It Takes a Village . . .

Eileen recordingRecently, as I was recording my memoir for books-on-tape at the Penguin Studio, two chapters I read aloud were on mentors. Four women and three men. I was reminded of how many people it took to help me get beyond my early sense of failure and shame. Some of them were surrogate parents or sisters. One became a self-declared mentor. I realized again in reading about him how we don’t grow in isolation. It takes a village.

Our country was built on the shoulders of strong individualists. They fled their homeland communities and families to break new ground in the land of opportunity. Many succeeded—some to extraordinary degrees. I am the beneficiary of one – my great-grandfather, John D. Rockefeller. But there are scores more people for whom North America is a land of struggle, isolation and loneliness. All the money, health care, education and equal opportunity employment in the world cannot replace our basic need for engaged families and caring communities.  A good way to fill the gap of loneliness is to find a mentor.  We are never too old to have one, or be one.

A mentor does not need to be a highly educated person. The most important quality is that he or she cares about you and has your best interest in mind. Chances are that if you find that person, whatever they give to you will somehow be reciprocated without your even trying.

Me at 27 with my mentor, Norman Cousins

Me at 27 with my mentor, Norman Cousins

My main mentor was Norman Cousins, author of Anatomy of an Illness and editor for 35 years at “The Saturday Review of Literature.” Norman never went to college but he was one of the most well read people and engaging orators I ever knew. He encouraged my writing, boosted my self-image, and confided in me about his children. As I was closer to their age, I shared ideas on how he could better communicate with them. This made me feel I had value too.

When I began writing my book I thought I had to do it myself. This belief probably cost me two years out of the six it took to write it. Eventually, I learned I needed many people, from editors to help me remove dangling sentences, to friends who listened to me read aloud and gave gentle suggestions, family who gave me reality checks, and most of all, my husband, Paul, who listened, encouraged, edited and ultimately became my best marketing consultant. I formed a village around me and they have made all the difference.

Who is your mentor? I’d love to hear your story.

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