From Idols to Mentors to Lifter Uppers

Published on October 1, 2011

Warning: This blog post is too long (about 3x) according to all experts. Proceed with caution.

Remember growing up as teenagers and all those teen idols? Depending on your generation, it could have been Sandra Dee, Elvis Presley, Marilyn Monroe, Burt Reynolds, the Beach Boys, Scott Baio, Andy Gibb, Kristy McNichol, or Greg Evanson. In my generation, it was Patrick Swayze, Rob Lowe, Brooke Shields, and Mariah Carey. And now it’s Justin Beiber, Lady Gaga and Sponge Bob Square Pants (I couldn’t think of any more).

As we grow up though (thank God), we begin to admire and appreciate different idols. But now we don’t call the idols, we call them mentors, teachers, and coaches. Regardless of what we call them, we sometimes still see them the same way. We see all the qualities we admire, find attractive, and somehow want to emulate, yet we never seem to see the character traits or hidden qualities that don’t somehow align with our version of our future selves.

Why do we do this? It is so natural. This process of comparing and contrasting so that we can more easily define who we ourselves want to be “when we grow up."

There is a pitfall in this method however. As human beings, we are like heat seeking missiles when it comes to looking for qualities and characteristics in others that we choose to see in order to validate our beliefs.

We look for what we WANT to see rather than what is really there. The risk in this is that when we really get to know that person, we can sometimes be disappointed to see that they aren’t who we really hoped they were. So... we protect ourselves and just keep them at a distance so we can maintain our belief in their omnipotent presence!  No harm in that, right? So we think.

A great example of this phenomenon for me is Dr. John C. Maxwell. I have watched John Maxwell, famous author, speaker, trainer, preacher, and leadership guru from a distance for many years at company events and on the internet. A couple of years ago, I attended his exclusive and fairly expensive training called Exchange held in NYC (it’s in a different city each year) in an effort to get a little closer to John and see what he was all about. There was just something about him that I liked. I wasn’t sure what. It was definitely more intimate with only about 100 people there, but I was still a “student” and in my mind not anyone that John should really see as special or significant.

This year, Chris and I both decided to complete his new certification program which gave us the privilege of coaching, teaching, and speaking on some of his exclusive materials. The 4 day training event held in West Palm Beach was when I realized what that “something” was about John Maxwell that caused me to take notice and choose to get a little closer. As John talked to the some 480+ people in the room, he made it very clear ... VERY CLEAR... that he is just a guy. He says, “Hi. My name is John and I’m your friend.” He went on to tell us that he does not want us to see him as some icon, some person larger than life who has some specialness about him. He spend a considerable amount of time clearing the air about who he is and how he sees himself. “Hi, my name is John and I’m your friend,” he said again. As he talked to us he shared his flaws, his frailties, his failures, and his weaknesses. He shared his convictions about his legacy and the risk that he was taking in creating an organization of coaches who would be working under his name. He shared his fears, his insecurities, and his practice in overcoming them. (Don’t worry, I was still optimistic that he would soon show his true colors so I could be genuinely disappointed).

Some of us were given an opportunity to go to John’s home for a special reception where we could meet his wife Margaret and pilfer around in his office inspecting his bookshelves and his personal memoirs. (Of course I rummaged through his desk drawers, wore his reading glasses, and Chris peeked into his closet because, well, that’s what REALTORS do right?) John didn’t care. It was evident he had nothing to hide.

He went eight or nine days straight with two back to back certification groups with nightly receptions at his house. And if that weren’t enough, he made two or three trips out of state to teach, meet with church ministers, and accept an award or two during the same two week time frame. (Surely he would break and show his true colors...no one is this good and kind when they are this tired).  The very next weekend, we made our way back over to West Palm to hear him preach at his local church where he often serves as a guest speaker/preacher. Despite his obvious fatigue, he was committed. Every step of the way he showed up 100% and gave his best.

Now some might say, “Well, he made a bucket load of money for doing all that.” Yes. I am sure he did. And I would also say that he didn’t have to. He has plenty.

John’s beautiful and well appointed home was gorgeous but not ostentatious. It was one that I could see any family in America raise their family. It had bedrooms, bathrooms, a kitchen, garage, and living space. The only thing about it that truly made me a little jealous was the water view and the totally amazing outdoor living space and pool area. And in the end...it was a home. Not a palace.

I say all of this to conclude this part of the story with a couple of thoughts.

Who do we idolize?

Who do we put on a pedestal?

Who do we make into something that they never asked to be?

And what is it inside us that somehow expects to see them fall?

Have we been disappointed so many times that we just expect it now? Maybe this is just me.  I am learning that the only "falling" that happens is in my perception and relates more to my own fear of looking bad or failing publicly. Fear of falling off the proverbial pedestal.

These successful people among us are just people. They are you and me.

Some of them have more money or more toys, but ultimately, they also have the same challenges, concerns, and insecurities. Money doesn’t make someone worthy of a pedestal.

So what does? I say nothing.

The lesson I learned in all of this is simple. People are people. The only thing that makes them different than me is the stories I make up in my mind about them. That is where I get disappointed. They never asked to be my idol. I just created their perfection in my mind. I recently adopted a new favorite phrase that says, "People are doing the best they can at any given moment and all my suffering is my judgment of them."

I have three mentors in my life that I am going to name who I think of more as "Lifter Uppers." They lifted me up and caused me to strive toward the best version of me. Ordinarily I don’t name names in my blogs, but I feel compelled this time to do so. No permission asked (as usual), so I will ask for forgiveness later instead if needed. These are people that somehow connected with me in a way that caused me to be secure enough in my own skin, ultimately giving me the emotional strength to be OK with the risk of falling every time I reach a little higher! And to them I owe great thanks.

Gene Lowell is my first mentor in my adult life. Gene was the broker at the Keller Williams office when I went back to real estate in 1995. She took Chris and I under her wing so to speak when we were in our early 20’s. We were up and coming real estate agents and we were so idealistic and arrogant! Gene was patient and loving and she did everything in her power to help us succeed on our terms. She called us into her office to have the hard conversations more than once and rightly so. It was evident that she believed in us. More importantly, Gene did not put on a show for anyone. She was as transparent as they come and still is! So much so that sometimes I was embarrassed for her when she said things in front of a group that were so overwhelmingly dorky. That is Gene. What you see is what you get. She helped mold us and became a part of our family. Something we can never repay.

The second person I will name is actually a couple. Art and Anna Kleimer are our real estate coaches. No matter how many coaches we have hired since then or will hire in the future, when someone asks, Anna and Art are our coaches. We almost didn’t hire them because I had this preconceived notion that they would never be able to identify with us. They were successful Star Power agents from Veil Colorado and their average sales price equaled around 5 or 6 (or more) of our sales put together! After meeting personally with Anna though for just 30 minutes in a busy conference corridor, I knew she was going to be the right coach for us. We later met Art on the phone and found out that the two of them lived part time on a little island off of Venezuela named Bonaire. Had we known that I am not sure I would have stood Anna up for the appointment. But what impressed me most about Anna and Art is that although they had experienced success in their business, they also had a marriage that worked. It worked like Chris and I wanted ours to work. They had high minded conversations about what they didn’t agree upon and they worked together to forward their goals and dreams including building a home on Bonaire which we later got to see and enjoy for ourselves. When we went to visit them (hell yes we went to visit them...and it was a tax write off), we realized that they are “normal” people. They eat, sleep, and play just like we do. Money was not what they are about. They are about living life to the fullest. We continue to coach with Anna today.

Last but not least, I must include Debbie Alexander in this lineup. Debbie hired me as her team leader in Louisiana after I had successfully crashed and burned in Naples, Florida as a rookie team leader in a KW office that should have never been opened (just ask around). Debbie took a chance on Chris and I and she knew it. One year after Katrina and the Operating Principal of a region on the mend, Debbie invested in me. She gave me a lot of rope and then just about the time I was to hang myself, she slid the chair beneath my feet. Ultimately, we jumped off the cliff together. She didn’t leave me to the wolves and she never ever ever made me feel as though I was in it alone. I grew more through that experience than I can articulate in words. Debbie Alexander let me fail my way forward but she didn’t deem it a failure. What I love most about Debbie is her “realness.” She doesn’t apologize for who she is and she is my favorite classy hippie ranking right up there with my funky hippie friend, Allison Crow Flanigin.

This blog is too long. I already know. That’s OK though, because I think it was more for me than for you.

Take from it what you will and know this as you go forward: People are people. The only idols out there are created in our minds and they will fall flat every time, so just love people for people and they will love you back. No idols. Just perfect souls. Go be successful and stay real!

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  • Judie Schwerdtfeger

    Great Blog! I have thought lately how many people Gene Lowell has been a Mentor, Lifter Upper, Coach and  Friend too.  So thankful and  blessed she has been a part of my life!   

  • Courtney Wyrtzen

    I love your disclaimer at the beginning, too funny!