“A teacher affects eternity; he can never tell where his influence stops” — Henry Adams
In an exciting five-set encounter, Novak Djokovic claimed his second Wimbledon tennis title in 2014. While his talent and tenacity pulled out the win, Djokovic didn’t forget how he reached the pinnacle of tennis.
In accepting the winning trophy, he paid tribute to his family, his team and to “my first coach Jelena Gencic.” When she died in 2013, Djokovic wrote a letter, while playing at the French Open, honoring her for changing his life forever. Here is an excerpt:
My dear Jelena, I am immensely sad to be saying goodbye to you today. You prepared me for many situations in life—for wins, for triumphs, for our trophies—but I am completely unprepared for our parting. Not being able to see you off makes me endlessly sad. Still, I know that you’d be mad if I gave up or decreased my chance to fulfill this final wish of ours, winning Roland Garros…I promise that I will speak your name to future generations and that your spirit will live on on our tennis courts.”
Djokovic’s tribute started me thinking about how many of us can cite a favorite teacher or coach who made a lasting influence on our lives.
Did a Teacher Influence Your Life?
Recently over dinner with a writer friend and his wife, we learned that she recently retired, after over twenty years, as a teacher of literature at a prestigious high school in New Jersey. What really moved us was that she was invited to give the commencement speech to the graduating class.
Our friend was obviously very proud of his wife and told us that she received a standing ovation when she walked on stage before she said one word. We were impressed by the honor bestowed on someone who was appreciated and acknowledged by her students. As Adams said, a teacher can make an impact that lasts forever on how we think, act and feel.
During the last days of winter, you might want to step back and reflect on what you learned from a favorite teacher that helped you in your career and enabled you to become an effective mentor or role model to others in your life.
A teacher not only educates, he inspires others to become as great as they can be. Even years after graduating, many executives still pay tribute to a teacher who inspired them in their chosen careers and who contributed to their success. By example, a teacher or mentor guides someone to be the very best they can be.
A senior business executive we know understood that when she registered for the annual conference of the Arthur W. Page Society. The most accomplished PR executives are members of this by invitation-only organization.
At the urging of a coach, she recognized the importance of looking her best at the occasion and hired a personal shopper to help her choose her wardrobe for the luncheons and dinners. She admitted it was the first time she had ever taken the time to plan ahead and coordinate her wardrobe.
At the opening cocktail and dinner event, she noticed an older gentleman sitting by himself and walked over and introduced herself. He turned out to be Harold Burson, founder of Burson-Marsteller. She sat with him the entire evening, learning at the knee, so to speak, of one of the giants of the industry.
Would she have felt comfortable approaching one of the true statesmen of the profession if she didn’t feel confident in her appearance? She still talks about that eventful meeting. He inspired her to share her wisdom in mentoring young people building their careers.
Just Write Something
A business writer still recalls the lessons she learned from her college English professor. In his Shakespeare class, he inspired his students to think for themselves. Instead of dictating their assignments, he would say, “Just write something.”
He allowed them to use their imaginations to uncover the delights of the great Bard. He didn’t correct their papers but pointed out how they could be improved by drawing rectangles around an errant word or phrase. He made them figure out what it meant.
To this day, she re-reads her copy and strikes the words where she knows Dr. Chalfant would have drawn a rectangle. After all these years, he is still influencing her life.
Matt Lauer Asked the Wrong Question
Matt Lauer, former co-host of The Today show caused a lot of controversy when he interviewed Mary Barra, the first woman to become CEO of General Motors. He showed he’s still in the dark ages by asking her if she got the job because she was a woman and if she could balance work with motherhood.
She immediately shut him up with the altogether appropriate response: “It’s absolutely not true. I got this job based on my qualifications.”
The interview would have been so much more informative and inspiring if Lauer had asked her about the mentors and teachers who had influenced her life and career.
What about you? Is there a teacher or mentor who exerted a great influence on your career? Please share your experience in the comment box below.