McKean Minute: The Exponential Power of Multiple Mentors

My longtime friend Bud came through town the other day, on his way home with an 8-week-old pointer riding shotgun. We greeted the pup like a new member of our extended family, which in many ways he is, and will become.

As I visited with Bud, talk turned to all the other dogs that have shared our lives, and I was a little surprised to recall all the firsts that occurred in Bud’s company: my first tundra swan; my first successive limits of Hungarian partridges; my first hunting dog, a rescue Lab cross who hid under my bed the first time she saw a gun but developed into a talented retriever of anything with wings and a cackle, thanks in part to Bud’s encouragement.

Physically, I’ve moved away from Bud. We live in towns about 350 miles apart. But I’ve also moved beyond his interests and talents. We don’t get together much, and talk only infrequently. But when we’re together I’m reminded of all that he poured into me over the years: a love of dogs, sure, but also knowledge about where to find early season grouse, how to shoot rising teal on the sporting clays range, and how to twitch a topwater for surly pike.

I’ve connected since with other mentors who have taught me many other dimensions of my sporting life, but the addition of each hasn’t diminished the contributions of Bud or any of the other mentors who came before. There’s no graph or calculus that can prove this, but I’m sure that the addition of each mentor in a life adds more than a single unit of knowledge. Rather, it’s an exponential increase – each additional mentor adds disproportionately to the previous one, sort of like layers on an inverted pyramid.

I realized, talking to Bud and passing his puppy back and forth, that it’s incorrect to think of a mentor as an individual or a mentorship as a moment. We all are teaching and learning, and I’m betting you have a dozen or more people who have influenced various parts of your multi-faceted life just as you’ve contributed to the knowledge and experiences of plenty of people around you.

Before Bud left, his little worn-out pointer sleeping in his arms, I told him we need to get together and hunt that dog with mine. Maybe I’ll show him some new grouse spots, I offered. Maybe. He said. But you’re always welcome to come hunt mine, Bud said, as he turned his pickup west and as continued the long road home with a new puppy to teach.

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