because of the love they have for whatever they’re mentoring you in. Work-related or otherwise, they truly stand out for what they bring to the table.
Prior to having my first or earliest jobs, I can’t say I really had a mentor. My father and mother both taught me the earlier life lessons that were important to me even now. But to call either of them mentors doesn’t seem correct.
I would recognize my first mentor as being the manager of the Footlocker I worked at when I was new to the company. Reed was a cool guy. I was 23 at the time and had worked for about three years in retail. I was a pretty good salesman for a younger fellow. I was nice to customers, polite, and seemed adept at the retail game.
Reed and Footlocker took those things to another level. The training was essential when you were a full-time employee. They only hired full-time people that were willing to relocate. I was very open to the idea at the time and wanted to be better. My goal was to get promoted to assistant manager quickly.
Reed was a really chill fella. He was in his later 30 or early 40s when I met him. He was a tall, friendly guy with a mustache and almost always had a smile. He talked quietly for a man of his size and most found him pleasant to be around.
He noticed right away that I had a tendency to look away when I talked to him. Perhaps I was keeping an eye out for customers who might be walking into our store. Maybe I was a bit shy. This didn’t prevent him from coming real with it in an honest way and asking me about this during one shift when I was still pretty new.
“You don’t like to look people in the eyes when you talk to them, do you?” he asked me.
I was taken by surprise. This sounded a bit like an insult. I looked him in the eyes and said, “Well no, I don’t think… (*starts looking the other way) so.” Then I caught myself and looked straight at him. He was smiling ever so slightly.
Goddamn it. He was right. And I knew what he was getting at. It was far better to be able to look a customer in the eyes and really have a one-on-one experience with them when trying to sell them something.
I also realized that this was a good life lesson as well. I decided I’d do better and practice with people at work and outside of the job. It wasn’t easy, but I could tell I was getting a little better at it because of Reed. I appreciated his honesty in this regard.
About a month later, Reed informed us that we’d be having a Manager in Training come down once a week from a small town about 90 minutes away. He’d complete his training and Reed would help him with the managerial side.
Keith showed up on a busier day and started bouncing around the store, talking to everyone energetically, even going just outside the store to talk to people walking by. Tim and I eyeballed him, looked over a Reed who had his slight smile again, and caught me rolling my eyes at our new teammate who seemed quite hyper.
He said something I’ll never forget when he saw me rolling my eyes at Keith, “I’d rather have one of him on my sales floor than 10 of you guys.” Ouch. Sometimes we hurt the ones we love. I was not happy to hear that.
But that was Reed. He was always honest with us. He wasn’t mean or unfair about it. I started the whole thing with the rolling of my eyes. I shouldn’t have had that attitude toward Keith.
He was hustling. He was doing the uncomfortable thing by going out of his way to talk to people even outside of our store. I was wrong and realized it, thanks to Reed’s honesty.
I didn’t know that Keith was a father of five kids with a baby on the way. He moved to nearby Twin Falls to take control of not one, but two Footlocker stores in the mall there. All of the things he was doing were contingent upon him getting promoted to manager. There was a lot on the line.
We found out about a month after this that Keith indeed did all he needed to do in order to be promoted to dual-store manager over there. Those of us who knew him and grew to appreciate his hustle were very happy to hear this. But he needed help. Running two stores with only two part-time keyholders did not allow him to have days off.
I’d progressed well with Reed as a full-time management trainee. It was time to haul ass to Twin Falls, Idaho from Boise, and bring him some relief. I was a bit nervous to work for this guy who I assumed was going to run me into the ground and make me get outside of my comfort zone once I arrived.
I showed up on my first day to work and figured Keith would do some kind of ninja backflip out of nowhere and land in front of me, ready to put me through martial arts training. That’s when I saw the top of a balding head, just barely above the raised countertop. He was slumped over and weakly raised his head up to greet me.
“Oh, man. I’m glad you’re here.” He looked and sounded like he meant every bit of what he just said. He wasn’t feeling well that first day. He was exhausted and worn out from not having a day off with his pregnant wife and five kids in close to a month.
I assured him that I was ready to sell, close up shop, open it the next morning, and could repeat this daily. He was happy to finally have a solid full-time assistant manager. I was happy to be needed.
We became close friends. He had a lot to teach and I learned more during the first month from Keith than I had from Reed over the past three months. He had a lot of ideas and was upfront and direct about them. Keith also came in a number of makes and models.
He could be that guy we saw in Boise on his first day on the job. Hyper, active, funny, and motivated. He was a Mormon guy, but definitely a Jack-Mormon. He could be so funny and inappropriate.
He started calling me Juneau. No, not because I was from Alaska. Because I had a big Italian nose. So he found it hilarious calling me that, short for Jewish Nose.
That was pretty inappropriate, even back in 1998. But who was going to turn him in? Instead, we just turned the jokes around and leveled our aim back at him. He became “The Bald Troll”, and Queef Bushsmell (Keith Bushnell).
“NO WAY! That was my nickname in high school!” was his excited response when I first called him that. I laughed my head off. Of course, they did. He took his new nickname like the champ that he was and owned it.
Everybody loved Keith. I can’t think of one good employee in our stores who didn’t like the guy. He was great at what he did and preached hard work, as well as recruitment. He wanted us to always be looking for other people to recruit for Footlocker. Keith felt we were only as strong as our weakest link. I still love that lesson.
I was shipped down to the Salt Lake City market after four or five months with Keith. I went to the busiest stores in our district and Keith was giving a huge volume store in the Bay Area of California. We both were excelling and I owed much of my success to The Bald Troll.
The other mentor I enjoyed learning from and who taught me the most about sales was my first real estate broker, Doug. I connected with his local RE/MAX office I wanted to work for and met him on my first day. He had done it all in the commercial and residential real estate arenas. He enjoyed being the broker/owner and wasn’t much about the day-to-day of selling homes.
Doug was a hell of a mentor. He liked me right away because I showed up daily and even on the weekends to the office. I’d take all of the calls that came in when the office staff was off for the weekends. I listened to all his advice and asked questions in his training meetings. Doug and I got along well.
It was during one of those meetings when he told me something that has stuck with me for almost 20 years now. We walked in that morning to the training he was putting on, and on the whiteboard was written this quote:
“If you can SEE it, you can BE it.”
Doug walked into the training room and gave us a lesson about visualizing your goals. Seeing what you want to be, down the road. Working smarter and harder toward your goals, and imagining what your life would look like if you put the work in and believed in yourself.
He also told us not to chase the money end of things. He said that if we solely focused on finding customers, turning them into clients, and helping them buy and sell real estate, the monetary reward would happen naturally. Damned if he wasn’t right.
His is still some of the best advice I’ve ever received in the 30 years I’ve been in the workforce. It worked for me in real estate. I reached six figures in commissions earned in 2005 and 2006. Doug’s advice and my hard work paid off.
He was also brutally honest about things in those early training sessions. He told us that not all of us would make it in real estate. He was clear that we all had the potential to make it, but for various reasons, not all would. He was right.
I still follow this advice, but now as it relates to my writing. Doug’s mentoring is still paying off almost twenty years later. I still sell real estate as one of my two main side hustles. However, this writer’s journey is what I’m all about at age 47.
Taking all of the advice I’ve learned from Reed, Keith, and Doug in the past 25 years and applying it to my writing has been awesome. The one trait that they all shared with me has served me well. Being upfront and honest about your strengths, weaknesses (opportunities to improve), and goals have helped me immensely.
I love mentoring people who are open to it as well. I feel that whatever success I’ve had in 9 1/2 months here as a Medium writer, I want to share with others. Few of you have used some of this advice and mentoring, and are seeing big results. I couldn’t be more proud of you all.
I think of my three main mentors and smile at the fond memories we all shared, as well as the invaluable lessons. They saw someone worth teaching when we all worked together. I will continue to show them that they were right. &:^)