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Ideas. Insights. Inspiration.

Difficult Decisions

I made a difficult decision last week.

The decision was perfectly aligned with one of my 2021 Themes, specifically, the one where I resolved to focus my time and attention on the ideas, activities, and initiatives most likely to have the biggest positive impact on my life.

That didn't make it any easier, though.

Back in 2013, I was a newly-appointed member of what was then the AMA Toronto Mentor Exchange Advisory Board; I had recently completed the program myself as a mentee, and when the Chair of the committee asked if I might be willing to use my experience to help improve the program going forward, I readily agreed. I strongly believed mentorship was a critical component for all those wishing to achieve great things in their field, and was excited to help promote that thinking within the marketing community.

One of the biggest benefits of joining that Advisory Board was the exposure I had to the other board members during our monthly meetings, all of whom had far more impressive careers than I.

One such individual was Dr. Alan Middleton. He was a longtime marketing instructor for the Schulich School of Business, as well as the Executive Director for the Schulich Executive Education Center. Unsurpringly to anyone who has ever spent any time with him, he's also an inductee into Canada's Marketing Hall of Legends, in the Mentor category.

One day after one of our advisory meetings, Alan and I began discussing the topic of mentorship, and eventually came upon the idea of writing a book together on the subject. We shared the view that people needed to understand exactly what mentorship was (and what it was not), and that by leveraging our extensive professional networks to interview successful leaders, we could quantify the benefits of having a mentor (and eventually, being a mentor) for those who wished to follow in their footsteps.

Over the years, we met numerous times to work on our book project. We created a rough outline of the book's various sections, put together a list of potential interview candidates, and even conducted a half dozen interviews between us.

But life got in the way.

Alan had two jobs, one of which was very demanding and often required him to travel around the world. I had a few different job transitions over the past seven years, as well as a wife at home with two, then three, and then four children. "Free time" wasn't something either of us really had, and whenever things came up, the book got deprioritized.

That was the case all the way up until the fall of 2020. Alan had decided to retire a few months prior, although many who knew him knew that "retirement" for him simply meant shifting his focus to initiatives outside of the Schulich school. Alan send me a note asking if we could schedule a call, and when we were able to connect, he asked if I was interested in continuing with the book project.

I didn't hesitate for a moment in saying yes. I was still passionate about the subject of mentorship, but more so I was still excited about the idea of working with Alan, who over the years had moved from "fellow board member" to mentor and friend.

We met several times over the next few months to pick up where we had left off.

But a lot has changed over the past seven years.

In 2013, "mentorship" was still a unique and foreign concept for too many professionals. Today that's not the case: not only is the idea that mentors are important for success generally accepted, but there are numerous organizations and dozens of well-researched books to facilitate strong mentor-mentee relationships.

Quite simply, we had missed our moment.

We could still co-author a book, of course. And we'd likely have a lot of fun doing it.

But would it add anything new or different to the topic of mentorship? Probably not.

Would a book on mentorship (however well-researched or well-written it might be) help build my professional brand and result in consulting, training, or speaking opportunities? It was possible, but not likely.

In the spirit of focusing my efforts this year to those ideas, activities, and initiatives most likely to have the biggest positive impact on my life, would researching and writing this book be the best use of my limited time? The answer to that was clear: no.

I knew that discontinuing my work on this project was the right thing do to. What made the decision difficult was my concern that Alan wouldn't feel the same way, and would be angry with me for deciding to abandon an initiative we'd been discussing for the better part of a decade. I had resolved to use my time more efficiently this year, but I didn't want that efficiency to cost me a friend and a mentor.

Much to my relief, my concerns were unnecessary. At our next scheduled meeting, when I told Alan I was no longer interested in pursuing our mentorship book project (for all the reasons I outlined above), he told me he had been having the very same thoughts, for the very same reasons.

We both agreed it would be fun to work on something together in the future. And there's a good chance we will. It just won't be a book on mentorship.

We all have to make difficult decisions from time to time.

They're easier to make when you're sure you're making them for the right reasons, and when you're surrounded by the right people.

- dp


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