Reflecting on Career Mentoring – 4th of July Raspberry Picking
Yesterday, I picked raspberries at my father-in-law Bob’s house. The raspberries are early this year. In other years, the raspberries were at their peak during the week of the fair in early August. But spring came early and so did the raspberries.

No ordinary raspberry patch

Bob has no ordinary raspberry patch with just a few bushes. It feels like a jungle in there. I picked for over an hour, emptying my container several times and again after supper and there is plenty of berries still out there.

As I picked, I was remembering how long I have been picking raspberries in that patch. The first time was right after I met my husband, Bill, I had just turned 23.

In the early years, I remember Bob, giving me pointers on how best to pick them and help manage his patch.

“Look for the ripe ones, but don’t leave the older ones on the bushes, throw those on the ground, it starts new plants and makes the patch more productive.”

“You think you’ve got them all but they ripen when you’re not looking. Just be thorough”

“Look low, don’t miss the fruit hiding under the branches.”

What’s happened since I started picking raspberries?

I took my father-in-law’s advice for more than picking berries. When I met him, he was division manager for Wisconsin Public Service.

As a well-connected business person with a passion for community service, he also loved fundraising for Kiwanis and Wausau Whitewater and food projects, such as the Kiwanis pancake feed, Kiwanis fair booth, and Kiwanis Little Olympics.

He was the driving force during Wausau Whitewater’s beginnings. Once the course was underway, he and another prominent businessman did most of the sponsorship development for Wausau Whitewater for years, working with businesses and corporations to help them understand why they should fund such an amazing community resource.

He invested that same passion into many community development products. Once the headline in the paper was “Father of the Incubator.” Bob convinced other business leaders to work with him to launch an incubator to build small businesses, giving them a place to start, shared resources, and guidance. His project outgrew the location and was moved to the industrial park years later.

All his business advice, community service, and passion rubbed off on me.

When his Kiwanis club needed an administrative coordinator, he sent me off to interview. The first contract with Kiwanis helped provide a steady base for my fledgling business, Design Resumes. It also built an understanding for me and connections to many people and aspects of the Wausau area. Six years later, he told the board of Wausau Whitewater that they should interview one more person (me) to replace the exiting marketing firm who had managed Wausau Whitewater operations and the 12 year contract began.

I turned to Bob for advice many times during the years since as I grew my business and I still give him updates on what is happening. He’s 88 now, my youngest son is 23, and I feel sometimes that I am just now incubating the business I started so long ago as I forge new roads using technology, marketing, and communication tools that didn’t exist when I first started picking raspberries.

Everyone needs at least one mentor

Whether you are in a job search, career change, or starting your own business, you need someone to help you find the best fruit, the best way to pick it, how to keep generating more, and reminders to look where you don’t think there is fruit. Sure, you will drop some fruit and you might get scratched along the way but if you listen to your mentor and keep trying to do better, you will find a reward in the end.