A Tribute to Mentors

By Dr. Brittany Birken, Florida Children’s Council

Early in my life, my mother told me that my motto was “leap and the net will appear.” Indeed I lived that way for many years. Took calculated risks, but was bold in my actions and persevered. Folks would say “things always seem to work out for you,” but in truth, I worked very hard and strove for excellence – and it paid off. That of course, coupled with the most important resources any young professional can have, tremendous mentors. Individuals that spent countless hours advising, counseling, and helping me navigate the most important work I could think of doing – working on behalf of Florida’s children.

On the most trying of days, and there have been plenty, I draw strength from those who have gone before and cared enough to share their challenges. Those who offered perspective on how to persevere and make meaningful differences in the lives of children. Some of the lessons applied to all professionals – like the great Dr. Pamela Phelps who told me the key to achievement can be bottom-lined with two actions: 1) always and constantly survey the landscape, determine the direction work is headed and get there before anyone else with solution in hand, and 2) attention to detail, attention to detail, attention to detail!

Other cherished mentors reminded me that our work is like a pendulum. When the days are dark, remember the light will always swing back. And those days, when great work is happening, are the days that make it all worthwhile. Some of the lessons were humorous, but nonetheless true – that all worrying will accomplish is premature aging; that sometimes it isn’t about how green the grass is on the other side, but rather how brown the mud is that you are standing in; and that lipstick on a pig is still a pig (ah, Gladys Wilson, how I will always cherish your quips!).

I had wonderful professors who taught me to celebrate all milestones, especially the small ones. That incremental change is indeed meaningful change – particularly if it accumulates and builds over time. And perhaps most important lesson of all – the need to seek out and establish meaningful relationships. Never mind the secret to success. Relationships with peers, mentors, and colleagues are the great secret to making a difference.

The greatest treasures I have found have come in the most unexpected of places. I often take a moment to step back and look at the opportunities presented and realize that each person we encounter represents an opportunity for connectivity, advancement of work, and potential momentum for the children we strive to benefit.

As I now move into the latter half of my career, I hope I have as much to offer and share with others as I myself have learned. We need to deepen the bench of those committed to working on behalf of children. And, that work begins in earnest when we give and share of ourselves. I learned that lesson from the very best.