Having just returned from two solid weeks of travel at conferences, the subject of mentorship came up at two separate meetings over and over. It made me reflect on the value of mentorship and what I may not have accomplished if not surrounded by the right mentors over the years, from my previous career in law enforcement to the first industry professional willing to give me photography and writing tips. I would not be in my role today without the values and lessons mentors have instilled in me throughout my career.
Going back, I doubt I would even be in the aviation world if not for the input of one of my very first mentors, my grandmother. Who would drive her car right up to the perimeter fence at the international airport and tell me to climb up on the hood of her car so I could experience the rush of having a 747 scream over the top of us on final approach.
Many people in this industry have stories just like mine. Ones where they can track back their aviation career to one pivotal moment that flicked the switch in their brain that started to crave the smell of jet fuel. The same feeling that makes you feel at home the second you smell that familiar airport smell.
During both conferences I was at, each had an awards ceremony, and like clockwork, each award winner would cite the tremendous impact that either one or many mentors had had on their careers. Showing them the right way to do things, the right path, or even greasing specific wheels that needed to be greased to give the mentee a leg up here and there to make their passage just that little bit easier for them than it was for us.
During a get-together during one of the shows I was at, there were several conversations from some of the “old timers,” some who haven’t been active aerial firefighters for many years, referencing lessons learned from some of the greats, including Walt Darren. Guys referencing lessons they learned from one of the industry greats that had instilled knowledge in them that had helped keep them alive.
One of the key takeaways I had from that get-together was that there were a lot of funerals back in the old guard’s day. When they didn’t have the knowledge that they do now, and the lessons they learned were from either lessons written in blood or taught by guys who had messed up but miraculously lived to tell the tale and share what they learned so that others wouldn’t make the same mistake they did.
If you read my column regularly, you may have read my column several issues back about tribal knowledge and the need to share that information for the greater good of the industry. Mentorship goes hand in hand with sharing tribal knowledge to equip the next generation with the tools and knowledge they need to succeed.
It doesn’t matter what industry you are in, but you can’t put a price on the value of mentoring. To this day, I am still contacted by people I have mentored over the years that still reference things I may have taught them many years prior that have now become a conscious habit or something they use daily or have now passed on to the next generation
From firefighting pilot to maintainer, to air attack roles and everything in between, there are a million lessons that can be taught. Those lessons can vary from how they conduct themselves on the flight line or radio to complex taskings like fighting a fire. That learning and knowledge have to be passed down from somewhere, and we all know that some things can be learned from reading a book, but many things in our industry have to be shown, practiced, and mastered over time. With willing mentors that can provide that pathway to success, we will continue as an industry.
From my own experiences and what I have learned from mentors, the value of what you can pass on to others far surpasses whatever benefit you may get in the short term from hoarding knowledge. There are so many lessons to be taught; I hope we as an industry will continue to teach those critical lessons and skills to those wanting and needing what we have to share.