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LEARNING LIFE LESSONS AND PASSING THEM ON BEING A MENTOR
My first mentor was a training officer in the police force when I was a trainee. His name was Richard Drake, and in essence, he taught me how to be a police officer. Throughout my law enforcement career, there were many times I reached out to him and asked how he would handle the various situations I faced. Officer Drake was always willing to give me advice and help steer me in the right direction, and I looked up to him. He’d been in law enforcement for 15 years before I came on, and I knew he’d seen just about everything. When I had the opportunity, I became a training officer, just like my mentor. While I was training young officers, I found myself often referring to the training I had received. While under Drake, I often thought I had the best trainer in the whole department, and as a mentor, I wanted to pass that knowledge and experience down to my trainees. I wanted to be as good as he had been to me, and in turn, I wanted the young officers to say their experience was impressive. As I moved on to become an attorney, I met a retiring attorney, Andy Woll. The interesting thing about law school is that they don’t teach you how to be an attorney, they teach you the law — and very little of it. Woll was very important to me because he taught me so many lessons that I continue to implement to this day. It was enlightening to be able to reach out to him and ask for advice and guidance.
About four years ago, Andy passed away from brain cancer. He had never married and didn’t have any family to comfort him during this moment in his life, so I visited him when I could. At one of my last visits, I sat next to him and told him that I wanted him to know how important he was to me as a person, mentor, and teacher. I told him how much it meant to me that he had taken the time to teach me everything he did, and I promised him that I would pass it on. “When someone has to take the time to think about processes and then implement those ideas into developing a game plan, they truly learn.” Today, I mentor several attorneys, and I incorporate many of the same lessons and methods Andy used to teach me. Andy never gave me the answers to every question I had; instead, he let me work them out on my own while pointing me in the right direction, which is how I now teach my mentees. When they call me up to ask me how I would do something, I first ask them what their approach is and what their take is on the problem. More often than not, they’ll tell me they hadn’t thought too much about it. “Well,” I say, “you need to find an idea and get back to me, then I’ll guide you from that point.”
When someone has to take the time to think about processes and then implement those ideas into developing a game plan, they truly learn. It may be all wrong, but they’re thinking about the problem, and that’s what matters. As a mentor, I need to help guide them and look at the process they’ve come up with and say, “Okay, I see how you’re thinking. What if you thought of it this way?” Now they’ve learned something. They’ve challenged themselves, and even if they make mistakes, they can learn from them, becoming better than they were before. In a way, being a mentor is almost the same as being a father — you’re passing down the lessons and skills you learned from your mentor to a younger generation. In the same way my sons are teaching their kids the lessons I taught them, I’m passing on to the next generation of young officers and attorneys the teachings of Officer Drake and Andy. I wouldn’t be the person I am today if it hadn’t been for the efforts of these two great men, and I aim to share their teachings for years to come. -Travis Black
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