I cleaned out some old files the other day and came across this note from an early mentor, Dr. Ralph Spiegl. A longtime family friend, Ralph was a warm, encouraging voice during my high school years and I was incredibly lucky to get to know and learn from a person of his caliber. The fact that he took the time to reach out to me in this way is the best kind of proof that successful, caring and loving people do not consider those qualities to be limited resources. They know that the opposite is true, that those qualities can and will remain unlimited in direct proportion to the amount that they are practiced.
Dr. Spiegl was a man who chose to operate from love and generosity; to his work, his students, his alma mater and to an excitable, idealistic 16-year-old kid who was hungry for exactly the kind of encouragement he had to offer.
One story to illustrate his intersecting enthusiasms: as a dedicated Stanford alum, Ralph was keenly interested in helping me gain admission there. He was so determined in this that he made this offer: “David, just get your application turned in and I will be sure that you get an interview.” Well, I had no business applying to Stanford but I was always good in conversation, especially with adults, so I figured that if they were on the fence about me an interview might hoist me over to the other side. So, I applied, and Ralph, hat in hand, came back to me with the news that Stanford didn’t do interviews as part of its admissions process. He was crestfallen. And I was relieved!
That Ralph saw me as someone worthy of an institution about which he cared so much helped me to see my potential in a different way. It literally lifted my sights. And while Stanford wasn’t the place for me, I landed somewhere that was and brought to that new threshold the conviction that comes from having to go through that examination.
I am long overdue in paying tribute to my first mentor. And I hope you will help me do so by finding your own best way to say “yes” to this invitation:
- Think of a young person in your life whom you admire and respect
- Write (yes, actually write) them a brief note of encouragement (magazine clippings optional, though strongly encouraged!)
- Do it again.
It’s quite possible, perhaps even likely, that 30 years from now the cooling shadow of your gesture will pass over them again, providing respite from the exposures that always attend a life well lived.
There are so many good reasons why this is necessary right now but I think it’s best to keep it simple and clear: do it because your time and those qualities that are essentially you will remain unlimited as long as they are shared.
DAVID BERRY is the author of “A More Daring Life: Finding Voice at the Crossroads of Change” and the founder of RULE13 Learning. He speaks and writes about the complexity of leading in a changing world.