Let me start with the main takeaways.
#1. Learning doesn’t strictly adhere to a traditional academic calendar. I didn’t graduate college “on-time.” I took a short break to pursue an internship opportunity, and it’s probably one of the single most professionally impactful decisions I’ve even made.
#2. Opportunities don’t really care about your schedule. The unexpected and inconvenient things that pop up in our life are often the most valuable experiences.
#3. Getting connected with a good mentor is probably one of the greatest growth opportunities you can avail yourself to. Spending time with and apprenticing under someone who has already been where you want to go – it feels like using cheat codes. You’re not just getting the knowledge of how to do something, you’re also getting all the shortcuts, the what-not-to-dos, the wisdom that can only come from experience.
Let me tell you how I know this:
In 2007, I was working at a summer camp. I was the video guy – running around, filming all the activities and trips, and staying up until sunrise editing a highlight reel that we’d show at the end of each week. Best days of my life. Shout out to my Sandy Cove crew.
This guy shows up – another videographer – a professional who the camp’s parent organization hired to make a few promo videos for their various programs. I would be lying if I said I didn’t feel a little threatened at first – “Why did they call this guy? What does he have that I don’t…. Besides decades of experience and much nicer equipment?” But the camp director introduced the two of us and we quickly hit it off. Now, I was interested in being a freelance videographer myself, so we had some good conversations, and I was able to serve as his assistant while he was on site for a few days.
His name was Britt Jones. And he is the person I would like to say thank you today on this Thankful Thursday, because of what happened next.
Later in the summer, after I returned home from my camp job and was getting ready to head back to college to start my senior year, I got a call from Britt. He invited me to come out to Colorado for 3 months, to apprentice with him, help with the promo videos he was making for Sandy Cove, along with some other projects. He would pay for my flight, I would stay with his family – it would soon discover that his wife was a fantastic cook- all expenses covered, and I would get hands-on experience, working with a pro, learning the very thing that I wanted to do someday.
It was the opportunity of a lifetime.
Britt gave me 3 days to pray about it and get back to him with a decision.
Now I forget all of the details – why it was happening with such short notice. But I was a week or two out from the start of the semester, all of my classes were scheduled, taking a break would set me back, I’d have to contact the internship office to set things up so I could get some credit for this, AND I had just recently started dating someone not two months ago at this point, and now I’d have to leave the woman of my dreams behind in PA and shift into long distance relationship mode for 3 months?
Spoiler alert: It worked out okay.
This was definitely one of those unexpected and mostly inconvenient things I was talking about earlier. And it was fantastic.
Britt was an amazing mentor. He didn’t just teach me how to shoot and edit video. He taught me how to find the heart of a story. How to ask the right questions during an interview. How to run a business – out of your home – how to divide work and life. How to use your skills to serve a greater purpose. How to connect with people. How to track your business mileage. The power of generosity. How to manage your finances well. I got a whole personal finance course while I was with the guy. I learned how to drive stick. In a truck. In the mountains. Which was honestly one of the most nerve wracking experiences of my life. And that’s counting that I’m pretty sure I was being stalked by a cougar. Which also took place during my Colorado semester.
And we traveled. I accompanied him to shoot a project in Portland; San Francisco; Greenvile SC; Chatanooga, TN; Evansville, IN; Amarillo TX – and freaking AFRICA. That actually happened later. We kept in touch and I did a few more projects for him, and about a year later we traveled to Nigeria, Kenya, Tanzania, and Burundi.
So many formative experiences of my early adulthood were courtesy of Britt Jones.
I’m so thankful for his mentorship. For his willingness to invite some goofball college kid into his home. I mean, I had to take something of a risk, to temporarily upend my college plans, shift into long distance relationship mode, and fly out to blizzardy black widow and mountain lion country. But the Jones didn’t know me when they offered to buy me a plane ticket, tidy up the guest room and teach me in 3 months more than I had learned in 3 years in the classroom.
That alone – that demonstration of generosity and a desire to invest in someone else’s growth and success – that was an incredibly valuable lesson.
Now, I didn’t go off to become a great American filmmaker. I actually only dabbled in freelance video production for a couple years before I landed a full time marketing job. I still got to pick up a camera from time to time. And look at me now! Camera ing.
But it wasn’t just a specific skill set that Britt helped me develop. He helped set me on a course. To promote my freelance video gig, I thought I better build a website. So I started learning web design and a little graphic design, and a little bit of photo editing, a smattering of other things here and there. Then a friend told me about a job where they could use help with a little web design, a little graphic design, and a smattering of other things here and there. And the rest, is as they say, history.
I developed new skills at work, while I kept freelancing on the side, I kept drawing from the foundational storytelling principles Britt taught me, I kept applying the personal finance wisdom he shared, and since moving into full-time self-employment, I’ve been digging back into some of the things I learned and observed during those 3 short months 15 years ago.
Find a mentor! And be a mentor. Or if that seems too formal or too big a commitment – I mean, where do you find a mentor? Is there an app? You don’t need to put a specific label on it if that complicates things in your mind – Just spend time with people. Be humble. Commit yourself to learning from others. And be generous with your own time and knowledge.
Thank you, Britt, for your generosity.
Now it’s your turn to to reach out to someone and let them know you’re thankful for them.
So go on. Get!