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"She believed in me when I wasn't ready to believe in myself, and because of that, she helped me become the person I am today." – Lisa Quast

There have been several women who have mentored me during my career but the female mentor who probably had the biggest impact on my life actually became my mentor when I was just a young girl – she was my gymnastics coach in junior high school.  When I was 12 years old I suddenly began losing my eyesight and went from 20/20 vision to 20/2200 within about six months and the eye doctors couldn’t figure out why.  I had recently begun competing in gymnastics and everyone suggested that I quit, after all, who had ever seen a blind gymnast.

But my gymnastics coach wouldn’t let me quit, she knew how much I’d fallen in love with the sport and she saw that I had the potential to do well.  So every day after gymnastics practice ended, once all the other girls had gone home for the evening and what no one else realized, is that she stayed with me in the gym for an additional two hours, working one-on-one to help me become the best gymnast I could be.  We worked together and blocked each routine so I could literally do them with my eyes closed.  And when I stood at the end of the runway for the vault, even though I couldn’t actually see the vault, I knew if I stood right on the piece of tape she had put on a certain spot on the floor and ran straight ahead, I would eventually reach the springboard in front of the vault and everything would be alright.

My gymnastics coach was my very first mentor and she taught me how to believe in myself, no matter what challenge I faced in life.  She believed in me when I wasn’t ready to believe in myself, and because of that, she helped me become the person I am today.  She inspired me at a very young age to not be afraid to reach out and ask other people for help, and in turn, to reach out and offer my assistance to other women.  I’m now in my 40’s and have mentored countless women throughout my career, in part, trying to give to others what my gymnastics coach gave to me all those years ago – encouragement to believe in my dreams. 

It’s because of her and many other women who mentored me throughout my career that I created the Wing2Wing Women’s Mentoring Project, a global volunteer movement that aims to inspire women to reach out to other women, and through the simple act of offering guidance and insight, help them achieve their personal and professional aspirations.  I truly believe in women mentoring other women and through this project aim to spread the word that if, as women, we were to mentor just two women and then they were to mentor two women, the power and confidence it would create would help make this world a better place.

Lisa Quast, Founder & President of Career Woman, Inc. and the Wing to Wing™ Women’s Mentoring Project


“...our common vision for me remains constant - that I can become the best me that I can be.” – Awilda Verdejo (International Opera Singer)

“For the past 25 years Leigh Dean has been my mentor. Over those 25 years we have developed a very close relationship. She listens to me, hears me, and stretches me.  As in any close relationship, we have wonderful times together, times when we disagree, get frustrated and sometimes even angry with each other, times when we cry together, times when we finish each other's sentences because we are thinking exactly the same thing, yet our common vision for me remains constant - that I can become the best me that I can be.

She is very clear that her role as a mentor is to serve and support me in achieving that goal by truthfully and lovingly telling me what she sees and hears that prevents me from achieving my goal.  With integrity and patience she gently and lovingly guides and encourages me to release what doesn't serve me, even if it is something I am deeply attached to and don't want to relinquish, and she challenges me to consider things that I should do but am reluctant or resistant to take on.

Mentoring is hard, meticulous work, sometimes arduous, sometimes easy, often joyous, but always productive and a wonderful gift for both the giver and the receiver.  I believe every woman needs a mentor. I also believe every woman needs to mentor someone else even as she is mentored to keep the energetic exchange flowing as she shares and practices what she is learning because as we all know, we teach what we need to learn.

Mentoring is a powerful experience that deepens, matures and supports the physical, spiritual, intellectual, emotional and cultural development of a woman's journey learning to love, accept and own her beauty and majesty.”

Awilda Verdejo, World-Renowned Opera Singer


“John helped launch my career as a motivational speaker, and all he asked in return was that I pass on advice and encouragement to others” – Nikki Stone (Olympic Gold Medalist, aerial skiing)

“A year after I retired from aerial skiing, I was asked to go on a promotional barnstorming tour for Delta Airlines. We traveled from city to city, and I would say a few words to the press and audience at each stop. Landing in Los Angeles, we were joined by a few other Olympians, one of whom was John Nabor.

After hearing me speak, John asked me if I'd consider pursuing a career as a public speaker. I didn't know if I had any talent in that area, or if I had a story to tell. He invited me to come hear him speak, offered me a world of advice and encouragement, and assured me I had a lot to offer. John helped launch my career as a motivational speaker, and all he asked in return was that I pass on advice and encouragement to others. John evidently learned how to 'pay it forward' from his experiences as an unsure, young boy in high school... ” [see story below from John Nabor]

Nikki Stone, Olympic Gold Medalist in Aerial Skiing, contributed to this site from Nikki Stone out of her new book, "When Turtles Fly: Stories of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out"


“Mentorship is SO important, especially for women in business! But that doesn't mean all your mentors have to be women” – Tracy DiNunzio, Founder of Tradesy

“Mentorship is SO important, especially for women in business! But that doesn't mean all your mentors have to be women. You should cultivate several mentoring relationships for different aspects of your work. For me, Dany Levy (the founder of Daily Candy and Tradesy's first investor) has been an incredible mentor. I had admired her for years, and was pleasantly surprised that when we met, she was willing to be honest and supportive about the challenges of choosing this career path. She showed me how to manage the stress of building a company with humor and grace - and an occasional martini! Aside from providing personal support, she has also advised on major business decisions, and showed me the value of building a brand.

I've also been fortunate to have the guidance and input of Jim Andelman of Rincon Venture Partners, who led Tradesy's first major round of funding and sits on our board. Jim is whip-smart and comes from a finance background, so he thinks in numbers and unit metrics. It's a great counterpoint to my natural tendency to be more qualitative and gut-driven. His mentorship has made me a sharper, more strategic CEO, and he's taught me to stay focused on the key metrics that drive the company's growth."

Tracy DiNunzio, Founder of Tradesy


Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, Founders of Rent the Runway

JH: "I have had so many wonderful mentors who generously lend their time, experience and honest feedback with the intention of helping me grow as a leader. One of the most important mentors to me has been Scott Friend, one of our investors who believed in me and this business from the very beginning. One of Scott’s greatest strengths is his emotional intelligence. As a former entrepreneur himself, he understands how to build a solid team and company culture and his insights on leadership prove to be extremely important as this company continues to grow."

JF: "Marc Lore has encouraged me to be ambitious and go after big ideas while maintaining a strategic, analytical approach to each initiative. Alfred Lin has shown me the balance of being hands on, yet strategic. Jenn herself has taught me a ton about sales and visionary thinking."

Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, Founders of Rent the Runway


“...we have lively discussions around the notion of what it means to be an athletic, empowered woman.” – Sally Bergesen, CEO and Founder of Oiselle

"Missy Park, the Founder of Title Nine has been an amazing friend and mentor. She's someone who has grown her business intelligently and with a firm grasp on her own vision over a long stretch of time. Plus, she's opinionated like me, so we have very lively discussions around the notion of what it means to be an athletic, empowered woman. "

Sally Bergesen, CEO and Founder of Oiselle


“My special mentors are the other working mothers.” – Sanda Belair, Nordstrom Manager and Twitter Personality

“I’ve been fortunate enough to have many mentors throughout my time at Nordstrom. It’s true that we work for a family and as a result are a big family. We all mentor each other and help one another grow, be better leaders and succeed. My mentors are my support group.

My special mentors are the other working mothers. We support each other’s daily balance of family and career by listening and offering not only career advice but mom advice.

My current store manager at Nordstrom Downtown Seattle, Todd Buntin is an inspirational leader and mentor. Every interaction with him ends with “How can I help you?” He’s a leader that puts people -- customers and employees -- first."

Sanda Belair, Nordstrom Manager and Twitter Personality


“Jeff gave me the gift of self-esteem, and the support of a teammate who wanted me to go further and faster than he had ever gone before” – John Naber (Olympic Gold Medalist, swimming)

“I started my swimming career as a high school freshman, because I happened to be sitting in Algebra class next to Jeff Stites. He was a silver medal winner at the recent Junior Olympics, thereby earning the title of the second fastest thirteen/fourteen year-old backstroker in the country. I was in awe of the kid, and when he invited me to join the swim team, I jumped at the chance.

That first season, I avoided swimming the backstroke, as that was Jeff's territory. Besides, I wanted to win races, not swim in Jeff's shadow. During my sophomore year, I closed the gap a little, and earned my second Most Improved award, but Jeff was still the 'big man on campus.' Sadly, due to mandatory school busing, in our junior year Jeff enrolled in the crosstown high school. Now we were going to be opponents, not teammates - and though I still held Jeff in high regard, I thought I'd have to improve without help from him. That spurred me on in practice.

Sadly, the day before the first dual meet of the season, I was clowning around on a diving board, and fell off it sideways, landing on the concrete gutter and breaking my right collarbone. The doctors declared that I would not recover before the end of the season. Not wishing to be a drain on the team, I volunteered as an assistant swim coach, and helped run workouts and plan lineups, all the way to the league championships.

As expected, Jeff Stites won the backstroke title, and I watched his swim from the bleachers, sitting next to his girlfriend, Corinne. After the awards presentation, he sat down on her other side, holding the gold medallion in his hand. 'You know, John,' Jeff said carefully, 'I'm sure that if you had been in the water this season, you most certainly would have won today's race, so I think you should have this.' And he placed the gold medal in my hand.

When Jeff gave me that medallion, he wasn't merely conceding the race. He was urging me to think of myself as the best backstroker in the area and, by extension, someday the best backstroker in the state, nation and world. It was almost as if he was saying, 'Stick you neck out. You can do this! Go on! Swim like the wind!'

On that day, Jeff gave me the confidence to see myself as 'the man to beat,' not the man trying to climb the ladder. Jeff gave me the gift of self-esteem, and the support of a teammate who wanted me to go further and faster than he had ever gone before. ”

John Naber, Olympic Gold Medalist in Swimming, his story contributed to this site from Nikki Stone out of her new book, "When Turtles Fly: Stories of Successful People Who Know How to Stick Their Necks Out"


“Just remember, mentors come in all forms - positive and negative, male and female, intentional and accidental.” – Sunny Kobe Cook, founder, Sleep Country USA

“I worked for the BEST BOSS when I was a secretary.  He intuitively knew how to motivate and inspire people.  The last chapter of my book, "Common Things Uncommon Ways", is about what I learned (and what everyone else can too) from working for him.

Just remember, mentors come in all forms – positive and negative, male and female, intentional and accidental.  We never talked about him being my mentor; I just watched, listened and learned.  We would love to have a chance to work together again.  Of course now, the joke is, who would be working for whom?"

Sunny Koke Cook, Consultant, Author, Speaker and Award-Winning Entrepreneur (founder of Sleep Country USA)


“The mentors that I had at various stages of my career were a critical part of my success.” – Cindy Yeilding, Vice President, Exploration & Appraisal at BP

“The mentors that I had at various stages of my career were a critical part of my success. They provided constant and invaluable counsel, insight and encouragement. My friends and colleagues have provided fantastic career and personal support over the years and have seen me through many professional and personal choices and challenges.

One of my most powerful mentors was Ian Vann, who retired from BP as the Head of Exploration (Group Vice President) in 2006. Ian valued creativity and deep technical expertise, and nurtured and supported me despite my different style. For example, once when I was struggling to decide on and 'land' my next role, Ian candidly said, 'They just don't get it Cindy - be patient, they will.' It was oddly comforting to know that while not everyone immediately recognized my skills, Ian did and that he fully supported me. By the way, my next role ended up being fantastic! "

CindyYeilding, Vice President, Exploration & Appraisal at BP


“My most important mentors have been my aunt and uncle.” – Jenni Hogan, the most followed local female TV journalist on Twitter and Facebook in America

“My most important mentors have been my aunt and uncle, Tom Eckmann and Suzanne Keel Eckmann. I had dinners with them every Sunday through college and they have taught me things I use every day now in my career.

The biggest three lessons they have taught me are to set expectations for your job and then overachieve them, dream big and tell people your dreams, and finally pay it forward and inspire others to do the same."

Jenni Hogan, the most followed local female TV journalist on Twitter and Facebook in America


“My poet-grandmother was a big influence in my life.” – Pam Binder, award-winning and New York Times best-selling author

"My poet-grandmother was a big influence in my life. She was a strong woman who was not only a poet, but played the piano, sang opera, painted, and gave inspirational talks on the power of believing in yourself. She was not only a role model and mentor but a huge inspiration to me.

My mother was also a wonderful mentor. She had a quiet strength that I am only now starting to appreciate. My mother was passionate about making sure my sister and I went to college because she felt education was the great equalizer. Books were as much a part of our life as the air we breathed. She encouraged me to read, encouraged me to tell my stories, and encouraged me to never give up. She passed on before my books were published, but I dedicated one of them to her with these words: 'In memory of my mother, Irene Louise Pleier, who taught me that the only barriers around your dreams are the ones you build yourself.'"

Pam Binder, award-winning and New York Times best-selling author, instructor for the Popular Fiction course at the University of Washington Extension, and president of the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association (PNWA)


“We supported and challenged each other constantly...” – Sara Sutton Fell, Founder and CEO of FlexJobs

"One of my most important mentors was my first business partner, Rachel Bell Robards. Being co-founders together, I think we actually ended up mentoring each other in countless important business topics during our journey. We supported and challenged each other constantly, and we were encouraged to find solutions that would make our business successful in a way that made us both proud."

Sara Sutton Fell, Founder and CEO of FlexJobs; previously founded JobDirect, which sold for $30 million in 2000


“My mentors were my mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles...” – Heidi Ganahl, CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow

"My mentors were my mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles...I grew up in a very entrepreneurial and adventurous family that instilled in me the idea I could do anything I desired! They have always encouraged me and set an example for me in living a life of abundance and enjoying every moment to the fullest!"

Heidi Ganahl, CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow


“The more I got to know him, the more I understood that underneath his polyester exterior was the mind of an astute businessman” – Susan T. Spencer, former General Manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, lawyer, entrepreneur, and author

"My business mentor was often described as a “junk-yard dog.” He sold me his meat company at a time when I knew nothing about the meat business. My initial impression of Bert was that this man can never teach me anything—how wrong I was. Bert was a man in his seventies when I first met him, and appeared to be a throwback from another generation. He was only too happy to answer my questions—no matter how basic they seemed.

The more I got to know him, the more I understood that underneath his polyester exterior was the mind of an astute businessman who generously passed on to me a revved up version of meat 101.  Mentors come in lots of different sizes, shapes, and types. Be open to accepting those unique individuals that come into your life and willingly offer you their advice and guidance when you least expect it and need it the most!"

Susan T. Spencer, former General Manager of the Philadelphia Eagles, lawyer, entrepreneur and author ot the new book "Briefcase Essentials"


“When I have tough career decisions, I know she is someone who will ask me the difficult questions..'” – Lisa Rodwell, Chief Revenue Officer at MOO.com

"I have never had a formal mentor. However, I was fortunate to be surrounded during different stages of my career by inspirational people. So today, there are a number of past colleagues and bosses who I turn to frequently for advice on business challenges and input into my career.

If I were to pick one person, I would have to single out my boss at eBay. From the moment I met her in that first interview, I wanted to work for her. She was so open, encouraging, and insightful. We’ve kept in touch both as friends, but also as an unofficial mentor. When I have tough career decisions, I know she is someone who will ask me the difficult questions and help me come to conclusion through analysis.  She says it like it is and isn’t afraid to tell me things I may not want to hear or admit."

Lisa Rodwell , Chief Revenue Officer at MOO.com, an award-winning and innovative online printing company


“My most important mentor would be the one who's been there through it all: my mom.'” – Meghan Peters, Community Manager, Mashable.com

"My most important mentor would be the one who’s been there through it all: my mom. She’s had a very successful career herself and always has spot-on advice for work situations. Whether she knew it or not, she instilled core tenets of professionalism in me from a young age, such as accountability, excellence and respect. Adopting her strong yet down-to-earth approach has been critical to my success ."

Meghan Peters , Community Manager, Mashable.com


“...he was passionate about women being successful in the commercial real estate industry.'” – Diane Paddison, Executive, Author, and Founder of 4word

"Don Williams was the most important mentor in my life as I grew in my career. He was the CEO for Trammell Crow Company for over twenty years. When I joined the company in 1987, I knew that Don was anchored by his faith, his family was his priority, and he was passionate about women being successful in the commercial real estate industry.

A few years after I started with Trammell Crow, I went to Don and asked if I could come to him for advice. Thankfully, Don was not only a mentor, but within our company, it is also important to have a 'sponsor.' A sponsor is someone who is always looking out for you when new opportunities arise in your company. Don would say, 'I would like to have Diane take on the diversity project and report to the board,' or 'Have you considered Diane for that job?'

Today, I have many mentors in my life, and most have been outside of my company, but I want to mention one more, Bob Buford. Bob pushed me to write 'Work, Love, Pray,' helped me make it happen, and is always there to assist when my 'ask' is something he can do for me. It is important to find mentors and sponsors. My life has been blessed by all of those who were passionate about supporting me, and today, it is so much fun to have the opportunity to mentor others."

Diane Paddison, Executive, Author, and Founder of 4word


“Most importantly she gave me the gift of confidence.'” – Barbara Machen, Co-author of the book, The Mothers of Reinvention: Reclaim Your Identity, Unleash Your Potential, Love Your Life

"I grew up with a single mom and her sister, my aunt, who never married nor had children- she was like another parent to me. My Aunt was the only woman I saw as a child who was college educated. She graduated from UC Berkeley in 1952 when most women were already married. She had a career, not a job, that she loved and took great pride in (she has never taken a sick day in 58 years.) She traveled to exotic places every year for a month and would come back with a slide show of her adventures and lots of presents.

She exposed me to different cultures, taught me to be open minded and never be afraid of hard work. Most importantly she gave me the gift of confidence. She told me at a very young age, "That I could be anything and do anything that I wanted." My aunt is now 80 and continues to be my mentor. She continues to go to work daily and do Yoga every morning. She has survived to bouts of breast cancer and a hip replacement all with a smile on her face. I admire so much how even at 80 she manages to continue to grow and stay relevant. I hope she lives to be at least a hundred because I still have so much to learn from her."

Barbara Machen, Co-author of the book, The Mothers of Reinvention: Reclaim Your Identity, Unleash Your Potential, Love Your Life


“I have had a lot of coaches and trainers who have each taught me different keys to success” – Megan Jendrick (Quann), Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer

"I have had a lot of coaches and trainers who have each taught me different keys to success. It’s good to have people you trust because they help you find your limits.

They know when to push you and how far, and their belief in you when you don’t know if you believe in yourself helps you break through barriers and reach even higher goals. My coaches did that for me and helped me realize that if I kept striving to better my best, that I could go to the Olympics and I could win those gold medals."

Megan Jendrick (maiden name Quann), Olympic Gold Medalist Swimmer


“Most importantly she gave me the gift of confidence.'” – Jennifer Pate, Co-author of the book, The Mothers of Reinvention: Reclaim Your Identity, Unleash Your Potential, Love Your Life

"I grew up in an upper-middle class suburb of Chicago called Highland Park. Everyone there goes to college. Most go on to some sort of higher degree as well. I was always a good student; really good, a year ahead in math, accelerated language class, etc. This all ended when my parents got divorced. It wasn't the "we grew apart" type of divorce (whatever the hell that means anyway). It was the "war of the roses" type divorce where I had to sit with a mediator and both my parents present and answer questions about what terrible profanities I witnessed my parents screaming at one another. The kind where neither parent would leave the house and an ugly custody fight took place. Good times. The point of this horrible memory is I lost focus. School didn't matter to me anymore. I wasn't thinking about my future or what college I would go to. The only thing that interested me was dance.

After watching a life changing performance of the Hubbard Street Dance Company in 1984, I knew that is where I had to be and where I had to study. I saw a woman named Claire Bataille dance a number to "Georgia On My Mind" that took my breath away. I moved to the city of Chicago, enrolled in college (I had to at least be pretending to study) and started taking class at the Lou Conte Dance Studio, the home of the Hubbard Street Dance Company. My first day, I took class with the one and only Claire Bataille. I couldn't have been more excited.

She noticed me immediately. Yes! I am going to be a star! Uh oh . . . she is correcting my posture, she is correcting my control. She corrected me again and again and again over an excruciatingly long hour and a half. She was strong, honest and harsh. I left in tears. She hates me I thought. I'm terrible I thought. I cried and cried. I, however, kept showing up day after day and year after year. Here is what I learned from a woman who doesn't even know what an impact she made on my life (hopefully, however, she will see this and understand).

As I kept showing up to her class, her demeanor didn't change. She didn't coddle me, she didn't reward me for a good class or a wonderful routine. She kept correcting me. I realized that it was because she cared and she saw something in me. She saw potential and her teaching was one that worked for me. I learned to take correction, pay attention to detail, be physically and mentally strong, be responsible and work hard. All of these things have helped me in my life. Her ability to truly teach hard life lessons while keeping me interested and focused are a gift. I will never forget her or my years studying with her.

While I never did make it in the Hubbard Street Dance Company, I did get to work with her professionally once. She assisted a choreographer on a show I did in Chicago called "Song and Dance". She was loving, kind, supportive yet still critical. I had done my work with her and she showed me in her way that I had gained her respect. Thank you Claire. I miss those days."

Jennifer Pate , Co-author of the book, The Mothers of Reinvention: Reclaim Your Identity, Unleash Your Potential, Love Your Life


“The biggest lesson I've received is 'Learn to listen.'” – Darcy Camden, Stylist and Founder of Styled.Seattle

"Is it bad that I don't have a single mentor?

I’ve learned so much from several key individuals over the years, especially my college professors and former employers. The biggest lesson I’ve received is “Learn to listen.”

Every mistake I’ve ever made has been the result of me not listening, either to others or my own inner voice. I always learn the lessons/answers when I listen (instead of talk!) and process a situation fully. Now that I’m in a position to have people look to me as a mentor, I try to pass that lesson along!"

Darcy Camden, Stylist and Founder of Styled.Seattle


“Sometimes we think of mentoring as a top-down relationship, but in my experience you can also be mentored by peers, and even by people at lower levels in their career trajectory. It's never a one-way street.'” – Stephanie Coontz, Professor and Award-winning Author

"I came into this field sideways, after having been out of academia for a while, and I don’t teach at a major research university, so I never had any senior faculty member to show me the ropes. But I had the support of the administration and my fellow faculty members at The Evergreen State College as I tried to expand my knowledge of the fields about which I now write. Sometimes we would team-teach, and I would learn from my colleagues in other disciplines. And many faculty generously volunteered to read and seminar on sections of my first book. Bill Chafe at Duke, after meeting me only a few times, suggested I send the idea for what became my first mass-market book, The Way We Never Were, to an editor he knew, and that small act of generosity changed my life. (It helped that Dan Quayle gave his Murphy Brown speech just as that book came out in 1992, immediately drawing me into the public debate over how and why American families are changing.)

So I can’t name many mentors who cultivated me over time, but I have had so many colleagues who supported me, and I try to do that for my own students and for other faculty members around the country. I enjoy helping them write op-eds and editing their briefing papers as much as I do publishing my own. And my colleagues at CCF are always willing to discuss ideas, share their expertise, and answer questions for me.  Sometimes we think of mentoring as a top-down relationship, but in my experience you can also be mentored by peers, and even by people at lower levels in their career trajectory. It’s never a one-way street."

Stephanie Coontz , Professor and Award-Winning Author (Marriage, A History: How Love Conquered Marriage, Viking Press, 2005)


“I don't have one person who is my mentor but instead I have a wide group of people that have supported me along my path.” – Suzanne Swift, Marketing Consultant for Non-Profits

"As with many women, I don’t have one person who is my mentor but instead I have a wide group of people that have supported me along my path. While it would be nice to have one-stop shopping in the mentor department I have found that I like having different perspectives when I am struggling with something tough.

One of my mentors was my manager at Microsoft and she has supported me for almost twenty years. I also have a newer mentor that is a lawyer working with non-profits in my community. Both women have referred clients to me but more importantly they offer different perspectives that I would not otherwise have access to."

Suzanne Swift, Marketing Consultant for Non-Profits


“They pick you up, help you out, and celebrate with you – how could you live without one?” – Alison Hinsonv

“The best thing I ever did was find a mentor at the workplace, then several mentors when I began consulting on my own. They pick you up, help you out, and celebrate with you - how could you live without one?”

Alison Hinsonv


“Dr. Kevin Cahill, a product of Ivy League academia, talked to me about my future in medicine as if I were the most likely candidate in the world - thick eyeliner and dubious social circle notwithstanding.” – Maggie Kozel, MD

“At fifteen, the worried child of an abusive, alcoholic family, I was hardly on the fast track for a successful career.  By the time I had my school bus epiphany I smoked, included alcohol in most social events, and did more than my fair share of experimenting with drugs and boys.  But there I sat on the bus that morning, staring out that window, hoping for a future.  I was thinking about how much I loved biology class. It was the first time I had felt so connected with something much larger than myself.  The more biology I learned, the hungrier I was to know more. But I wasn’t sure where that could lead me.  And then suddenly, in defiance of my lifestyle and my gender, I connected the dots.  I could be a doctor!

 At a focal point somewhere just beyond that pane of glass, every ray of confidence and hope I could generate converged to form a marvelous image – an attractive, grownup me in a white coat, handily diagnosing illnesses, ordering tests, writing prescriptions.  Happy. Successful. Respected. In the span of a few electrifying moments, a daydream had turned into a life plan – and an escape plan as well.   I didn’t worry if I was smart enough.  I never considered that I might not get into medical school or bothered to count the years it would take before I could step out into practice.  I knew where I was going, and I thought that was all that mattered. 

I worked hard throughout high school and I babysat every chance I got for the family of a prominent Manhattan physician.  Dr. Kevin Cahill, a product of Ivy League academia, talked to me about my future in medicine as if I were the most likely candidate in the world – thick eyeliner and dubious social circle notwithstanding.  “You’re different, Maggie,” he said to me one time, his intellectual drawl reminding me of Mr. Howell on “Gilligan’s Island.”  “When I look at you I see your strength.” If Dr. Cahill thought I was strongly constructed, then that was just further proof of what could slip by the notice of adults. But I was relieved that I could fool him, and pleased that he approved of me and my grandiose plans.  

One night when Dr. Cahill was walking me home he began to tell me about his upbringing in a large Irish Catholic family; he understood how difficult it was to grow up with an alcoholic parent.  We both knew what he was referring to, but I was too stunned and embarrassed to respond.  Never before in all my sixteen years, had any adult who had witnessed my parents’ mean brand of drunkenness– not aunts, uncles, grandparents, the priests who lived across the street, teachers, or neighbors – never before had any of them made even the most oblique acknowledgement to me of the daily horror show I called my home.

Dr. Cahill must have wondered, as we walked on in silence, if his surprising story had fallen on deaf ears.  It hadn’t, but it took a while to appreciate fully what had happened on that summer stroll. Without benefit of lab coat or beeper, Dr. Cahill had shown me what a real doctor could do.  He wasn’t so easily fooled after all.  He could look straight at pain without averting his eyes.  He saw what needed healing without being told, and he said what needed to be said. The Medical Barbie of my school bus vision, no longer up to the task, stepped aside.   I was beginning to flesh out my own image. I wanted to be able to do what Dr. Cahill could do.

Dr. Cahill didn’t let go.  He continued to discuss my medical career as if it was a foregone conclusion. He wrote letters of recommendation for me, arranged interviews, sent me autographed copies of the books he wrote. I don’t think I ever thought of him as a mentor. I do know that I was continually dismayed at his determination to be helpful.  And I was subliminally empowered by the fact that someone like him saw something unique and valuable in someone like me.  Fast forward a few short years and I was sitting in my apartment in Washington, DC, writing him a letter, sharing funny anecdotes about anatomy lab, and expressing once again my gratitude to him for helping to make my dreams come true.

Maggie Kozel, MD is the author of "The Color of Atmosphere: One Doctor's Journey In and Out of Medicine," and this story is an adaptation of an anecdote that appears in her book, submitted here by Dr. Kozel so she can share with others the incredibly positive impact mentors can have on your life


“My story of mentorship may be unconventional...” – Jennifer Ritchie, President, Revolution PR

“When I began my career in a small agency, the opportunity for mentoring did not exist. I then moved to a larger firm where asking for a mentor felt like it would be translated into 'I need help to accomplish my job' and potentially hinder advancement and raise opportunities. This is when I decided my mentor would have to be outside of the workplace or a mentor without even knowing they were my mentor. I chose the latter and took it upon myself to establish a relationship whereby I could learn, get feedback and establish goals without the obvious ask.

For me, having to be creative about obtaining guidance was in itself a good learning experience. And, ultimately, my mentor was instrumental in helping me grasp areas for improvement, identify strengths, overcome weaknesses, and work my way up the corporate ladder. She provided me the foundation to leave a cushy job and enter the world of entrepreneurship, founding Revolution PR eight years ago and growing it to become a well-known communications agency that works with notable brands in the Pacific Northwest.

My story of mentorship may be unconventional as my mentor was never acknowledged in this role, but it never changed the impact of such a relationship on my career success.”

Jennifer Ritchie, President, Revolution PR


“Princess Hohenlohe taught me that social graces help smooth relationships with others and that being confident is key to personal and business success.” – "The Countess" LuAnn de Lesseps: Author, lifestyle expert, and television personality

“Princess Hohenlohe, whom I met during my single girl European days, taught me that making other people feel comfortable around you is the key to elegance and grace. She had a wonderful sense of humor and a naughty streak that made people love being around her.

Princess Hohenlohe taught me that social graces help smooth relationships with others and that being confident is key to personal and business success. She also introduced me to her large network of friends and traveling throughout Europe with her was an extraordinary education in all aspects of society. My friend understood that compliments are priceless and that being charming is invaluable.”

"The Countess" LuAnn de Lesseps: Author, lifestyle expert, and television personality


“She taught me everything she knew about marketing – and she knew a lot.” – Karen Howe, Mindbloom

“I interviewed for a marketing assistant position at a high tech company and was aware that I was woefully under-qualified in every way imaginable - except intellectually. My future employer, Jan Eakins, later told me that she’d thought to herself that I was inexperienced but teachable. I started the next day and she taught me everything she knew about marketing - and she knew a lot. I didn’t have to write a resume for 10 years, as she was to able to hire me into all kinds of great projects and finally introduced me to my first home-run [position] at an early-stage technology company that launched desktop publishing.

Now I’m back in the startup world and busy mentoring my interns in the same patient way Jan taught me. I can’t thank her enough.”

Karen Howe, Mìndbloom


“Both my parents served different mentoring roles in my life.” – Aaron Hilst, Aaron Hilst Design & Communications

"Growing up in a household where both of my parents worked for themselves, as my father owned a pharmacy, and my mother was a potter and had a studio in our basement, imbued in me a strong sense of independence, and I believe gave me the strength to strike out on my own in the often scary world of entrepreneurship. Both of my parents served different mentoring roles in my life. My mother, from a young age, taught me the value of creativity and coloring outside the lines. And as a teenager, I worked for my father and took away a strong work ethic and learned the importance of being thorough and accurate in my work (and how to use a calculator without looking). Without their guidance throughout my life, and even today, I would not possess the same drive to be successful, creative, and engaged in my work."

Aaron Hilst , Aaron Hilst Design & Communications


“It's been extremely important to fully appreciate the knowledge and wisdom each person in my life has to offer.” – Shauna Nuckles

“What has been unique about my mentoring story is the number of mentors I've had. With many interests and goals I've wanted to pursue, I've had several mentors offering support and guidance in many different ways. For me, it's been extremely important to fully appreciate the knowledge and wisdom each person in my life has to offer. The people around us are a crucial part of our lives, and I've been careful to surround myself with people I wish to learn and grow from and who can influence me in a positive way. Anyone can be your mentor, whether it's for a month, a year or a lifetime.”

Shauna Nuckles


“She taught me to believe in myself.” – John Paul Engel

“I was born with severe brain damage, addicted to drugs, and was deemed un-adoptable. My mentor was the woman who chose to become my mother. She taught me to believe in myself.

I flunked kindergarten and was put in special education classes. She worked with me every day at our kitchen table. She always encouraged me and told me "You Can Do It!"

I went on to earn academic scholarships to major universities; earn a National Science Foundation Honorable mention, and a host of other academic awards. I worked on Chairman Alan Greenspan's research staff at the Federal Reserve. I earned an MBA with an International distinction from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business - one of the top 5 business schools in the world.

In my mother's honor I give motivational speeches to students.”

John Paul Engel, Author, Project Be the Change, www.projectbethechange.com


“Sharon avails me of every resource to which she has access.” – V. McLeod

“I met [my mentor] Sharon in 2005 as a teacher in a faith-based women’s empowerment class. From the moment we met, I felt like David’s Jonathan, my heart was knit to hers. I had recently relocated to Atlanta. Sharon made the difficult transition much more like a great adventure. Even to this day, no matter what’s going on in my life a word of inspiration from Sharon is amazingly able to transform an ordinary day into a monumental, life-changing moment. As my professional speaker mentor, Sharon avails me of every resource to which she has access including openly sharing her stories, struggles and most importantly her successes with me. I have come to count on Sharon’s wealth of spirit, knowledge and experience.”

V. McLeod, Master Speaker/Certified Trainer/Executive Facilitator


“A mentor showed me the way and now I am living my dream.” – Omin Hudson

“A mentor showed me the way and now I am living my dream. I started a business called Be Someone, Inc. that uses the game of chess to teach young people the game of life. My mentor James Edge taught me how to play chess and apply those principles to life and now I am paying it forward by traveling the world with a message of hope and inspiration for young people.”

Orrin “Checkmate” Hudson, Master Motivator


“I learned how to soar.” – Crystal Brown-Tatum, President, Crystal Clear Communications

 “I met Sandy Lawrence of Perceptive Marketing at a networking function when I was fairly new in running my own public relations business. Sandy was already well established in Houston and she was where I aspired to be. I asked her if she would mentor me and she graciously welcomed me into her home, her company and her life. By taking me under her wings, I learned how to soar because her success empowered me to be successful.”

Crystal Brown-Tatum, President, Crystal Clear Communications


“She [my mentee] has actually inspired me to start my own nonprofit designed at helping other at-risk girls just like her.” – Rachel Southard, National Academy of Sports Medicine

“I've been very fortunate to have both a wonderful mentor throughout my career, but more importantly, have been mentoring an at-risk girl for a year and a half now. Hawa is an EXCEPTIONAL athlete/runner and our passion for running is what brought us together. When I first met her she did not smile often, would not look me in the eye, and getting a hug out of her was like pulling teeth. Since working with her, she confidently looks me in the eye, smiles freely and even initiates hugs!

In addition to still working with her, she has actually inspired me to start my own nonprofit designed at helping other at-risk girls just like her. It truly is amazing how far one little smile can go in inspiring you to help others.”

Rachel Southard, National Academy of Sports Medicine


“Diane was an amazing friend and mentor to me.” – Karen Taylor-Good, Grammy nominated singer/songwriter, author, and inspirational speaker

“There was a wonderful woman named Diane Petty....she was head of SESAC, my music rights organization, when I moved to Nashville in 1980. There were very few women in power positions in Nashville at that time, especially in the music business. Diane was an amazing friend and mentor to me. She helped us develop the "Real Girlfriends"...a group of 4 women songwriter/artists, and took us to Los Angeles, and to Canada, and around the U.S. (We had a lot of fun defining what a "real girlfriend" is....one who will TELL you when you have spinach in your teeth, toilet paper on your shoe, when your guy is a jerk, etc, etc!).  Diane passed away 2 years ago, and I miss her dearly."

Karen Taylor-Good, Grammy nominated singer/songwriter, author, and inspirational speaker


“12 years later, we are still very close and my family is actually putting her through college.” – Laurie Dickinson Lee

“My name is Laurie and in 1998 I began a program with Big Brothers and Big Sisters. My little sister Vanessa can from a terrible home and was matched to me. 12 years later, we are still very close and my family is actually putting her through college. She will be the first person in her family to have a degree.”

Laurie Dickinson Lee


“She was a wonderful person, always pushing me to try new things.” – Susan Aumiller

“My mentor was my professor in college, Melissa Motschall. She was a wonderful person, always pushing me to try new things. She pushed me to write for the school paper, which I did and loved. She helped me get my first internship and job. Sadly, she passed away a few months ago. I’m still getting used to her not being here, and it’s hard. I keep getting great opportunities to do new things and try new things, but she’s not here to tell, or ask her advice.”

Susan Aumiller


“Don was an amazing man who was not only my boss but also my cheerleader, my guide and my friend.” – Shannon Short

Excerpted from “Out of Hiding:  Looking for Extraordinary in an Ordinary World” by Shannon Short, 2010 Case Study Winner in “Mentoring” category for The Hot Mommas Project...

“I had a good paycheck, great benefits, amazing co-workers, work I hated and a difficult boss, and I was seriously considering quitting [my job]. Then, I had this conversation with my father:

Me: “I hate my job. I’m so unhappy. I want to leave.”
Daddy: “Shan, work isn’t there to make you happy. It’s there to make you a living.”

I didn’t leave my job, but I did get a new boss. 

Don was an amazing man who was not only my boss but also my cheerleader, my guide and my friend. Don opened my eyes to the idea that I could make things happen for myself and that those things could be whatever I wanted them to be. He taught me I didn’t necessarily have to accept the status quo and made me curious about what would work for me personally.  What a freeing perspective.”

Shannon Short


"Lenann taught me that challenges provide opportunities when approached in a positive way." – Tina Sampson

I advanced from hospitality industry sales leader to well-rounded senior executive with the mentoring of Lenann McGookey Gardner.  I made multiple advancements over ten years and learned to stay focused on goals during times of adversity.  Lenann taught me that challenges provide opportunities when approached in a positive way.

Tina Sampson


"I hope to be in touch with her for as long as I can and keep learning from her." – Tarang Shah

Lisa Quast was my mentor during the first year of my MBA program at Michael G. Foster School of Business. The first thing I noticed about her was how humble, cordial and respectful she was to each and every person in the room when I first met her. She went up to every single person and introduced herself. And that’s where my learning started. She is very articulate and takes time to understand people’s questions and issues. Her diverse and successful professional experience is admirable and she does not hesitate to share her learnings. I hope to be in touch with her for as long as I can and keep learning from her.

Tarang Shah, MBA Candidate, Class of 2010, Michael G. Foster School of Business, University of Washington


“It turned out to be one of the most memorable mentoring experiences in my career to date because it did more for my confidence and commitment to lifelong learning than anything up to that point.” – Mary Stutts

Halfway through my eight-year career at Kaiser Permanente, the company went through a re-engineering process. Everyone in any level of management had to reapply for his or her job in dreaded panel interviews. In an interesting twist of fate, I was not hired for my current position. I had been selected for an interim regional position. That position was actually a promotion! In this interim role, I would report to the Senior Vice President of the Northern California Region who was also in charge of the overall re-engineering program. Both he and the CEO of the region were great mentors for me during this time. They both personally took the time to meet with me, coach me, and help steer my development. My development during this time centered on two things, becoming more strategic and going back to school for a master’s degree.

At the time, I was actually indignant at the comments about my not being strategic enough because I did not believe it was the case. But once I settled into the interim position, my new boss informed me that each regional department head had to write a strategic plan for his or her function for the entire region.  On the due date, I met with him and presented my draft plan.  He read my plan…saying, “No, this isn’t quite it.”   Then he gave me some feedback and gave me two more weeks to bring him the next draft.  I did more research, revised the plan and met with him two weeks later.  He read it, chuckled, gave me more feedback, and handed it back to me.  I was mortified.  This process of research, re-writing, and reviewing went through a similar pattern about three more times until my plan was finally approved. 

I will tell you one thing. I never again got riled when I thought about the feedback that I was not strategic enough!  It turned out to be one of the most memorable mentoring experiences in my career because it did more for my confidence and commitment to lifelong learning than anything up to that point.  And it was such a sense of accomplishment to see my plan rolled out for the entire Northern California region over the next couple of years.

From Mary Stutts, Author of the book The Missing Mentor: Women Advising Women on Power, Progress and Priorities. Mary is Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations at Elan Pharmaceuticals in South San Francisco. The Missing Mentor is available at Barnes & Noble, Borders and Amazon