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Got Experience? Gift it away

Morgan McArthur for Vetscript

6 March 2001

What do you give someone on their anniversary of a near-death experience?

Before I share my suggestion let me tell you a story.

A year ago testosterone-driven ambition overrode good sense (not unusual with males, say women) and I signed up to participate in a corporate triathlon.

In this event each member of a three-person team swims 500 metres, bikes 12 km and runs 6 km, then hands off to the next one to have a go.

For 35 years I was under the delusion that I could swim. My selective memory told me that I’d swum as a kid. What it failed to distinguish was that ‘swimming’ was really ‘barely-not-drowning’ and that I had quit swimming lessons before I acquired gills or skills.

One gray day a week before the event I went to Lake Pupuke (a name that probably means Doesn’t Give Up Its Dead) to stoke my stroke. Shrink-wrapped in a black wetsuit (ie, a form-fitted bodybag) I plopped myself into the windfrothed waters and began ‘swimming’ toward a distant buoy. A wee bit of freestyle evolved to breastroke then degraded to desperate dogpaddle. A hundred metres from shore (and 50 metres from the bottom) I was in dire trouble. I had no ability, no stamina and I was in the throes of a panic-provoked asthma attack. Adrenaline alone got me back to shore. Gasping and grasping at lake’s edge I’ve never been so happy to squish duck poop through my fingers!

My near-death experience put me off the team.

But it didn’t put me off learning to swim. Since then I’ve inhaled gallons of chlorinated water, spent hundreds of dollars on coaching and have paraded near-naked in front of strangers. I’ve devoured books, hired videos and surfed the ‘net in search of good guidance.

And now I’ve got it. I can swim!

So back to the original question: What do you give someone on their anniversary of a near-death experience?

An opportunity, I say, to give it away. Become a mentor and share the benefit of all that pain and hard-won experience.

Everyone starts something new from a base of little or no experience. No matter what the endeavour, beginners make heaps of mistakes at first and often don’t know what to make of them. For busy people leading busy lives this can be a frustrating crossroads. Not knowing which way to turn can lead to the dead end of aborted ambition or a path that may be longer and bumpier than necessary.

Enter the mentor.

Your experiences and lifetrials have given you insights on all sorts of things, personal and professional. That wisdom, shared in a positive encouraging way with another who wants to learn can be a grand gift. For both of you.

An example? My best friend has entered the same triathlon with the same level of swim skills I had a year ago. He could come to the Crossroads of Can’t and take a different turn than the one I took. And if he quit he would squander his very amazing natural swimming gifts.

Enter the mentor. I have a complete understanding of where his fears and abilities are. I know how to overcome them because I’ve had to. Rather than sentence him to the same agony that I went through (‘I had to learn it that way, you should too… blah, blah, blah’), together we have cut a ginormous slice from his learning curve. It really lights me up to say that in only 28 days he is able to swim a kilometre nonstop. His achievement is as gratifying for me as my own has been!

Mentorship has little to do with talent at teaching and everything to do with empathy, enthusiasm, encouragement and sharing experience to save someone else time and frustration. You’ve got tremendous gifts to give others.

Just don’t wait until they’re dying to give them away.

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