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Stories / "My Mentor"

Cort Cox

Blue Zone's Engagement Lead shares his story here...

I certainly wouldn’t regard myself as wise; but, I have certainly gained wisdom over the years. There are certain experiences in life that, at the time, seem small. Others stand out more, yet we struggle to understand the importance. Time offers us the opportunity to learn the importance of these experiences. Personally, an experience that I struggled to understand takes me back to my time in high school.

During my junior and senior years at Lost River High School in Merrill I was living, what I would have called, the “dream.” I was captain of the football team and president of the student body. As impressive as I thought those roles were when I was 17, not everyone was as impressed.

As president of the student body I was in the leadership class, which met regularly to increase student pride by planning events and working on other projects. It was in this class that I was challenged more than I had ever been in my life to that point. On a daily basis, the leadership advisor tested me. I remember him often questioning my leadership skills and whether or not I was making a contribution to the school given my roles. At the time, this only made me angry.

He wasn’t only my leadership advisor, but also my U.S. history teacher, and an assistant coach for the football team. Between my time with him in the leadership and my history course, I stormed out of class numerous times furious that anyone would challenge the person I thought myself to be: a great leader that people admired.

Most conversations were not conversations at all, but me telling him how wrong he was to which he would often reply, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” I, of course, thought myself to be part of the solution when, in reality, I had a lot of room to grow.

I tell this story often when people ask me what I love most about my job with the Blue Zones Project. I love that I get to be “part of the solution.” But, beyond that, I think, really guided me to where I am today, even if I didn’t realize it until recently.

The lesson that I learned is that a mentor is often not just a friend. At times, a mentor may seem as though they are your enemy. In the moment, we can’t see the forest because we are standing in the middle of it. Mentors see potential and push us to reach that potential. They make us question who we are and what is important to us as individuals. Sometimes it takes years to come to this realization.

Just a year ago, I would not have considered this person as a mentor. It has taken me almost 10 years to learn something from this specific experience in my life. In the moment, it can be difficult to understand the importance of each moment, but these moments shape us individuals.

I encourage individuals to embrace those who challenge us and see these as opportunities to grow and learn. While you may not understand the significance instantly, time has a way of shining a light on the lessons that shape our future.