My Best Mentor

My Best Mentor

Had it not been for mentors to teach and encourage me, I wonder how not only my life would be different, but how would the lives of my patients be different?

Last year, I had the honor to write and deliver the eulogy for my Father’s memorial celebration. I’m sure you can imagine the emotions involved in preparing these acts of remembrance. Keeping my composure was made possible by the many pearls of wisdom, laughs and kindness he had shared with me over the span of our lives as Father and Son.

While reminiscing, it became clear to me that my Father was not only my closest friend but was the best mentor I had to help me navigate through a life that has had many ups and downs.

His story is really that of the American Dream and like so many others, had humble beginnings that most of us cannot comprehend. The first 16 years of his life in Northern Ireland included a childhood spent during World War 2, but also surrounded by the Mourne Mountains and the beautiful countryside.

He never complained or used growing up without a father as an excuse for anything.

He was not bitter for having been born into the strife of Northern Ireland and the second-class citizenship afforded to those of his faith. Instead of dwelling on what he didn’t have, he embraced what he did have, which included 3 brothers and a loving extended family that taught them lessons that served them well throughout their lives.

Shortly after he arrived in the United States at Ellis Island, he went to work in a bank as a messenger boy. Over 40 years later, he retired from the same bank as their Senior Vice President, having headed various departments during his remarkable career.

I remember one day when I was taking my premedical courses and feeling frustrated. After working for 5 years, I had returned to college and was questioning whether I had made the right decision.

My Dad shared his opinion and recalled his life in Ireland.

“Look, I’m not the smartest guy by any means, but I’m persistent. You kids in the US have so many opportunities. If I had stayed in Ireland, I would have had 3 options in life. Become a ditch digger, a Priest or live off the dole and become an alcoholic. Stick with it.”

Great advice for anyone and an even greater example of living by actions, not words.

Looking back at my career in medicine that has spanned over 40 years, serving as a volunteer, an orderly and the past 25 years as a Podiatric Physician, I recognize the importance of mentoring. My Father was my greatest mentor, but there have been others and hopefully there will be more to come!

Had it not been for mentors to teach and encourage me, I wonder how not only my life would be different, but how would the lives of my patients be different?

We all need mentors. Even those among us who serve as mentors to others.

Who have your mentors been? Who have you mentored over the course of your life and career?

Never marginalize or underestimate how sharing your own experiences mixed with kindness may positively impact a colleague, a family member, friend or even a stranger. Being available and sharing knowledge is a gratifying gift to give to others.

In the words of Winston Churchill, “we make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give”.

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Sherita D. Gaskins-Tillett, MD

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