Updated: Nov 19, 2021
By: Bert Thornton & Dr. Sherry Hartnett
No one builds a life alone. We are guided and lifted up by a network of friends, family, colleagues, educators, coaches, leaders, and teachers of all sorts. They are the people who help us identify our talents, show us how the system works, challenge us to take the harder path, pick us up when we’ve fallen, and share the tidbits of truth that help us find our way when we’re lost.
These are our unofficial mentors.
We love official mentors too—we wrote a book for and about them—but often it’s the unofficial ones who have the most impact.
Too often we forget to express our gratitude to those who helped shape our lives. Thanksgiving is the perfect time to change that. Over the next week, why not let your unofficial mentors know how much they mean to you?
First, make a list.
You may not realize who your mentors are, but give it a little thought.
Who steered you toward your career path?
Who gave your first break?
Who said, “Do this, not that, and here’s why?”
Who held you accountable rather than letting you slide?
Who framed a problem in a new way—one that led to a breakthrough or shifted the way you look at the world?
You may find you have more mentors than you first realized. It can take a little soul-searching to identify those who shaped your life—even they may not be aware that they served as your mentor—but it’s an instructive (and humbling) exercise. Just going through this process of reflection can spark gratitude.
Next, find a way to thank each person on your list.
If you have time, write a handwritten note. They are so impactful. People share these notes with their families and cherish them for years. But if you don’t have time to write a note, give them a quick call and let them know.
Simply tell each person what you learned from them, how they created value in your life, and how grateful you are. Thank them for taking the time to be your mentor.
(It may feel a little awkward, but that’s okay. We make the most human powerful connections when we let ourselves be vulnerable.)
Another way to show your appreciation is to become a mentor yourself. There’s no shortage of people who need your attention, guidance, and care.
Finally, reflect on who you might already be mentoring unknowingly.
Someone is listening to what you say and—even more important—watching what you do. Someone is inspired by the way you approach your work (paid or not), by the way, you keep your word, by your grace under pressure, by the kindness you show those who can do nothing in return.
Take a moment to feel good about the positive example you set. Be truthful with yourself about where you can improve. Vow to get a little better every day.
Above all, be grateful for the mentoring you’ve given and received over the years. The chance to learn from a mentor is one of life’s true gifts. Being a mentor is another one. Mentoring—official or unofficial—is a form of love.
We are all here to love one another. Love isn’t just a feeling we have. It’s an action we take. It’s putting forth time, effort, and energy for the growth and betterment of others. Love and mentoring are not always easy, but that’s what makes them worth doing. Let’s be grateful for those who care enough to share these gifts…not just at Thanksgiving but all year long.