5 1/2 Mentors that will change your life (my TEDx Talk)

When will someone mentor me?

How do I find a mentor?

When will I get an opportunity to do something great?

Using the power of personal accountability, I have answered these questions for myself and you have an opportunity to do the same. 



When I was 11 years old, I found out that I was stupid. Not stupid like you've done something stupid and you feel like you've made a stupid decision like that's who I was. I was stupid and the interesting thing was that I couldn't make a decision otherwise because I had a test to prove that it was true.

There was a test I took when I was 11 years old and I’d like to read you an
excerpt. What they asked me to do was write my alphabet from A to Z in one half inch letters.

Doug took approximately 15 minutes to laborishly write the alphabet one-half inch letters. He reversed the E and the l, he omitted the Z and struggled with the F and the S. he decided after five minutes that he finally was not able to finish.

Excerpt from actual test:

Excerpt from actual test:

When I was 11 years old, I couldn't write my alphabet from A to Z. My mother told me I wasn't stupid, but when you're 11 years old and like me (almost six feet tall) and you can't write your alphabet, you're stupid

Luckily I was given some height and I double down on that particular strengths and worked my butt off to develop my jump shot because I knew my mind was not going to get me anywhere. From the time that test was taken in fifth grade, until the time I graduated high school, I never passed a great on my own merit. I either went to summer school, or I got pushed through because I was an athlete or I got pushed through because the teacher could not imagine dealing with me for a second year.

Luckily I got an opportunity to go play basketball for Liberty University (they took a chance on me). The problem was, my grades were so poor that my first year, I had the red shirt which meant I couldn't play basketball and it was all I had. By the time my second year came around I had the opportunity to play, finally! Another problem, my GPA… 1.4. I learned something about Liberty that hadn't been true for me my entire life, they expected me to go to class. That was a problem for me. They expected me to actually pass the test and achieve a great point average worthy to be a division 1 college basketball player.

I didn't know if I was going to get to play basketball and if I didn't what then that's what I got a call to go to Sarah's office (Sarah was my academic advisor). When I walked in Sarah's office (before I could even get in the door) I realized that she was angry. The look on her face was interesting because it wasn't the type of anger like you're having a bad day or someone pulled out in front of you, it was the kind of anger that said someone has insulted her personally. It was a very deep sort of anger. Before I could even sit down, Sarah pointed at me and she said, “You know what your problem is? Your problem is that you're a victim.” 

I can remember in that moment thinking, what a relief! Finally, someone else understands that I didn't ask for these diagnoses. I didn't ask for ADD or dyslexia or narcolepsy or any of the other deficiencies that I had been given.

I didn't ask for any of these, of course, I'm a victim. Don't you think I would have chosen something different? 

What Sarah said next fundamentally changed my life in the way that I approached every moment that I was alive. What Sarah said to me next was, 

“You know what your problem is your problem is that you're a victim, a victim of your own thinking.” 

Sarah went on to tell me that I was going to come to her office every single day after school. I didn't really have a choice I wanted to keep my scholarship. So, I figured that I would do with Sarah what I had done for the most part almost every other teacher that had come
into my life at some point or another and that was comply and wait for her to give up.  But she didn't.

So when I came into her office the next day she embarrassed me in a way that I haven't been embarrassing since she gave me something that even though it embarrassed me, it's changed my life.

Sarah gave me a box of crayons and a stack of colored construction paper. She told me that I was gonna sit in her office and she was going to read me my homework and I was going to draw pictures.

Now, I was in my early twenties, 6 foot 7 inch, 230 pound Division one college athlete, I'm pretty sure I was above coloring. But, Sarah didn't care.

So that's what we did every day. I would go to her office and I would draw pictures. She didn’t care what they looked like she didn't care if they made any sense to her as long as they made some sense to me.

Every day I went to Sarah's office and colored. After a couple of weeks, something interesting began to happen. After a couple of weeks, I began to remember some of the things that Sarah had read to me.

I remembered some of the pictures that I had drawn. I remembered some of those things during test time. I actually started wanting to sort of even go to class.  And then, the end of the semester happened. At the end of the semester, I can remember that I found myself on this particular day in the library there weren't many people in the library that day it was the end of the semester. I stayed because I wanted to be alone when I saw my grades.

I didn't make a habit of looking at my grades they typically didn’t tell me anything good about myself. As I was sitting at that computer clicking view grades, I remember thinking, gosh I hope this is just good enough to help me play basketball. And that's when I had what I call my alarm clock moment.

Now, all of us have had an alarm clock moment at some point in our life. It's that feeling you get when you realize that you slept in, your alarm clock didn't go off and you're going to be late for something that's extremely important. That pit in your stomach. That sense of panic and then the adrenaline kicks in like eight hundred cups of coffee. You begin to frantically do everything you can to make up for any lost time that you can every moment becomes valuable because you're racing against the clock.

The reason I felt that feeling was because I realized in that moment that my 1.4 had become a 3.4. I realized in that moment that Sarah was right and I had to change my mind. Another problem: This was 2006 Facebook, Twitter & social media were relatively new but they were changing our world lots of things we're changing our world was beginning to really ramp up and move quicker and differently. The problem was, I didn't feel like I could develop as fast as the world was moving. I needed help. I needed a mentor. I needed a lot of mentors because there were so many areas where I needed to develop one mentor just wouldn't do. 

So I thought to myself if I was maybe wrong about what I could accomplish maybe I've been wrong about mentorship this whole time because traditionally we believe that mentorship is sort of like passing a baton but I recognize that the race had changed. Maybe that was 200 years ago but the internet has changed the race and now it's not so much about passing the baton because we all have a baton. It's in your pocket or in your purse. Your cell phone.

 I began reading (at my at that time six great reading comprehension) everything that I could get my hands on and listen to anything that I could. My wife will even tell you this day that if I have a brief moment by myself my headphones go in and there's a podcast or book because I am still in that alarm clock moment. There's still so much to learn and so much to take in.

I came across this quote that changed the way I thought about mentorship. A quote by Ralph Waldo Emerson.  He said, “In my walks every man I meet is superior to me in some way, and in that I learn from him”.

I realized that maybe mentorship was not this thing that I had to convince someone that was in a position that I wanted to be in one day to take me under their wing to do everything that they said to do and hope to goodness they give me an opportunity. Maybe, I have more control over this mentor thing. 

As I begin to operate under this definition of mentorship five-and-a-half mentors began to quickly appear in my life. These five and a half mentors have been responsible for taking a kid who couldn't spell and helping him to become a man who makes a living writing things. A kid that had a speech impediment to a kid that talks to groups. So, I believe that if you look at it in the same way I do and you pay attention to these five and a half mentors and employ them in your life you'll be able to have similar results. 

But before I tell you about number one, there's a more important number, ZERO. This is important. If you get nothing else, please get this. 

ZERO is the percentage of responsibility that these mentors and anyone else on this planet has toward your personal development. After all, they call it personal development, right?

My first mentor: This is a mentor that I call the World View mentor. My World View mentor is a person who sits way above my perspective. When I think of this world view mentor, I think of I think of an astronaut or a pilot in a-10 Thunderbolt. This is someone who is able to see past my perspective and help me to navigate toward my vision for myself. This mentor has been best represented by what most of you would consider a traditional mentor which is Tom and Molly Breazeale. They're here today. They have helped me navigate in ways and help me get wins for myself that I could have never gotten. I believe with all my heart that was predicated by that zero piece that I took personal responsibility accountability and I have squeezed that relationship as hard as I could to get as much as wisdom as I could out of those two.

My second mentor is the street view mentor. If the world view mentor sits way above your perspective, the street view mentor stands with you in the same perspective. As I've driven through life, at times and I'm sure many of you can appreciate this, at times you can swerve
in and out of where you need to be. I've been lucky to have been married to a beautiful woman that I consider my street view mentor, Merideth. Will be married nine years this September and every time I start across the yellow line, she's there to pull the wheel back so I don’t swerve into the middle line. 

The next is the Time Machine mentor. Now the time machine mentor is a lot of fun. They don't have office hours. Time machine mentors are people in our past. Some of my personal favorites have been people like Abraham Lincoln,  Dale Carnegie you may have heard of this guy, his name is Jesus. Your time machine mentors could be anyone.

People say that experience is the best teacher. But, I'll tell you that I believe sometimes experience is the teacher of fools. Because it's foolish to have to learn something through an experience that you can learn in other ways.  We have volumes of opportunity to learn from these particular mentors. 

Next is the Stealth. I love the stealth. When I think of a stealth mentor I think about a ninja. Whether you guys know it or not, you've been mentoring me all day and I've interacted with many of you already. I know there's more wisdom and knowledge in this collective room that is on the stage and it's my responsibility to take advantage of that and then share that with other people.

The next one is the Categorical Mentor. When I think about a categorical mentor, I think of a file cabinet. Except this file cabinet has a head, two arms, and two legs. I can go into this file because you guys know that you know people that there are things that you want to replicate but there are also things that you want nothing to do with, right? So, I can go in and I could pull out a file and say, gosh that work ethic, I can use this. This is something I can learn from. Their health
and wellness, the way they take care of themselves, I can learn from that. I've seen their kids… I'll leave that part.

So it's important to note.

 Then, you may wonder, why 5 1/2 and not 6?

Because this next mentor is one of the most important but they shouldn't take up a lot of your time this is the anti-mentor. Now you're anti-mentor, I'm not even going to define that because that's the person who popped in your head when you saw anti-mentor on the screen. We all have those but this is important. This mentor is important because it's important to know what you don't want as much as it's important to know what you do want.

So, my question to you today is, in what way do you need to develop? 

Sarah did not teach me to be a mentor. She was a great mentor, but what she taught me how to be mentored. Menteeship is as important as anything else.

Here's what I've learned, mentorship is not something that is done to you. Mentorship is something that you do for yourself with the help of other people

Thank you.

It was such an honor to share my story on the TEDx Raleigh stage. I will be forever grateful to the TEDx team and the awesome people in attendance that day.

If this talk spoke to you, I would love to hear from you. Leave a comment below or CLICK HERE to contact me.   

Doug Stewart