Lately while working on a project for starting up a music studio, I was asked who my greatest mentor or my greatest instructor has been. Although I don’t rub shoulders with A-List celebrities everyday, and I don’t know anyone that owns a Ferrari (at least no one that will admit to owning one) I have had several people that have severely impacted the course of my life.
I could start at the beginning, and say that my my first music teacher, Mrs. Christisen was my greatest mentor. She took a clumsy, starry-eyed little boy and began fostering a fanatical love of the arts and laying the foundation for the perseverance and commitment needed not only to create beautiful music, but also needed in order to be successful in any area of life. While I may not have my name in lights on Broadway (not yet…), or be playing at Carnegie Hall this year, Mrs. Christisen’s lesson from when I was a child taught me that success is not measured by dollar signs, rather by the richness of relationships. I’m extremely grateful for her instruction, however Mrs. Christisen is not my greatest mentor.
As I began to grow in my childhood, I can understand as a mother why you felt there was nothing better to train discipline then putting your son into Martial Arts. And there was no shortage of excellent mentors there. Above all of them, was Sensei Yuri. The five-foot something Russian that looked like he crushed small cars as a warm-up routine each morning. With knuckles as big as my pubescent arms, this man instilled fear and respect into me that I’d never experienced before. I spent 6-8 hours every Saturday under his instruction; memorizing techniques, sparring against kids nearly twice my weight, and learning that bruises are not something to be feared, rather they are the signs of growth. Earning my black belt under his training is one of the greatest moments of my childhood, but like Mrs. Christisen, Sensei Yuri is also not my greatest mentor.
You and I both know that Mr. Hale literally changed the direction of my life. As a 10-year old boy learning to play the Viola I was so incredibly impatient to grow old enough to play in the High School Orchestra under his baton. Mr. Hale had high expectations of himself and of his students, which pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to grow beyond my own boundaries. He drilled me on intonation, rhythm, and tone knowing that what I had perceived was my best effort, was far from my actual limitations. Thanks to his teachings, my wall is littered with plaques, medals, and recognition of musical achievements from the time I stepped foot into his classroom. He taught me to aim high, push my every limit, and chase my dreams with a tangible hunger. Ambition and vision are very valuable lessons to learn, there is someone that has had an even greater impact in my life.
That person is you.
While my dear piano teacher had taught me that appreciation for the arts and consistent practice will lead to a bright future, you were the one that taught me how to appreciate others and appreciate myself. It’s because of you that I continued to pursue my dreams of making music no matter how big my doubt grew, because you believe that my name will be lights over the world’s greatest stages. While Sensei Yuri may have established my old-world respect for people and discipline, you were taught me to never give up. After failing my first test to get my black belt, you were the one that told me I’m not giving up until I reach my goal. Mr. Hale might have sparked the burning desire for greatest in my life’s pursuit, however it was you that taught me to brush myself off when my journey gets rocky. It seemed like only a few weeks ago when you were the single mom working three jobs to raise her 4 boys and didn’t know whether to pay the electricity bill or to buy food to keep to keep your family fed.
I may not have ever been the best son; I never did my own laundry, I don’t call every week, and I even moved half a country away from home. I never learned how to match my outfits or how to set a table. But it’s because of you that I have experience unconditional love no matter how much pain I caused you or my family. You’ve taught me how to love myself, how to love others, that family is the most important thing, and that failure only exists to allow us to really appreciate the moments of success in life.
So whenever I am asked who is my greatest mentor, my answer is and will always be you.