19 June 2012

Mentor: The Challenge and the Ideal

Tom Pace’s “Mentor: The Kid and the CEO” begins with the kid, Tony, and his friend stealing a couple cases of beer and running out of gas. The previous time Tony got caught he barely avoided prison. So the judge orders him to stay in jail for 90 days during which time the judge will consider whether to give him another second chance.

The next eight chapters introduce the CEO, Malcolm, who teaches a Monday life skills class in the Oklahoma County Jail. Tony reads “The Greatest Miracle in the World” and continues learning from Malcolm. So when Tony is released from jail, he walks 10 miles and meets Malcolm for a run around Lake Hefner—9.1 miles.

This first third of the story explores how Tony’s attitudes evolve under Malcolm’s influence, but at this point, the narrative speeds up, and the focus shifts to Tony’s activity. He moves into an extra room in Gary’s home. Gary is Malcolm’s previous mentee. And when Tony has a hard time finding a job, he gets a job with Gary.

Malcolm sees life in five categories—physical, mental, spiritual, financial, and social—and he emphasizes different activities for each area—running, reading, church attendance, money management, and family/mentoring respectively. So in the final third of the book, Tony keeps reading, starts a side business under Malcolm’s direction, runs a marathon, goes to church with Malcolm, meets Katie, marries Katie, receives a pardon from the governor, and becomes a father. When Malcolm’s business flounders along the way, Tony helps Malcolm resume running and overcome depression.

Anyone familiar with Oklahoma City will recognize the place names and atmosphere. Understanding religion as one part of a success formula is as characteristic of Oklahoma City as its entrepreneurial heroes and boom-bust history. Some will have different financial strategies or won’t recommend running around Lake Hefner without sleep or breakfast.

Like “The Richest man in Babylon” and “Who Moved my Cheese,” this story presents a success formula in narrative form. Most of the dialogue is life skills coaching, and the characters don’t get deeper after the first third of the book. 

The book’s strength lies in the relationship between the two main characters. Pace’s definition of success is essentially relational. The human characters in Pace's story need external perspective in order to mature, and they achieve meaning by investing in one another. 

Thus, whatever the weaknesses inherent to didactic tales, Pace and Walter Jenkins do live up to the book's title.

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