By: Jamie Collins
One of the most amazing things that can happen is finding someone who sees everything you are and won’t let you be anything less. They see the potential of you. They see the endless possibilities. And through their eyes, you start to see yourself the same way. As someone who matters. As someone who can make a difference in this world.” – Susane Colasanti, So Much Closer
That string of words perfectly sums up what I believe a mentor to be and do for a person. I’ve certainly had my share of mentors in my career and life—people who helped me to discover my strengths, talents, passions, and often, to find my path. These individuals walked the path before I did, each turning back to share their knowledge and expertise. On occasion, these mentors showed me a path I needed to walk. At times, they would appear to light the path, while I walked it. And on occasion, one of these mentors would plant a high heel firmly into my backside to push me onto a new and somewhat intimidating path toward personal and professional betterment.
Chere Estrin has been one of the most influential mentors I’ve ever had. Over the past several years, Chere helped me to take what was bubbling below the surface in the form of untapped potential, gut instinct, and a dream-filled aspiration to become a professional writer and to find that incredibly interesting place where harnessed ambition meets one’s talent in the roadway. This probably leaves you wondering how it all began; what it’s like to be mentored by (and write under) the infamous Chere Estrin; and curious to hear the good, along with the bad, as it relates to our mentorship dynamic. Today, I’m here to share that with you from my perspective, as her mentee.
Why did I choose Chere Estrin to be my mentor? I met Chere online about four years ago on LinkedIn, the social networking site. She was the Editor-in-Chief of this magazine you are now reading, acclaimed author of 10 books, and a busy CEO, in addition to being fully-entrenched in an array of paralegal related business endeavors. (Funny thing is—it took me a while to learn all of this about her. I wasn’t familiar with her or any of her accomplishments at the time of our initial online encounter or first phone call, which is probably a good thing). I was an aspiring writer who had yet to saddle up and charge through the gates of glory, although I fully intended to. In fact, I think I had just figured out there was a “gate” and found myself idly sitting beside it,trying to pick out the best color of silk for my saddlebags. Chere went virtually racing past me on the social media highway. After learning she was a mainstream editor, and a friendly one at that, I thought to myself, “Wow, I wanna do that – I want to write!”
All I know is something changed in my life following our first phone call. Something awoke within me. I wanted to be so much more. I used to lie awake at night and dream about how amazing it would be to land a column in a magazine. I knew Chere possessed all of the talent, experience and wisdom to help me become a better writer. I decided from that moment on, I would turn to her as a mentor to seek information, guidance, and advice. Did I tell her that up front? Not really. (But I’m pretty sure she knew.)
My Most Unforgettable Moment. I’ll never forget our second telephone conversation, which occurred probably a year into our relationship. She told me “Your writing is special. It really is. You could be a real writing star some day. You really could.” She also told me I reminded her of herself. (For the record, that is the best thing you could possibly hope to hear from a person you have in your sights as a potential mentor). Since she was now in my world and seemed willing to help me, you better believe I was going to latch onto the opportunity.
I wanted to write. Chere Estrin had a magazine of pages to fill. I knew if I could help her, she would, in turn, help me. It was a mutually beneficial dynamic. Besides, I really liked her—our personalities meshed well. Put two funny people in an e-mail exchange or on a call together and one is bound to have a great time and a few laughs, in addition to receiving the gift of time from a potential difference maker. And so it began…
The Dynamic of Our Relationship. Chere became not only a writing mentor, but a mentor in the truest sense of the word. If I needed help with an article, she slashed through it like a wildfire burning (perhaps a wee bit out of control) through a parched prairie that hadn’t seen a drop of water in 3 years. But she was also there as a business advisor, sounding board, coach, confidant, and friend. Our connection happened organically over a period of time. While she is a busy CEO and renowned paralegal educator, her e-mails to me were always warm, articulate, friendly, and as you can probably imagine, pretty darn funny. She was never “Dr. Estrin” to me – just Chere. While I admired both, the woman she was and her impressive accomplishments (upon learning of them), I never feared her…at least not until she turned on that “track changes” button for the first time.
My Stint as the Karate Kid. You probably remember that poignant scene from the classic movie The Karate Kid, where Mr. Miyagi has Daniel—the karate kid—learn, emulate, and then practice a particular skill he needs to learn for karate by waxing his car. “You see, Daniel san, wax on, wax off…just like this…you do it…” I cannot even begin to tell you how closely this scene mimics the time Chere and I spent honing my writing skills. I would send a new piece to her. She would read it and send it back to me with her feedback and suggestions for making it better. We’d make our way through round after round of rewrites.
It got to the point that I fully-expected any piece I sent to her to promptly be returned to my in-box marked “return to sender,” accompanied by constructive commentary. I cannot even tell you how many times I heard the words, “You’re close. But keep writing.” It was exhausting. I expected to find myself lurched over my keyboard in the attack position working on my umpteenth rewrite, until the end of time. But I realized I had to do the rewrites in order to fully hit the mark, write with authority, and find my true voice.
Daniel would be waxing cars and I would be rewriting articles, until the Editor-In-Chief came home. Again, and again, and again, until one day, I truly was better. Until one day, she actually did approve it on the first or second try. Until one day, I stood on the shoulders of my former self with a far better view of the world and my place in it.
My Biggest Fan and Harshest Critique. From day one, Chere showed me no mercy in her edits. Honestly, I didn’t want it any other way. (Okay, perhaps a time or two, I would have preferred an easier route, I admit it.) There were a few moments where the idea of lunging head first into a wall of bricks seemed like an entirely viable option after reading one of her critiques. The words “fifth grade sing-song,” offered up as feedback to one of my earlier pieces tore through my soul and haunted me for weeks. There were times I felt she expected more of me than I believed I had in me to give. There were times her editing feedback was downright brutal. There were times I wondered why I was subjecting myself to an editorial assault. There were times I wished she were a bit softer or gentler in her approach. There were times I wanted to give up and walk away. (I knew she was harder on me than she was on others who wrote for her, and truth be told, that’s what kept me coming back for more.)
She knew I could do better. Deep down, I did, too. She pushed me. She encouraged me. She implored me to write my heart out. And write it out again, and again, this time better than I had written it the time before. With a blurring abundance of red lines and helpful commentary, occasionally served up with a dose of harsh criticism, she did what editors do so well—she “killed her darlings.” I undoubtedly became one of them. Our mentorship relationship flourished. (Thankfully, someone lured me away from that brick wall with a chocolate bar.)
There were times I wanted to give up. She wouldn’t let me. There were times I didn’t think I had what it took to hit the mark. She told me I did…and would. Some of my best days were the ones when I turned in pieces and realized I was no longer the writer I was three months, or even three weeks prior. It was liberating, inspiring, and incredibly fulfilling to have a person in my corner that was bringing out the best in me. That remains true to this day.
So while the words “fifth grade sing-song,” continue to make me cringe to this day, I realize it was never her intent to put me down. Rather, it was her goal to lift me up and elevate me into all she felt I could become. Was it always easy? No. Was it always worth it? Absolutely.
What Did Her Mentorship Provide for Me? Over time, I began to realize that what Chere provided for me was a standard—a high one. I knew she wouldn’t give me a pass card if what I turned in wasn’t up to my full ability. I knew she believed in me. She knew I could do it. And if someone like her (the big name writer/editor person) could believe in someone like me (the unknown writer person), well then, I could believe in me, too. So, I did. There were times I had to substitute her belief in my abilities for my own. That’s what good mentors do—they make us want to reach beyond our current abilities to delve into what we (and they) know we can become.
They don’t allow us to settle.
They want the best for us.
They expect the best from us.
They accept nothing less.
They help us to stretch our own capabilities and in doing so, allow us to stretch our boundaries and expand our world. They increase our confidence and skills. They put us on a better path.
Her Affect on Me. Chere lit a fire in me. She made me begin to want more than I might have imagined possible. I simply wanted to become “a writer.” After writing what turned out to be 5 cover stories in a row one year, I learned that simply being “a writer” wasn’t enough, after all. I wanted to be a prolific, memorable writer whose name meant something to people. I wanted to write under Chere Estrin because I felt she was the best in the business. (I still do). I want to be the best, too.
My Goal. What I want is to change some small facet of people’s lives by stringing precisely the right words together on a page. I want my name to mean something to people when they see in a magazine, on an article, or in a blog post. I fully intend to write my way into the next chapter of my future, whatever it may be. I’d like to pen a bestselling book. I’d also like to continue to write and blog for my readers. I am working on some exciting stuff for the future, but I’m not quite ready to do the big reveal yet.
Was the Mentorship Experience What I Expected? Yes…and so much more. That’s not to say there haven’t been a few bumps along the way. She led me down a long and winding path, many steps closer to finding my authentic self. Most importantly, she helped to instill within me a confidence in my writing abilities and self. I now charge out the writer’s gate with pride and confidence, intent on churning out what I always hope will be my next best piece. I’m not afraid to go after it. Sometimes, I hit a grand slam. Sometimes, she hits that stinking “track changes” button and the wild fire burns on. But either way, we have a lot of fun. It continues to be a mutually beneficial relationship and rewarding friendship.
Do I Still Need Mentorship? Absolutely. Once you align yourself with someone who truly helps make you a better person, I think you always need and want that person in your life. Although I am more confident in myself and my abilities, I still constantly seek her approval, feedback, opinion, and yes, even the harsh criticism, when it’s warranted. After all, she pushed me onto this path. She lit the way. She pushed her high heel into my back. She accepted nothing less than the best of what I had to give. Even if I manage to one day become an incredibly successful writer, I will always need Chere in my life. As I stated, she is not only a mentor, but a confidant, coach, sounding board, and friend. I don’t plan to give that up any time soon.
What if I never met her? I sometimes find myself wondering what would have happened if I never met Chere or had the privilege of writing under her. Would I still be a writer? Probably, I had my heart set on it. But I don’t think I’d be the same one I am today; the one who has found her authentic writing voice and knows whenever she needs something, whether it’s writing, personal or business-related, that stellar advice from a world class mentor is just an e-mail away.
Finding Your Ideal Mentor. After reading my story, you may find yourself wondering how to go about finding your own mentor. Chances are, potential mentors are all around you. Take a look within your law firm, family, church or paralegal association. Aspire to find someone who is at least a few steps ahead of you in his or her professional accomplishments and life/career experience. Ideally, find someone who has walked the path you’d like to walk, who will be able to offer knowledge, support, and guidance on your journey. If there isn’t anyone physically in your world who could act as a mentor—find one online, like I did. Social media forums, e-mail and telephone calls make it possible to not only establish a relationship, but forge a meaningful bond with the ability to communicate at the push of a button. If you want a mentor, get out there and find one!
If you need me, I’ll be hovering over a keyboard in the attack position, carefully selecting one word at a time to write my way into my future. Today, I stand on the shoulders of my former self with a far better view of the world and my place in it, thanks to my mentor, Chere Estrin.
(And if anyone happens to know how to disable the track changes button of another user from afar, I’m listening…)
“A lot of people put pressure on themselves and think it will be way too hard for them to live out their dreams. Mentors are there to say, ‘Look, it’s not that tough. It’s not as hard as you think. Here are some guidelines and things I have gone through to get to where I am in my career.'” – Joe Jonas
“A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.” – John C. Maxwell
“Light my path — and I will walk the way. – Jamie Collins
To read Chere’s take on our mentorship dynamic, click here:
My Toughest Assignment – Ever
(Yep. She’s talking about me. Let’s all pretend that’s a compliment…)