Recently on the Success Story podcast, I had the pleasure of meeting one of America’s greatest business authors – and not just the greatest, but the youngest in U.S. history.
At a meagre eighteen years of age, Alex Banayan set out to interview some of the world’s most successful people. His goal was to figure out exactly how they were able to fly so high. He published a book about his findings – ‘The Third Door’ – and today, Alex is somewhat of a business legend.
In this week’s article, I want to focus on one story from his book in particular; that of Steven Spielberg. Many know him as one of the greats in the film industry, but what most people are unaware of – myself included, up until reading ‘The Third Door’ – is that Spielberg began his ragingly successful career with the help of a mentor.
Spielberg’s story leads nicely into today’s main topic, which is exploring the benefits of connecting with a mentor when launching your career. So let’s get into it.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to read through Alex Banayan’s international bestseller, you’ll have already heard this story in chapter four – but it’s so good that I doubt you’ll mind a recap.
I asked Alex to rattle off his favorite success story from ‘The Third Door’, and it took him all of a few seconds to pick Steven Spielberg.
As a child, Spielberg was always bent on becoming a film director. But, like many past and present highly successful people, he didn’t get off to the best start; in fact, he was outright rejected from film school.
After applying a second time (and being rejected a second time), Spielberg was at a crossroads. Perhaps if he’d been a different, less determined person in his position, this would have been the premature end to his career.
“That's where most people sort of pack up and say, maybe I find a different career,” Alex commented as he unraveled the story. “Spielberg instead decided to take his education into his own hands.”
Now, here’s where the story goes from a young and determined dreamer down on his luck to a tale of true genius and entrepreneurial spirit.
It goes like this:
At 19 years old, Spielberg traveled to Universal Studios in Los Angeles.
He takes a tram-ride tour through Universal Studios filming sets and stages.
Instead of finishing the ride, he jumps off midway through and begins to wander the film studio on his own.
And this is where Spielberg meets the man who would later become his mentor: Chuck Silvers.
Who was Chuck Silvers?
Spielberg isn’t afraid to twist the truth for theatrical effect, and throughout his career, he’s been known to somewhat embellish the conception of his career. Stripped back to straight facts, however, it becomes clear that there were two key contributors to his success: determination and Chuck Silvers.
Chuck was head of the Universal Television Library at the time. After speaking with Spielberg for a few hours, Silvers wrote Spielberg a three day pass to come back and spend time in the Universal Studios offices, speaking to other prominent industry professionals and exploring the space.
And, what do you know – he kept coming back, long after his three-day pass had run out. Security guards couldn’t stop him (though not for lack of trying). Spielberg was determined to be in that studio and to make his place there.
Silvers’ invaluable advice to Spielberg
After several months of unofficial interning at Universal Studios, Silvers became somewhat of a mentor to Spielberg – and this is when he would receive the first hard piece of advice from Silvers, the comment that would kick-start his rise to infamy.
The advice was something along these lines:
There has to be a time in your life where you stop schmoozing, and you create something of value in order to show people what you can do. So don't come back onto the lot until you have a short film of quality that you're proud of to show me.
Spielberg spent the following months filming and editing a short film called Amblin. And, when he completed the film and showed it to his mentor, a single tear came down Chuck Silvers’ face.
As for the rest of Spielberg’s story – I’m sure you are aware of his astronomical success. His stint in the offices of Universal Studios was undoubtedly the spark that caught.
So I want to touch on the part of this story that was highlighted to me by Alex during the podcast interview: the role of a mentor in Spielberg’s success.
Alex put it succinctly:
“Yes, he had the courage to jump off that bus. Yes, he had the honesty to tell the truth when he met Chuck Silvers. Yes, he had all these different things. But to me it was his ability to make that relationship with Chuck Silvers – that inside man.
Because without Chuck Silvers, Spielberg never would have had the three day pass; never would have gotten the good advice that he needed to hear.”
As it turns out, Spielberg’s story wasn’t an isolated case.
Who else was mentored?
As Alex pointed out during his interview, mentorship is a common theme that runs throughout celebrity success stories.
Steve Jobs was mentor to Mark Zuckerberg, advising him on how to continue pursuing his vision when faced with difficulty
Richard Branson found a mentor in Sir Freddie Laker when he was struggling to launch Virgin Atlantic
Maya Angelou advised Oprah Winfrey on relationships, trust, and the significance of how people act toward you; Oprah attributes her success to Angelou
So, why exactly is this a common theme? What makes mentorship the hallmark of any good celebrity success story?
Mentorship isn't a sign of weakness or inadequacy. In actual fact, it's the opposite: it's a sign of strength and entrepreneurship. It shows that you're not only willing to learn and grow, but that you're also open to accepting help from those who have been where you want to be.
Being mentored by someone more experienced than you is one of the most important keys to success in any field. A good mentor can help you navigate the waters of your industry, give you access to insider information, and help you build relationships with the right people.
Mentorship is a relationship in which a more experienced or senior professional helps a less experienced or junior professional to develop their skills and knowledge. For example, an established lawyer might be asked to mentor the firm’s new law graduate employee.
The mentor provides guidance, support, and advice, while the mentee learns from their experiences and builds their professional network.
Mentorship is one of the oldest forms of learning there is. Gen Z is demanding it, Spielberg is thriving because of it, and if you want to see your potential come to fruition, it’s time to hop on the mentorship bandwagon yourself.
Only 37% of people have a mentor, despite the 76% who believe having a mentor is important
People who are mentored in their careers will be promoted five times more often than those without mentorship
Of the Fortune 500 companies, 71% incorporate mentorship programs into their business strategy
And, heartwarmingly: almost 90% of those who are mentored will go on to mentor others in future
The facts are there – all you need to do is find yourself a Chuck Silvers.
Believe it or not, you don't have to brute force your way through the gates of Universal Studios in order to find your mentor. If you’re lucky, they may even turn out to be someone you already know.
Unsurprisingly, one of the best places you can look for a mentor is within your current workplace and industry. Ask your boss, colleagues, or other professionals in your field if they would be willing to mentor you. You can also reach out to friends and family members who have successful careers and ask them to be your mentor.
Another great way to find a mentor is by tapping into your personal and professional networks. LinkedIn, for example, is a great resource for finding mentors. You can search for professionals in your field or industry and reach out to them to see if they would be interested in mentoring you.
If you're feeling shy or uncomfortable asking someone you know to be your mentor, there are also plenty of online resources and communities that can help you find a mentor.
Remember, however, that branching out and asking someone for help may just be the best uncomfortable move you ever make.
Mentorship won’t get you everywhere by itself, but it can give you one hell of a head start – especially when paired with passion and determination to succeed. Like Spielberg, Zuckerberg, Oprah, and the rest, mentorship is just one piece of the proverbial puzzle. But it was an integral part of their eventual infamy, and it could be for you as well.
Have you found your mentor? And if so, have you gone on to mentor someone else? If not, it may be time to call up that colleague or send an email to that professor.
If you’re interested in hearing more about Alex Banayan’s own incredible success story, you can check out the full podcast episode here.
Until next time!
Also published here: https://newsletter.scottdclary.com/p/99417a84-502c-43f3-9270-1d15c86185e9