By Mark Hartley
Part of the profile of Tricia Osuna in the "From the Podium" column in the March 2003 issue is devoted to Osuna's recollections of her mentor. It's actually quite sweet. There's a line in there about how Osuna wonders if her mentor, a childhood hygienist, realizes how much she missed her when the "other" hygienist took over an appointment. I would think that such a sentiment would be the ultimate compliment anyone could receive.
Authors of articles in dental journals have recognized their mentors with increasing frequency in recent years. Usually, I'm OK with it. Sometimes, my "guy thing" reaction crops up, and I feel somewhat nauseated by the sugary goop. It reminds me of a tough day we recently had around the home office for RDH, Dental Economics, Dental Equipment & Materials, and Woman Dentist Journal. The females on the magazine staffs have a slight edge in numbers over the males — but not overwhelmingly so as it is on many staffs in dental offices. After several hours of inspirational e-mails to each other, reaffirming support and respect for each other, one male editor (not me) finally piped up, "All right, this isn't Oprah. Guys can get mighty uncomfortable when things turn all mushy."
If we're going to be truthful here, I had a mentor too — a professional who taught part-time at Southern Methodist University while firmly entrenched in the reality of a "real" job outside the academic environment. I would gladly thank him for the inspiration and guidance he provided out of pure kindness. But I ran into a fellow SMU grad in Marshall, Texas, about 20 years ago who informed me that my mentor had died not long after my graduation. If it's any consolation for any callousness you may perceive here, I was truly saddened by the news and I remember sulking around for a couple of days.
The dictionary defines mentor as a wise adviser, teacher, or coach. I'm assuming that excludes parents, spouses, and friends; otherwise, I'd say I have had a bunch of them. My father and wife, of course, have had more positive influence over the direction of my life than everyone else combined. And I certainly can't ignore Mother, who guided me with much love until her death 17 years ago. While not "mushy" about it, good male friends help each other through the frustrating times with humor, or a gentle nudge away from doing something ugly.
The problem is that I probably have devoted an inadequate amount of effort to showing appreciation for mentors. It may be a "guy thing," but I'm inclined to think it's more about the reserved behavior of us folks living in the "Midwest." Politely say thank you, but don't let the emotions spill over.
Why not? A mentor's gifts are truly life-changing.
In my case, the gift was the knowledge that I could overcome obstacles in communication. As we all know, communication is a two-way street. But I spent most of the first two decades of life wondering how I could ever communicate successfully with total deafness in the left ear and moderate to profound deafness in the other ear. You would think that would be a problem in the communications industry. My mentor got me past that hurdle. I'll never cover a frantic White House press conference for The New York Times, but I don't seem to have too much of a problem chatting it up with the 67,000 readers of RDH. You know what? I like talking with dental hygienists a whole lot better than I like talking with politicians.
Well, this mentor-imposed realization is all fine and dandy, but it wasn't the final gift. My mentor also got me my first writing job. It paid peanuts, but I wasn't complaining. I later saw the letter that my mentor wrote to the editor. The editor was told that I needed to be hired because I was "downright literate."
Feel free to disagree with that assessment. Those two words, however, caused me to believe in myself. In the 25 years since that letter was written, I probably have read a few million words in hundreds of publications. Guess which two words I'll remember until I'm too senile to do so?
Do you have similar memories about a mentor? With that question in mind, I'd like to refer you to an advertisement — something I seldom do in this space. In this edition, an ad advises RDH readers of an effort to reward mentors for their deeds. Tell us about your mentor and the gifts that he or she gave you.
Mark Hartley is the editor of RDH. He can be contacted at [email protected].