Who are you mentoring? and who mentored you?

The other day I was reading one of Flor McCarthy’s books and I came across this story of an extraordinary lamp lighter by the name of Mr. T. According to McCarthy, “Mr. T was utterly reliable and as punctual as a clock. Each evening, at the onset of darkness, the gas lamps unfailingly came on. How he judged the time nobody knew because he had no watch.

The people often watched from their front windows as he went up and down the street, leaving a trail of light in his wake. It was obvious to all that he loved his job. He lived for one thing  only – to light the lamps. His life was not an easy one but it glowed with meaning.

He was loved by everybody, but especially by the children. When darkness threatened to put an end to their street games. Mr. T. would come along, light the lamps, and they would continue to play.

What was it that made Mr. T. so extraordinary? After all, there are many people who love their work and who do it faithfully. Mr. T’s greatness lay in the fact that he was blind. The man who was so faithful in bringing the light to others never saw it himself.

Eventually electricity arrived, and Mr. T, now advanced in years, was made redundant. His life suddenly lost meaning. He felt useless and unwanted. Sadly, the people who once loved him, now forgot about him. The new light was so superior to the old one that no one regretted its passing. He spent his days and nights alone in the darkness of his basement apartment.”

Those of us who find ourselves in the third quarter of life may feel a bit like Mr. T. With the growth of modern technology, it may be that the way we trained for our various jobs or professions has completely changed, often for the better, but our own inability to keep up with the new developments has meant that our skills our woefully outdated. Or worse: perhaps the career we trained for no longer exists.

We can respond to this situation by complaining bitterly that the life and career we knew are now obsolete. Or we can take the time to learn new methods and skills. I know a few people in the third quarter of life who have successfully re-invented themselves and found new meaning and purpose. Or we can make way for someone new to take over by sharing the very real wisdom we do have and then passing the torch on. The latter requires a certain humility and generosity of spirit. It may mean doing some serious coaching of those who are coming up behind us. It may also mean being willing to give up control over how things proceed in the future.

This is what others have done for us too. Perhaps this is a good time to consider not only how we mentor those who follow us, but also how we begin to say thank you to those in the past who prepared the way for us.

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