Editor’s Note: In this column, we will be continuing our series of offering bits of advice from 101 of our country’s most successful men and women. The advice was compiled by writer Vince Reardon into a book, The Pocket Mentor: Insider Tips from America’s Most Successful People which will be available for purchase next month. After gathering all the advice, Vince concluded that it fell into five distinct themes: 1) be yourself, 2) be for others, 3) be a learner, 4) be persistent, and 5) be a risk-taker.”
Here’s more advice that is most relevant for mentors to share with mentees, starting with “Be Yourself”
Eric Neudel is a producer, director, and editor of numerous award-winning films for public television, including Eyes on the Prize, Life Worth Living, AIDS: Chapter One, LBJ Goes to War, Tet 1968, Steps, and After the Crash.
What I have learned is that we are very, very small, both in terms of size and in terms of time, especially time. I’m very interested in cosmology and the nature of the universe. When I look at the universe, I see we are smaller than tiny specks—smaller than the Higgs boson. We’re also transient. That idea could lead us to despair, to nihilism, that our lives don’t mean anything.
But, in fact, it’s exactly the opposite for me. The lesson for me is that we, human beings, are generators of meaning. Generating meaning is everything. It’s how we judge the nature of other people, and it’s how we judge our lives.
I’ve always been a fan of Viktor Frankl. Like Frankl, I think we always have the ability, no matter what the circumstances, to interpret any situation the way we want to. No one can take that away from us. We can always resort to thinking of ourselves and others the way we want to think. We may not have the same values and assumptions as other people. But we don’t have to be crushed by other people’s opinions or other people’s attitudes.
Because we are the generators of meaning, we can define ourselves all the time, every day. But we have to be true to ourselves. We have to be honest with ourselves and with everybody else. We should never lie, in any way. I know that seems dogmatic, but I have found that no matter what the situation is—even with security guards at borders—we can always tell the truth. The temptation is to lie about the most trivial things, but we don’t have to. We never have to lie. And the most important thing is that we should never lie to ourselves. When we look at ourselves in the context of the universe and how massive it is, we have to rely on ourselves as the generator of our own meaning in life.
We shouldn’t care what other people think of us. In life we’ll go up and we’ll go down. It’s never clear how we will do in life. We’re never great or nothing. Even the greatest person, the person with the greatest historical record, like a king or a queen, will fade in time. Ten billion years from now, there will be no trace of us. So what does that imply about our existence now? What does it infer? It infers we are here now; we have to generate our meaning; and we need to enjoy it. Yes, enjoy!