How Mentors Inspire Success In Young People

Raising Daughters | How Mentors Inspire Success


Mentors have keen eyes to see anyone’s potential that no one would notice at first glance. Those eyes are the keys to helping mentors unlock someone’s highest potential. In this episode, Dr. Tim Jordan shares real-life stories of how mentors inspire success in young people. Mentors offer the ability to see young people in their highest light before they can see it in themselves. Stories about Jane Goodall, Quincy Jones, Frank Lloyd Wright, President Jimmy Carter, and many others proved the impact mentorship had in store for everyone. Be the catalyst for your children’s success and the mentor they need in life. Tune in to this episode with Dr. Tim Jordan today.



The Right Words at the Right Time

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How Mentors Inspire Success In Young People

I am back here with a brand-new episode. Thanks for stopping by. In this episode, I will talk to you a little bit about the value of mentors. I thought about this topic for several reasons. I was thinking about one of my old mentors, Dr. T. Berry Brazelton. He was a very eminent developmental and behavioral pediatrician who I studied with in Boston for a year, a long time ago. He was the head of my fellowship program.

At the time, lots of universities were losing their funding. This is back in the mid-’80s. One of the things that he decided to do, and it started as I was becoming a fellow that year, was doing what he called a roadshow. What he meant was he was getting requests from all over the world to come and give talks because he had written all those very famous books. He had his TV show, etc. What he decided to do was, instead of going and giving a talk, he would bring some of his fellows with him. He would go give a talk in the evening to parents and then the next day, there’d be a professional day. He’d bring 2 or 3 of us, and we would do a couple of talks each, and he would also do a talk.

That began my speaking career back in about 1985, 1986 that has lasted up through now. One of the things that I learned from him wasn’t that he sat me down and said, “This is how you do it.” I was able to watch how he treated people. When he gave his talks, how he connected with the audience, he made sure everybody in that crowd felt like they were being talked to by him personally. His mentorship was less about talking. It was more about modeling. Also, he gave me a chance to start my career in speaking, speaking to the public, and speaking to professionals.I imagine many of you have had adults in your life who have helped you along the way.

I read an interesting two books years ago called The Right Words at the Right Time by Marlo Thomas. The first book was lots of very eminent people. It was stories about how at a certain point in their young lives, a mentor stepped in and said the right words at the right time, which changed their lives. It changed the trajectory, if you will, of their lives. The second book, which came several years later, was more stories about just everyday people. If you’re interested in these sorts of stories, then look for those books, The Right Words at the Right Time.

A mentor stepped in and said the right words at the right time, which changed someone’s life. Share on X

I also was inspired to do this show because I’ve been on the board of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program here in St. Louis. It’s been Big Brothers Big Sisters of Eastern Missouri for many years now. That started because I was a big brother when I was in college. I had a little brother down in San Antonio, Texas, for two years. I enjoyed being a big brother. I had 2 older brothers growing up and 5 younger sisters. I never had a little brother. I became associated with that organization. It was natural for me to then become a part of the board many years ago.

Let me tell you a couple of statistics about the value of the Big Brothers Big Sisters who become friends and mentors for young people. The Big Brothers Big Sisters program provides connections that connect an adult with a kid. Some of the kids are as young as 7 or 8 and they go up through their teen years in the Big Brothers Big Sisters of St. Louis and also follow the kids through college and beyond, trying to help them on that next leg of their journey.

Little Brothers Little Sisters, compared to kids who are not enrolled in the program, here are some statistics. They’re 46% less likely to begin using illegal drugs, 27% begin using alcohol, 2% less likely to skip school, 37% less likely to skip a class, 33% less likely to hit somebody, and 97% of youth in Big Brothers Big Sisters avoid delinquency and risky behaviors, things like using alcohol, drugs, skipping school, violence, and breaking the rules. Ninety-six percent of Little Brothers Little Sisters are graduating high school and obtaining a high school degree or equivalency.

By the way, these are kids oftentimes who are in a very high-risk group. Statistics of kids who aren’t in this program are way lower than what I’m saying to you. Ninety-two percent of the St. Louis Little Alumni are on track to a living wage job. They’re either enrolled in college or a trade school, enlisted in the military or they’re employed. A Big Brothers Big Sisters program that is successful is not a mystery. Having a mentor, having somebody in a kid’s life who takes them under their wing, befriends them, and mentors them, is incredibly valuable. I want to tell you a lot of stories for the rest of this episode about people and what mentors did for them because I love stories and I think you do too, instead of just yapping or giving you statistics.

Parents As Mentors

Sometimes, mentors are parents. I’m going to talk about parents as mentors. I’ll be talking about some internal things that we can mentor ourselves. I’m going to talk at the end about mentors who are people who are not our family, not our parents. Jane Goodall, the famous primatologist. She wanted to go to Africa when she was eight years of age because she had read some books and was interested.

Everybody laughed at her and told her the dream about something that she could achieve. Everybody, that is, except for her mom. Her mom supported her and this is Jane’s words. “Mom simply said to me, which I took to heart, ‘If you really want something, you must be prepared to work very hard, take advantage of all opportunities, and above all else, never, ever give up.’” She inspired Jane, her daughter, to follow her dream, which she probably would’ve been discouraged from doing. Our world has been a lot less well-off because of it.

The famous American-born painter, Benjamin West, remembers when he was seven years of age, his mom put him in charge of babysitting his little infant niece while she went for a walk. He did some things. He was making the baby laugh. Since he liked the way the baby looked, he grabbed the pen and the paper, and he started to try and capture the baby’s charms with a drawing.

Just as he was finishing the drawing, his mom walked in and caught him off guard. He tried to hide his drawings, but his mom was suspicious. She said, “What are you doing? Let me see.” He begged his mom not to be upset as he gave over his drawings. When she looked at the drawings, she declared, “That looked just like Sally,” his little niece. The next year, Benjamin’s aunt sent him a box of paints and canvases and he disappeared into his room the next day. He skipped school. He forgot all about it.

When his mom found out, she found him in the attic. He was drawing and she was about to scold him when her eyes fell on his little drawings. Instead of reprimanding him, she picked him up and covered him in kisses and promised to explain to his dad why he had missed school that day. Later on, as an adult, this famous artist was often heard saying, “It was my mother’s kisses that made me an artist.” Benjamin’s mom had become his mentor.

Another artist, Olga Avalla, grew up with a mom who was depressed and had bipolar disorder. Her dad oftentimes told her to take care of her mom whenever he was away at work and stuff. Now, the mom had wanted to be an artist, but she had been born in Puerto Rico. Her family was very poor, and so she didn’t have the chance to develop her talents. Due to her culture, she was encouraged to stay home while her husband worked. Olga remembers when she was five, her mom was doodling on a grocery list and she drew a picture of Mickey Mouse. This little girl was shocked. She said, “It was so good, I thought she was a God.” She told her mom, “You’ve got to teach me how to do that.”

From then on, Olga was always drawing. She got in trouble at school because she wasn’t focused on anything but on artwork. At a parent-teacher conference, the teacher complained she was not doing her lessons. She was always just drawing. Her mom’s answer to that was, “We need to buy Olga more paper at home.” Her mom continued to inspire her in her work. Even though her mom was living through her, she still was a mentor who inspired her.

Experiences As Mentors

It’s so nice and so valuable for kids to have someone at home who sees something in them, encourages them, and mentors them. Sometimes, parents can’t deliver those kinds of goods for all their different reasons. Sometimes, that motivation has come from within for some kids. For instance, I met a very successful businessman who was born in China. He came over when he was a kid. He was about sixteen. He moved to Canada with his family and he wasn’t very motivated in school. He wasn’t trying very hard, but one day, he went to a local McDonald’s and tried to order an orange milkshake and the cashier couldn’t understand him. He became frustrated and he decided at that moment that he needed to start studying harder, especially English, if he was ever going to make anything of himself in his new country.

For some of us, it’s an experience that becomes our mentor and it ends up motivating us and putting us on a path. In the early 1950s, American painter, James Whistler, spent a brief and academically unsuccessful period at West Point Academy. One day, he was assigned to draw a bridge. He drew this very romantic-looking bridge with grassy banks on both sides. He had two small kids fishing from one of the banks.

This military instructor saw the picture and he yelled at him to get those kids off the bridge. It was an engineering exercise, not an art exercise. Once he got the kids off the bridge, he drew them fishing from one of the banks along the side of the river. When the instructor saw this drawing, he got angrier. He yelled at him to get those kids not only off the bank but get them out of the picture completely.

That’s when Whistler’s creativity rose to the surface because his creativity was much stronger than that of the professor’s will. His next version of the story had the kids completely out of the picture, but they were buried under two small tombstones on the riverbank. James Whistler was born with intrinsic motivation, where he could push, motivate, and mentor himself in a way.

Frank Lloyd Wright, the famous architect, recalls a story when he was a kid. It was a snowy day and his uncle took him on a hike through the woods. He remembers they came to a clearing and he walked across as his uncle walked across next to him. When he got to the other side, his uncle said, “Frank, I want to teach you a lesson. I want you to look back at our tracks. Look at your tracks. We started together, and you veered off to one side because you went over there and were throwing sticks. You veered off to the other side, and you saw a squirrel or something in the woods, zigzagging across the path. Notice how different my path was. I started in one place and I went in a straight line to my destination. Let this be a lesson to you.”

Frank Lloyd Wright remembers that it was a lesson to him, but the lesson was different than what his uncle had. Frank’s lesson was that, “I never want to do what my uncle did, which was live a life that’s boring and without creativity. I want to be able to do my own thing. If I wanted to zigzag, I would zigzag.” That is how Frank Lloyd Wright lived his life. Also, that kind of spirit came out in his works, which are oftentimes very unique.

People You Look Up To As Mentors

Having a mentor who’s not your mom and dad and who isn’t maybe an experience in your life is important. I remember one of my first mentors, one of my professors in college. His name was Brother John Donahue, and he was in charge of the pre-med program. He is also my biology teacher. I couldn’t figure out what I wanted to do in my first two years in college. I took pre-med biology and chemistry and some of those courses because I thought maybe I wanted to be a pediatrician. I took education classes. Maybe I want to be a teacher.

Having a mentor who's not your mom and dad and isn't an experience in your life is important. Share on X

I have known since the day I was born that I always wanted to work with kids. I always knew that. I worked with kids my whole childhood, but I wasn’t sure about what direction in college, what was my major going to be. I remember going into his office a couple of times every year. I would sit down and complain, probably whining about what I wanted to do. He was so incredible at listening. I don’t even remember half the things he said, but I always remember walking out of his office, feeling I was okay.

At the end of my sophomore year, I needed to declare a major. I went into his office and he said to me, “I know you love kids.” I had a little brother. He knew that I was teaching a little catechism class on the edge of campus at this little parish. I was doing things with kids already. He said, “I know that. I think you’d be a great teacher. I know how much you love kids, but maybe at some point, you might get a little bit bored and a little bit stale. There are not a lot of places where you can go with that. If you decide to go to medical school and get your MD behind your name and go into pediatrics, in the long run, that might open up more doors for you. I’m not telling you what to do. I just want you to think about that.” I did.

That advice was so valuable. I did decide to major in Biology, minor in Chemistry, and go into pre-med. I went to medical school, got my MD, and all that. That MD has opened up doors over all the years of my career. That piece of advice was so valuable to me at a time when I needed someone to give me some guidance.

I had another mentor some years after that. My wife and I were doing a bunch of personal growth. It was a place in Austin, Texas we went to. It was for at least 3 or 4-day weekend retreats where we were learning how to teach a retreat for adults, a personal growth retreat. Bill and Kath, a couple, were the ones who facilitated.

At lunchtime on those weekends, if I was at a table with the head, his name was Bill, oftentimes he would turn to somebody and give them some wisdom, if you will. One day, I was sitting at the lunch table with him and a bunch of people and he said, “Do you know what your problem is, Tim?” He took some salt and pepper shakers and put them in a pile at one end of the table. He had one salt shaker at the other end. He said, “This is you and the other people over there, those salt shakers, those are the people who were like your ‘mentors,’ the people you look up to, like Dr. Brazelton, some of the authors you’re reading and people you want to be more like someday.”

He took the salt shaker, slid it across the table, and put it with the others. He said, “Your problem is you’re already there and you’re not aware of it yet.” That made me stand back. I didn’t have what those people had, obviously, but what he was saying was, “I see that in you. You need to start seeing it in yourself.” It was a hugely important piece of advice that I got at that point in my life.

I read a book about Quincy Jones called 12 Notes. Quincy Jones is a famous music producer. One of the things in his biography he talked about was when he was a kid, his mom died when he was very young. His dad raised him and his dad worked long hours. He and his brother were out and about on their own a lot. He was in Chicago, where they lived, and he remembers his brother and some other kids in the neighborhood going and stealing things. One night he and his brother and some kids broke into a local rec center to steal some desserts they were left over. While they were eating some of the pie and cake that was there, they were having a food fight. They decided, “Let’s explore the building.”

Inside one of the offices, he saw a little piano in one of the corners. He said, “I remember a voice inside of me telling me to go check it out.” He ran his fingers over the piano keys and he got this urge. He said,
“This is what I’m going to be doing for the rest of my life.” It’s amazing that that was within him at that moment. He climbed back through the window at different times so he could play. He would sneak into the building at night. He did it several times until the kind superintendent caught him one time, realized what he was doing, and kept the door unlocked for him so Quincy could go in there and play.

Quincy said, “I always felt that music was playing through me.” One time, in his neighborhood when he was a kid in junior high, he heard a neighbor playing a trumpet, and he decided, “I want to learn how to play the trumpet too.” His high school had some instruments he could borrow, but there was no trumpet. He missed out on lots of other instruments. When a local music teacher saw his interest, he invited Quincy to join his acapella singing group.

It was at the man’s house sometimes with some of these trainings. He noticed all of these books on his bookshelves, and a lot of them were about arranging music and film scoring. It opened his eyes to new possibilities. He babysat this music teacher’s kids a lot so he could read the books and learn from the man. The man also mentored him.

He moved to Seattle at the start of high school. Luckily, the high school music teacher saw his interest and his passion, and he gave him full rein of the band room. He finally got to play his trumpet. That teacher provided him with a space to envision what he could be. He started writing music and envisioning a way out of his poor life situation.

When he was thirteen, he used to go to this local club, like a jazz club, and watch touring musicians so he could absorb everything that they were doing. One time, Count Basie’s Orchestra was there for a whole month, and they had the best trumpet player in the country. His name was Clark Terry. Quincy went there every night and watched this band until they closed at midnight.

Finally, one night, he got the courage to approach the trumpeter, Clark Terry, and he asked Terry if he’d be willing to teach him how to play the trumpet properly. Clark Terry said, “I’ll be working when you’re asleep and you’ll be asleep when I’m working. I’m not sure if it’ll work out.” Quincy said he would get up early and come before school. He was so passionate that Clark finally agreed.

Quincy showed up every morning at 6:00 for the rest of that month. On the last day in town, he told Clark Terry that he had written some music and asked if he would be willing to listen to it. It was his first arrangement. Clark said, “Give it to me. We’re leaving town. I’ll look at it in the next city.” He liked it and he showed it to Count Basie. The next time that they were back in Seattle, in Quincy’s town, he told him that he was on the right track to keep writing his music and that someday he was going to be a major talent.

Clark Terry’s belief in him kickstarted Quincy’s confidence to keep doing his compositions and to keep playing. That was so valuable for Quincy Jones. It’s interesting, too, that Clark Terry, who was born in 1920, grew up in a very poor family in St. Louis, where I’m from. His mom also died when he was a kid. He was seven years of age.

One day, when he was young, about ten years of age, he heard Duke Ellington’s band in his town in St. Louis. He fell in love with the sound of the trumpet just like Quincy did years later. He couldn’t afford to buy one so he went to a junkyard where he got all kinds of materials and he made his own out of a kerosene funnel, a hose, and some lead pipe. He tried to play it.

His neighbors noted how passionate he was about the instrument, so they all pooled enough might to buy him a real trumpet, which led him to play jazz music and the rest became history. Those people mentored him. They saw the interest and the passion, and they supported him at a time when he couldn’t do it himself.

The actor, John Leguizamo, grew up very poor. He remembered being a nerdy kid when he was in middle school. He hung out with the bad kids just to be cool. He was smoking pot and cutting classes. He was in trouble a lot. They ended up sending him to a vocational school where he was always cracking jokes and doing pranks. He thought his only value was to be funny. One day in his junior year, a teacher pulled him aside and said, “Instead of being an obnoxious punk all the time and wasting all the energy in class, why don’t you channel your hostility and your humor into something productive? Have you ever thought about becoming a comedian?”

Channel your hostility and humor into something productive. Share on X

John Leguizamo remembered those words having a huge effect on him and it got him into thinking. When he finished high school, he went to New York University to study film, and he developed an interest in acting as well. That also started him out in his music career. He said he is still thankful years later that the teacher was able to see below all the mischief that he was pulling at school and to see who he was below the surface. That’s something that mentors can do. They can see more than us than we can oftentimes see in ourselves at that point in our lives.

President Jimmy Carter has been in the news a lot lately. When he was in school, he grew up in Plains, Georgia, a little dirt poor peanut farming town. His teacher and the school superintendent was Ms. Julia Coleman. One of the things that she did that inspired Jimmy was she told him and all the kids about the world beyond the peanut farms and the cotton fields that surrounded them. She kept giving him books to read to stretch his thinking. She even gave him War and Peace when he was twelve years of age.

He became a voracious reader. He said he remembered that Ms. Julia Coleman made him feel special. He also remembered something that she said to him in class. She said, “We must adjust to changing times but always cling to unchanging principles. We not only have to accommodate those new challenges but never deviate from certain ideals that we are taught, things like justice, integrity, peace, truthfulness, and loyalty.” When he became president of the United States, Jimmy Carter quoted her in his inaugural address, in particular, the part about adjusting to changing times, but always clinging to unchanging principles. That mentor allowed him to see beyond his local small town and to start thinking bigger for himself.

A couple more stories about experiences that can sometimes become more mentors. I remember one time, I met a man who was a very successful businessman. He had a son who was not into school. He was in high school. He was sixteen at the time. He was skipping classes and was barely getting by, even though he was a very bright kid. This dad took his son with him one time to a talk at Stanford University. They lived in California and there was an alumnus who was 24 years of age who was giving a talk that night. He talked about how he’d use his education to make his first million dollars by the age of 21.

That perked up the ears of this sixteen-year-old boy. When he left that talk that night, he had decided that he wanted to go to college at Stanford and he wanted to do just what that guy did, which was make his first million dollars by the time he was 21 years of age. He started kicking it in gear. He went from a C student to an A student. He graduated from high school and went to Stanford. That experience of hearing from someone at a talk became, in a sense, a mentor experience.

Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn, a scientist. One of her friends asked her when she was in high school what she wanted to do when she grew up. She said, “I’m going to be a scientist.” This friend’s dad said, “What’s a nice girl like you doing going into science?” This is back in the time when people said things like that. Elizabeth Blackburn was so shocked that she kept her mouth shut. She didn’t know what to say, but she said, “I was all the more determined in a way to become a scientist. I’m still grateful for that man. He contributed to my motivation.”

One more story and this is a true story as well. Jane Van Leeuwen was a straight-A student. She was a class president in eighth grade, but then, in puberty, she lost it a little bit. She was class president in sixth grade. By 7th and 8th grade, as she was going through puberty, she went through that awkward stage that everybody goes through. Even though she was smart, had good grades, and had good leadership skills, what was important at that age in her middle school, as it is in most middle schools, is how you look.

Jane, at the time, was thin. She had braces, straight hair, and a face full of zits. She didn’t even need a bra. She says people started calling her Plain Jane. Her family always referred to her as being very homely. They said it a lot. It reminded me of what Eleanor Roosevelt’s parents and relatives used to say about her, the same thing.

Her family went to a concert one time and they took her. It was a very famous pianist, Roger Williams. It took the mom all day to apply her permanent wave. She went to the concert and it was amazing. She stood in line afterward backstage because she wanted to meet this pianist. She was at the end of the line. When she finally got there to his table, she noticed him looking at his watch, like, “It’s getting late.” He peeked up at her, smiled warmly, and said some words that changed her life. He said, “Hello there, pretty girl.” She was stunned because nobody had ever referred to her as being pretty before. She said, “My mouth must have fallen open because he smiled and he said, ‘Yes, I do mean you, really.’”

Jane watched him sign her program with tears in her eyes. She remembers when she got home that night, she locked herself in the bathroom and stared at herself in the mirror for a very long time. She started practicing her smile and whispered the words to herself very softly, “Hello, there, pretty girl.” Jane says she never looked at herself the same way after that evening. That’s how important it is to have a mentor to see us differently, to see us in a way that we cannot see in ourselves yet. To see us in our highest vision before we have that vision for ourselves yet. That’s one of the very many things that mentors can do for young people.


Raising Daughters | How Mentors Inspire Success


Treat every child that you bump into with great respect. You never know what kids are going through. You never know what’s going on in their homes. You don’t know what’s going on in their heads. Sometimes, it’s just a word of encouragement that can make all the difference in the world, as a lot of these stories have shown us.

You can be that mentor. It doesn’t take a lot of time. It can be a word, The Right Words at the Right Time, like Marlo Thomas’s book. It can be like pulling a kid aside and doing some teaching with them like Quincy Jones’s mentor, Clark Terry, did. It can be just modeling like Dr. Brazelton did for me. It can be a piece of advice like Brother John Donahue, who did it for me. Either way, be that person for the young people around you, not just your kids, but also your kids’ friends, nieces, nephews, and young people who may be working for you or with you. Be the kind of mentor that all of our kids deserve to have. It makes a huge difference and all of us can do it.

I’ll be back with another show, as always. Thank you so much for stopping by. Maybe have your kids read this episode with you. Maybe there’ll be a discussion afterward about who’s been a mentor for them. Have they ever gotten a good piece of advice from someone who’s been a good role model for them? Those kinds of conversations are so valuable for us to learn how to connect with our kids and to learn what’s going on inside their heads and their hearts. Thanks so much again for stopping by.


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