There is nothing new under the sun. There is no reinventing the wheel. Virtually all paths to greatness have been paved for anybody with aspirations to be a high achiever.

What’s key for you out there seeking to do big things is to find the appropriate path that suits your character including your strengths and weaknesses. But perhaps more important than finding the appropriate path is to find the appropriate person that walked that path. Find someone that truly leads you to the conclusion that you are cut from the same cloth. The only difference is she/he is a future you, while you are a past her/him. This person should be your mentor. Everybody has advisors and it’s not the worst thing to have an advisor, but what you really need when you are pursuing an ambitious and challenging career path is a mentor.

To borrow from Robert Kiyosaki’s words in his book Cash Flow Quadrant: an advisor is someone who tells you how to do something but has not personally done it; a mentor is someone who tells you to do something and is successful at doing it. Whereas there may be times that advisors will understand intellectually what is takes for you to achieve your goals, you the aspirant in whatever field of endeavour will always feel that they cannot appreciate some of the practical challenges that you are facing. That realm of advisor tends to have that inherent weakness – half the time, the person advising has simply not walked a mile in your shoes. With mentors it’s different, when you explain your practical challenges, they will know and understand exactly what you mean. I would like to believe this could be part of the rationale behind the practice of Universities granting honorary doctorates in specialised fields on individuals that have excelled in those areas, even though they may not necessarily have formally studied that discipline, at least not to the level of PHD.

A case in point: At the 23rd graduation ceremony at the Riverside Campus of the Copperbelt University, ZAMBEEF founder and director for strategy and business development Carl Richard Irwin was granted an honorary doctorate in recognition of his contribution and dedication to the development of business in Zambia and abroad. While giving Dr Irwin’s citation, Public Orator chief executive officer – Prisca Chikwashi – said Dr Irwin was born in Kitwe in 1965, has a Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Cape Town and that he received two national prizes in commercial law and data processing while doing his Chartered Accounting qualifications in England.

Now who can claim that the founder member of ZAMBEEF, Master Pork Ltd among other businesses does not deserve an honorary doctorate? There is a general rule that you cannot lecture in a University if you do not have a Masters degree. Before his honorary graduate was bestowed, his profile was availed and there was no Masters degree, but surely how many Business and Entrepreneurship studies lecturers in our country can match up to the business profile of Carl Irwin in terms of suitability to teach students entrepreneurship? There can’t be very many. Simply put, he is a mentor while many others are almost falling into the category of advisor.

So remember to pick a mentor; you cannot easily walk the often treacherous and thorny path of pursuing big dreams without having some footsteps to follow. Also, try as much as possible to get in touch with your mentor, let them know your plans and seek advice from them. Sometimes, they will see something in you that will prompt them to pull you up. This is the way of the world of success. No one and absolutely no one makes it alone! We all need help somewhere along the way.

Still on mentors, these will always recognise which upcoming aspirants remind them of themselves. Whether it is a High Court Judge or Supreme Court Justice watching a junior associate making impressive arguments before them, or a director of a commercial bank listening to young and upcoming managers talking about the best possible relationships with new and existing clients, there will be those seniors that recognise you as being cut from the same cloth as them. Even in business, for any young and upcoming entrepreneur, there will always be seasoned businessmen that appreciate the bold decisions and path that you have chosen; they too will feel that you are cut from the same cloth. The same applies to raising children in terms of schooling, you can always see where you are coming from and how young ones are following the way. A special mention goes to my nephew Timothy Musenge who just passed his grade 7 exams with flying colours and yet he wrote his exams in grade 6 – we shall continue to develop his high natural ability.

Now, at the start of this article, I mentioned that virtually all paths to greatness have been paved for anybody with aspirations to be a high achiever. I also mentioned that perhaps what’s more important than finding the appropriate path is to find the appropriate person that walked that path. Whoever holds a coveted position in society today will not hold it tomorrow for no man is immortal. Society is designed in such a way that whatever social, socio – economic structures prevail today, these will continue to prevail even tomorrow, only the occupants of the various positions will change for no man is immortal. So whoever is your mentor today, if you do the right thing, that person will be you tomorrow. And very often, soon as get to be recognised by these mentors as being cut from the same cloth is when we may begin to rise meteorically. They may see themselves in us the young and upcoming so much that they will actually endeavour to pull us up, just to give you a catalysed journey for they know and appreciate that you do not deserve many of the unnecessary hurdles that they had to undergo.

If you have ever seen individuals get elevated expeditiously by those in positions of influence, know that it is not by accident. Even those at the apex of any sphere of endeavour realise that time to pass the baton will come, and when that time comes, it will not be by happenstance that they will pass on power, privilege and prestige to certain individuals, they will pass on to those cut from same cloth as them.

So, it’s time to get a mentor if you don’t have one, learn the ways of your mentor, their background, strengths, weaknesses and other attributes. Try to relive these attributes (at least the positive ones) for there is truly no reinventing the wheel. Sooner or later, you will embody attributes of a successful character – your mentor. If you are coming from a disadvantaged background, it is also important to pick a mentor that walked the rough path that you are currently walking. There is no shortage of such individuals at the apex of Zambian society. How many people do we know that grew up in rural Zambia? How many walked kilometres to primary school as their mothers packed nshima for them in lunch boxes? These now celebrated individuals used latrines and not flush toilets growing up. There are a good number, yet today these individuals through determination, hard work and an unbelievable impetus to achieve are holding coveted positions in our society. If you are a ghetto boy or girl, a village boy or girl with potential and determination, and you are reading this piece, please hear me now: find someone who is coming from a background such as yours that has achieved all that you dream of, I can assure you they will pull you up once they see your potential. They will be able to tell that you are cut from the same cloth. What you need is a mentor that you feel knows the answers to the many questions that you have, the solutions to the many challenges that you face. This they do because they have actually been through it. They are not raw like most advisors, they have been through the mill.

By the way, this country is not short of accomplished people that are coming from disadvantaged backgrounds. I read a book – Zambia: Struggles of My People & Western Contribution to Corruption and Underdevelopment in Africa – written by one Charles Mwewa that studied at the University of Zambia; he later on read law in Canada where he lives and works today. He is not ashamed of his background as he elaborates in the book about his poor upbringing in a compound in Chingola.

He actually covers ghetto life quite interestingly as he explains various matters, among them the practice of very early sexual encounters in life, including his own. So, depending on where we are coming from, and what we aspire to be, we need to pick the right mentor, emerge somehow that we are noticed by them, and when they recognise that we are cut from the same cloth, doors may well begin to open.

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