Guest Blog – by Melissa Coussa-Charley CPA CA

There is a certain pride in succeeding on your own. I did it! we say. And we’re right, individually we live through successes and failures, and we take each one personally. But are we right in doing so? In owning those wins and losses by ourselves?

My high school yearbook quote at the end of Grade 11 was one “borrowed” from Charles M. Schultz, who used Charlie Brown’s sister Sally to share his own thoughts. Here they are as she struggles to deal with her grade on an art project:

“A ‘C’? A ‘C’? I got a ‘C’ on my coat-hanger sculpture? How could anyone get a ‘C’ in a coat-hanger sculpture? May I ask a question? Was I judged on the piece of sculpture itself? If so, is it not true that time alone can judge a work of art? Or was I judged on my talent? If so, is it fair that I be judged on a part of my life over which I have no control? If I was judged on my effort, then I was judged unfairly, for I tried as hard as I could! Was I judged on what I had learned about this project? If so, then were not you, my teacher, also being judged on your ability to transmit your knowledge to me? Are you willing to share my ‘C’? Perhaps I was being judged on the quality of coat-hanger itself out of which my creation was made…now is this not also unfair? Am I to be judged by the quality of coat-hangers that are used by the dry-cleaning establishment that returns our garments? Is that not the responsibility of my parents? Should they not share my ‘C’?

Sharing responsibility – I don’t believe she’s wrong in doing so. Here, she has experienced a failure. But by extension, the responsibility of sharing a success is also merited, and necessary, and true.

And so the parents and teachers and dry-cleaners of our professional world – well, they are our mentors; the people we meet at work every day who shape the next, knowingly or not.

I got lucky. My mentor is behind everything I have accomplished in my professional career so far. Sure, it had a fairy-tale beginning; he’s the one who hired me all those years ago. The start of my career is literally thanks to him.

But even with that small detail overlooked, I know that I would not still be here – and happy – if I had been alone through it all.

The mentorship relationship just sort of…happened. Of course there is the requisite “pick a partner to be your mentor” program that every firm must (should!) have, but I never really picked anyone at all in fact.

Things just fell into place for me. I’m not quite sure how or when, but I must have gone on one of my rants one day – I talk a lot – and he just listened. He heard more than what I was saying too (despite his joking attempts to quiet me) and since then he seems to have figured out where I want to go, what I really value, and where my strengths are best suited. And that’s the way things just started to move.

Of course patience is a virtue, in this like in life. I heard once that every significant new account that is won in our firm has in fact been in the pipeline for at least 3 years prior. Makes sense. I wish we’d allot the same courtesy of time to every journey we embark on.

And if only we’d accept to take people along the way, too. Good food, exciting travels, funny stories – everything is better shared. Professional successes and failures are no different. And owning them with someone with a vested interest in your career, with no competitive edge and without ulterior motive – it’s the most rewarding thing of all.

The key is picking the right mentor.

Make sure you confide in someone you trust. Seems obvious, no? Trust that your mentor has your back – will stand for you and not back down – in good times in bad; trust that they will listen to criticism about you and relay it back in a constructive sense; and trust that they will search equally as hard (or harder!) for your strengths and for opportunities to show-case them.

Make sure you confide in someone who lives by the open door policy too. Not literally, necessarily. But someone who’s door you are comfortable enough to open, even when it’s closed, who will always waive you in instead of away, and who offer you a coffee, swig of scotch, or just a helpful ear when you do go a’knocking.

And finally, make sure you confide in someone who has a personal vested interest in your success. Sounds silly but if everyone wins…well… no one loses.

Sally’s teacher should have showed her how, her parents focused on the quality choice, and the dry-cleaner concerned with client-care. It would have avoided all kinds of mess. But more importantly, it would have benefited them all. And Sally could have gotten an A. She might have even thanked that very teacher in a blog like this one for having changed her life.