January is National Mentoring Month. January 25th is “Thank Your Mentor Day.” Follow the links below for additional information.

Mentor Art using bigstock_Mentor_1734259I was twenty years old when I moved to Nashville to work in the music industry. Fresh out of college, I thought I was prepared for the future. But I hadn’t yet learned enough about the past. For that I needed a mentor. In my case, his name was Leo Zabelin.

Leo was a few decades my elder, and when he was in Nashville I was assigned to drive him around. I’m not sure why Leo needed a driver, but it was my good fortune to have the job. In hindsight, at that time I probably didn’t fully appreciate such an opportunity. I had a college degree in communications. But Leo held a doctorate magna cum laude in life and public relations. He also had a wealth of experience in the entertainment business, and he was more than willing to share what he knew.

He told me stories about “discovering Elvis” when he was editor of DownBeat magazine in the 1950s and about his time on the staff of Variety. Leo had an extensive press and promotion background, including working with Michael Todd to promote the film “Around the World in Eighty Days,” and he was generous with his insights, as well as his encouragement.

Despite our disparate backgrounds—we did have the common ground of growing up near Chicago—and our age difference, Leo and I became friends. I enjoyed his company, and I hope he enjoyed mine. I was intrigued by his stories, and he seemed to be enlivened by my naiveté and eagerness to learn. I was part of the new generation coming into the business that he loved. And he never made me feel that “we” were less than adequate.

Sometimes our detours are short, just a few trips around the block—or, in my case, around Nashville. But it’s on those unpredicted paths we often meet the most interesting people. People who make a difference in our lives.

Thank you, Leo, for helping me believe that I could achieve my dreams.

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For information about National Mentoring Month, visit one of these sites: