In 2008 I made a brave career choice. I left the company I had worked for since I graduated from university and completely changed career.
At the time I knew I was capable creatively but naive commercially. It was one of my ambitions to work for myself, but to do so I knew I needed to become more business 'savvy'.
Growing up I had witnessed people I cared for battle hardship due to recessions and flawed business decision making. I had also lost respect for an Adult whose inflated ego and shameful ethics had shattered friendships and caused people I love to lose control on work practices while they repaid HIS debts.
I wanted to learn what he thought he knew but clearly didn’t.
I needed to be open to learning.
I needed a mentor!
My new job taught me harsh commercial lessons. But it did so quickly. I started on the same day as an experienced software salesman who was middle aged. I was a designer who enjoyed talking with people and solving problems and was in my twenties.
We both struggled!
We shared the same Mentor who was charismatic and successful. Yet initially we both failed to make significant sales. Interestingly we both responded differently.
My colleague worked from home and went AWOL. I would head to the gym for 6am and be at work no later than 7.30am. My colleagues would start at 9. In that time, I would prepare my day, revisit notes from the previous day and work through all emails and admin so that I could be on the phone as soon as customers would be able to pick up the calls.
I had realised I was failing and so doubled down on effort.
My Mentor had some interesting techniques. We worked in a stately home which had been converted to house separate office suites. At least once a week he would take me to a public space under the main staircase for a review of my effort and results.
All manner of people form different walks of life would walk past while I was meeting with him.
Consequently Solicitors, Accountants, Consultants and various other professionals would witness my failings as an aspiring salesperson.
I didn’t like it and my mentor knew it.
So, I worked harder!
I took on board his comments and criticisms and I made notes. I would revisit these when I was in the office before everyone else and refocus my efforts. I began to second guess my mentor’s criticism and I started to improve. I began to get better!
(To this day I believe that my ability to cope with the pressure and feedback was born of my upbringing in karate).
Soon the middle-aged colleague who started with me was called in for a review under the stairs with our mentor. He was asked to leave his car keys and laptop on the table and make his way home. I went out after him and was fearing the worst.
I was rewarded with a better territory!
The work was intense, but I was learning quickly. I was also hardening up and changing as a person. I couldn’t see it, but those around me could.
I left the job after exactly one year. My mentor had taught me a great deal and I was much more commercially astute. I was also in danger of becoming someone I didn’t want to be. I needed to be true to my authentic self. I didn’t know that then, but I know it now!
A month after leaving my job Sensei Dewey asked me to take over the Petersfield Karate club. Pete who had started the club one year previous had decided to retire. I had two students and a hall bill.
The fun had just begun.
The club grew slowly at first but after 6 months (ish) I started to get traction. I wasn’t ready back then to teach full-time. Not least because my Wife and I were starting a family and I needed stability and certainty at that point in my life.
Now I have been leading the dojo for twelve and a half years and I am in a much different place.
I am now middle aged and I am no longer the youngster who could get in super early to work through his problems. I have a wife, two kids and a dog who needs walking to consider. Life must have balance!
A few years ago, I was facing some significant challenges at work. I defaulted to getting in super early and working long hours. It made things worse. I was tired. My work suffered; my family suffered the dojo suffered.
If circumstances had been different, I could have been leaving my keys and laptop on the table?
During Lockdown I reflected a great deal and realised once again that I needed a mentor. I had grown up and life had changed. My old strategies didn't necessarily work for me now.
I reached out to a professional I have sought council with before. He is wonderful man and is truly gifted at helping me organise my thoughts and actions.
Recently we were discussing some issues and particular the effect of a certain person’s behaviour on my performance. When we discussed the ways and means to deal with the situation, he suggested that I just told them that ‘their behaviour isn’t helpful’.
I thought that was wonderful!
Since that meeting I have worked harder on what I am looking to achieve and the trajectory I am mapping for myself and our clubs.
I keep finding that I default to one particular question when I am considering what I am working towards or seeking. I ask myself,
is that helpful?’
It is such a simple question but serves as a poignant default to reference.
Is this that I am pondering going to help me on my way?
For now, I have chosen my Way as the pursuit of Karate as a profession for the benefit of my students and the wider community.
That clarity guides me and helps me focus, the ability to ask myself the important question was born of my work with my mentor!
In Karate if you study diligently and progress accordingly it is common for others to seek our council and mentorship. It may not be formal but its formative and important. What I have realised recently is that true mentorship becomes an important two-way relationship.
So, when I teach or am asked for advice, I quickly check myself and think about what I am going to say or demonstrate.
‘Is THIS going to be helpful?’
and if it is isn't? ... Well .... I don't do it!