A number of years ago, I walked into the corner office of my employer to resign the position I held at the time. I was prepared to make the usual case about my reasons for leaving, the same case most of us have made at some point in our careers.
“I don't see a career path for me here.” “I want more responsibility and visibility.” “I don't feel that I am being paid what I am worth.” Valid reasons all for seeking a new opportunity and greener pastures. I was not prepared, however, for the reaction to my departure. My boss asked me when had I ever knocked on his door and asked him a single question about the business of direct mail.
Five years have passed since I was issued that challenge, advice I realized, and I continue to remind myself of its message daily. At first, I simply forced myself to ask questions so as never again to be held accountable for my own lack of curiosity. But I discovered quickly how much I was learning and how much people enjoyed sharing their knowledge. I learned at that stage in my career that it was my responsibility alone to be mentored. Perhaps more importantly, I learned that my mentors can change daily and that I was in a rather unique industry, an industry in which the best and seemingly only resources for practical and historical information lie within the people who are ever refining the business of direct mail — the practitioners who teach us all how to do it and do it right.
Whether we work in list brokerage, list management or on the mailer side, we have a responsibility to ourselves to knock on doors, pick up telephones or send e-mails. And not just to obtain the quick answer to a question but rather to discuss and dissect an issue or idea, the way we all like to dissect a great book or movie — to discover if others have had the same reaction or experience.
Today, I consider myself fortunate to have many mentors — colleagues I work with presently, my clients, industry leaders I feel fortunate to call friends and even my wife and children. All of them teach me valuable lessons daily. For the first time in my career, however, I realize the importance to mentor myself — to reach out for the guidance and information I need to continue my education.
As long as we're on the subject, I can tell you who my most influential mentor has been to date. He taught me that it is still possible to be respected as much for who you are as a person as for your professional accomplishments. When anyone in this industry talks about Steve Leighton of Fingerhut, the first thing they say is what a great person he is — quickly followed by what a true professional he is.
Michael Heaney is director of publishing at the Millard Group, Peterborough, NH.