Who is your mentor? COVID-19 reveals the value of relationships in Fort Wayne

Every good story has a main character who is pursuing something, and that main character has a conflict they must overcome. But they can’t do it alone. Luke Skywalker has Yoda. Marty McFly has Doc Brown. Will Hunting has Sean Maguire. The list goes on and on.

Everyone needs a guide or a mentor. You can’t do it alone. No one can.

While I’m generally a pretty happy guy, the last 10 weeks have weighed heavily on me. My extroverted DNA has taken an absolute beating. I miss spending time with people at a level that I really couldn’t put into words. Zoom and FaceTime have nothing on a handshake and a cup of coffee.

Since starting CASS, I’ve been fortunate enough to have the support of some incredible board members who helped build the organization from a $0 balance sheet. My uncle, who works for Amazon and lives in Silicon Valley, checks in a couple of times a week and provides a unique perspective. I also have a number of local nonprofit friends who I hope I can become a fraction of the leaders they are.

But I’d like to introduce you to my friend, Ray. I got to know Ray from an introduction through the Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Bridge Program. The goal of this program is to connect established leaders and entrepreneurs, thereby “bridging the gap between startup and success.” Ray happens to be the CEO of Ortho Northeast (ONE) and has been in that position for more than 20 years (in a world where the average turnover is 5 years). If you love Parkview Field or Promenade Park, Ray has been integral in both of those projects.

Every two weeks since the beginning of 2020, Ray and I have talked on the phone or gotten together to chat. He’s served as part friend, part “senior consultant,” and part therapist. He’s been a huge support to me personally and to our organization in a short amount of time.

That being said, relationships can be taken for granted while things are going well. When there’s a string of success, one can begin to lose perspective. We don’t see the real value of friendship and leadership until things tank.

Ray and I missed one of our phone calls about a month ago because things were starting to ramp back up for both of us as COVID-19 restrictions began to loosen. During our next call a few weeks later, Ray could tell that I was struggling. I missed seeing people. Ray offered to come out to our office next time (observing all social distancing guidelines) to catch up. My wife told me later that evening that there was a physical change she could see in me. The promise of getting together with Ray was the turning point in this COVID saga for me.

So, two thoughts.

While the world is going to be different for some time moving forward, the need for relationships will never change. As you’re trying to make your world better, who’s your guide? Who’s mentoring you through these times? Who will be there to help coach you through the tough days to come? If you don’t have someone, you’d be surprised to learn that the person you’re thinking of would be flattered if you asked to spend more time with them.

Finally, I encourage you to “Be like Ray” today, and reach out to a friend. Check in, and figure out a way to get together safely. It could be a turning point for them (and for you).

We only have one shot at this life, and we’re all in this thing together.

This blog is part of an ongoing, weekly series in Input Fort Wayne, following local small business owners and nonprofit leaders as they navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Read David's previous blog here.

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