“In the order of nature we cannot render benefits to those from whom we receive them, or only seldom. But the benefit we receive must be rendered again, line for line, deed for deed, cent for cent, to somebody.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
2016 was quite a memorable year to say the least. Headline after headline rocked last year, accentuated with historical firsts, triumphs near and far, and emotional injustices and deaths of those we loved and admired. It is usually commonplace for us, as human beings, to reflect back on the past year and take stock of the events that have affected us. As I remember the past year, I find myself taking count of the good things that happened. I completed my first year at a new institution, was accepted to graduate school and began working on my Masters, traveled to some fantastic destinations, and experienced one of the greatest personal joys with friends and family: the marriage to my loving wife and partner for life.
As we transition to the first part of January, I usually reserve this time to look forward to the coming year, and things I want to achieve personally and professionally. This year is different, though. I have recently turned 40, and with that comes the introduction to “middle age”. This triggers additional reflection on the blessings bestowed upon me. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had the opportunities I’ve had over the multitude of years. The one aspect that has drawn the vast majority of my attention, though, has been my career in campus recreation.
My career started as an intramural student official with very little personal direction and sagacity. While taking a basketball officiating class as an undergrad at Ohio State, the intramural coordinator stopped by one of our sessions and promoted officiating within the Office of Recreational Sports. I thought nothing of it, except that it would be a fun way to earn some extra money for rent and food along with the job I already had. What I didn’t know was that I would be finding my lifelong career, and it was all thanks to a nurturing and challenging atmosphere, set forth by a fantastic set of mentors.
Our profession has always touted the benefits of mentorship with students and young professionals. We know this, not just because of the studies and qualitative analysis done for rec sports and leadership journals and publications, but because many of us have personally experienced this phenomenon. Each mentor expends time and energy to guide and direct mentees down paths similar to the ones they walked to success. They exhibit compassion, honesty, integrity, and a genuine love of watching others succeed. Our mentors have given us numerous opportunities to learn and grow into leaders. Mentors love hearing about our successes, difficulties, endeavors, and ideas. They come when needed or called on, and of free will, with no expectation of return on investment. So, I pose this question: How do you pay back such benevolence?
Pay it back by paying it forward.
Mentoring has a long tradition, and an understood outcome, of preparing the next generation to successfully lead their peers. This tradition also insinuates that the next generation will teach their mentees the same techniques that brought about positive success, so on and so on. Our profession is geared to mentorship, and the passing of knowledge from person to person, generation to generation. Your mentors, just like mine, have spent countless hours not only showing us how to do our jobs but also showing us how to lead others, how to teach others, and how to pass this knowledge on to the next ready group of leaders. Tomorrow’s leaders are waiting for mentors like you today, and there is no better time to share your talents than right now. Listen to a story, offer some advice, help plan goals, be a compass to those in need of direction. The mentorship we received was never meant to be kept to ourselves. It was meant to be shared with others, readily, to make sure the next groups of leaders are always prepared to receive the torch that was passed to us, and to hand it off again in the future.
I have always been honored to be a part of the campus recreation family, and have always been extremely thankful for the mentors in my life. There is no better way to show this gratitude than to carry on the tradition of leadership training through mentoring. This year, I challenge everyone to thank your mentors for the time and effort they put into you. I also challenge you to show this gratitude by mentoring the next generation of students and professionals. To my mentors, and they know who they are: Thank you for believing in a stubborn kid, and know that the fruits of my labor are the results of the fruits of yours.
Scott Flickinger is the Director of Intramural Sports at Cornell University.